Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Professor Awarded $1.1 Million Grant from the National Science Foundation Dan Johnson seeks to develop assessment tools to foster creativity in STEM education.

JohnsonDan-549x533 W&L Professor Awarded $1.1 Million Grant from the National Science FoundationDan Johnson

Dan Johnson — David G. Elmes Term Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science at Washington and Lee University — has received a $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop assessment tools that educators and researchers can use to identify best practices in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education to foster creativity.

Johnson requested $1,117,805 to fund his research study, titled “Creativity Assessment Platform: Using Computational Modeling to Transform Assessment of Creativity in Engineering Design.” He received the full amount from the NSF’s Department of Undergraduate Education division.

Johnson’s research seeks to build an online platform for large-scale engineering design assessment to allow teachers and researchers to easily assess creativity, automatically compute creativity metrics and generate customizable student reports. The platform will be applied in an undergraduate design course at the Pennsylvania State University, which includes a three-week “Creativity Module” to obtain valuable platform usability data from both instructors and students. Johnson will also evaluate an undergraduate course intended to promote creativity in engineering design.

“This feels like a full circle moment where inspiration in the classroom went both ways,” said Johnson. “I did not study creativity in the classroom until about six years ago when a student named David Heinen ’16 approached me about doing a senior thesis on creativity. We proceeded to run one of the first studies to investigate how well a computational model of creativity scores would correlate with human creativity ratings. My work has focused exclusively on that topic ever since. Now, with other research collaborators, we can bring the tools from the research journals into the classroom to develop creative problem solving in students. We hope to transform STEM education so that creativity can be focal to the educational mission as creative thinking becomes increasingly important to society.”

Johnson joined the W&L cognitive and behavioral science faculty in 2009, serving as the program head for data science. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and biology from Luther College and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Oklahoma.

If you know a W&L faculty member who has done great, accolade-worthy things, tell us about them! Nominate them for an accolade.