Cultivating experimental innovation within undergraduate physics majors


  • Matthew C Fleenor Physics Group, Roanoke College (VA)


Science Education Philosophy, Pedagogy, Curriculum, Science education, physics, creativity development


David Galenson's bifurcation of creative types is well-founded across several strata of the traditional fine arts. According to Galenson, experimental innovators outwardly express their creativity at a later age after long periods of development. I reason that many of the students in undergraduate classrooms are experimental innovators, since there are rich examples of both creative types across a variety of academic disciplines. While physics is often viewed as a discipline overly populated with conceptual innovation, undergraduate instruction within the discipline is historically associated with qualities that hinder creativity, which may be an especially harsh environment for experimental innovators. With the intention of developing a more creative environment, the physics program at Roanoke College has cultivated an atmosphere where students have responded with increased participation, increased graduation numbers, and arguably a recovered sense of their innovative potential. To draw connections between the programmatic changes and student response, I first provide curricular and structural examples of implemented measures by the Roanoke physics program that accord with the increases observed. Second, I offer some philosophical considerations that undergird the pedagogical scaffolding and posture the curricular alterations. These considerations guide the implementations themselves as well as motivate the faculty within the program. Third, I extend the inquiry into the boundaries drawn regarding failure and the question of expertise within the undergraduate science curriculum.

Author Biography

Matthew C Fleenor, Physics Group, Roanoke College (VA)

Matthew C. Fleenor, PhD, is an associate professor at
Roanoke College, where he serves as the program
coordinator of the Physics Group. Currently, Matt
collaborates with nuclear physicists on the problem of
accurately imaging materials for nuclear security
applications. In the classroom, Matt maintains that
education is a continual process of deepening relationship
between knower and known through asking better