Meet Katie Headrick Taylor

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CIRCL perspectives offer a window into the different worlds of various stakeholders in the cyberlearning community — what drives their work, what they need to be successful, and what they think the community should be doing. Share your perspective.

 Katie Headrick Taylor

Katie Headrick Taylor is an Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences and Human Development in the College of Education at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on the role of digital media and emerging technologies in the lives of children, youth, and adults.
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How did you get started in cyberlearning?

After starting at U. Washington in 2015, I found CIRCL online and signed up for the newsletter. That probably got me some list about CIRCL events. I attended a CIRCL proposal writing workshop in Boston in 2015. There were several mentors there, and Erica Halverson was mine. NSF Program Officer Chris Hoadley was also there, along with others who had received NSF Cyberlearning awards. At the end of that meeting, Chris said something like, “Does anyone have any final thoughts?” and I raised my hand and said, “I’m so glad that this community exists because I have always felt like such a fringy person — in either learning sciences or social sciences, or educational research — and I feel like I’ve found my niche.” I’ve tried to stay connected with the cyberlearning community since then. I attended the Smart & Connected Communities for Learning Innovation Lab at SRI the following year, and that was an “Aha, I’ve found my people” moment. I met Nichole Pinkard, Andres Henriquez, Ruth Kermish-Allen, Juhn Ahn, Remi Holden, and many others. Nicole and Andres and I won our NSF EAGER grant on Mobile City Science after that.

Before that, I spent 2 years at Northwestern as a postdoc working with Reed Stevens on a LIFE Center project. We were studying how kids and their families use digital media in their homes with a focus on mobile devices. Before that, I finished my PhD at Vanderbilt working with Rogers Hall on his grant on tangible mathematics. Back in 2009 or so, Rogers’ team started doing GIS/mobile mapping work to look at questions like: How are geo visualizations changing professional practices for people who are using these tools in work sites? We were thinking about a diverse array of professionals, like archeologists, urban planners (my background), and medevac. How are they making visualizations for public consumption? How does the public understand these dense data representations and participate in some sort of urban planning process? As part of that work, Rogers and I did a year long ethnography of residents and urban planners engaged in a participatory planning process to imagine the possibilities of a community.

Then I started thinking about what would be a design that might would be interesting for kids to do around these mobile mapping tools, and how we could incorporate this with a community to address some real problem? I started working with a bike workshop at Nashville’s Oasis Center around the idea of mobility desserts. Kids were building bikes and didn’t have anywhere to safely ride them in the area. That was a great problem for the use of these mapping tools. The kids used GPS loggers to collect data on their mobility, building out new maps of how the city could look that would be more conducive to them getting around on bikes, they led public charrettes with urban planners and community stakeholders, argued for recommendations, and eventually there was a bike lane built in the neighborhood! From that work, I built out the curriculum that became the Mobile City Science Curriculum. That’s what I took to the Innovation Lab, and said that I think this could work with a lot of kids with a live community problem that they experience or know about.

What are you doing now?

The EAGER grant has funded the Mobile City Science Curriculum to be implemented in Chicago with the Digital Youth Network, and it was just finished being implemented in NY in Queens, with Andrés Henríquez at NYSCI as the lead there. He’s fabulous. Both of those implementations were also in partnership with high schools. In Chicago, it was a charter school; the curriculum was an add on to their science classroom. In Queens, it was an international high school, and the curriculum was used as an internship course credit. Those students acted as city documentarians who collected data, analyzed it, and built the recommendations on how the city could change. In both locations, the young people did public presentations of their ideas and the maps they built.

Looking forward, we are proposing to AERA 2018 (held in New York) to do an off site visit during the conference to have education researchers come to NYSCI and experience some of the Mobile City Science activities. They can test and give feedback on the fidelity of the young kids ideas. One idea was a bus tour around Queens. The kids have a map of an ideal bus tour that mimics the bus tour that happens in Manhattan. Their argument is that why does only Manhattan have bus tours when Queens has some of the most diverse neighborhoods in New York City. They have a beautiful argument around what are the community assets that should be recognized and seen on the bus tour they have created. So we want to take AERA participants on this tour through Queens!

What are you struggling with?

On with this project, we have a really robust structure for good learning with young people, and good ways of doing division of labor, generational learning, and communities of learning. But we still struggle with the right mobile tool to pull it off and make the major points of learning on the move streamlined with the tool. We have good ideas about the best ways of doing this with young people, but the technical glitches hold us up. Our team is always looking for the technical side to be open enough to say, “I understand that you really get learning and we can be flexible enough to do the things you need.” We have yet to find the right match, technically. For example, sometimes we’ll hear that the tool can do this, and it’s really cool thing. And I’ll say yea, it’s cool, but it’s not what we need.

Communicating ideas across the team, between subject matter experts and technical experts, isn’t easy. Having the same shared language and values is important and takes time to do that. It’s been a productive tension, though. And that’s okay. It takes time to build the shared language and trust. If you’re willing to enter that space, then both parties learn so much.

You’re one of the authors of the Community Report. Can you tell us about that?

Working on the Cyberlearning Community Report has been great. I co-authored a section in the report on this community mapping work. I really appreciate that this kind of genre, as Chris Hoadley called it, is being recognized as something that is different and deserves attention. Pokemon Go made it a conversation, but these mobile tools are really changing the opportunities for kids as they move around and how they learn on the move. I thank CIRCL for giving space for this work in the stuff you’re putting out. It makes me very happy.

The writing for the report had a bit of a slow start because it started in the summer, but then once people started sitting down to write sections, it really came together. I looked at the recent draft and I think it’s great. Very different kinds of ways of doing cyberlearning work are represented, which is fantastic. I think the strength of cyberlearning is that the repertoire is so diverse but there is a cohesive nugget that we can parse out in the report. A lot of us have a focus on equity, a lot of us care about youth development and things being driven by young people’s interest, and a spirit of co-design. I hope those ideas that tie us together came out. And I think they do. It’s really fantastic.

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