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.
Tammy Clegg is a Learning Scientist and an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and the iSchool at the University of Maryland. After receiving her PhD at Georgia Tech working with Janet Kolodner, she conducted a post-doc at the University of Maryland in Participatory Design with Allison Druin, and is now a faculty member at the same University. Her interests are in developing technology to support life-relevant learning environments, participatory design with children.
(Read Tammy’s full perspective below, or watch video excerpts from the interview, which took place January 27, 2015, at Cyberlearning 2015.)
How did you get into cyberlearning?
When I got to grad school, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do research in computer science. I met Janet Kolodner, Amy Bruckman, and Mark Guzdial, I saw the work that they were doing, and it brought back when I was younger and I used to want to be a teacher. As I got older, I wanted to do math, and I wanted to do computer science. So I came into grad school as a computer scientist. But then once I saw the learning sciences — that I could design technologies, that I could understand how people learn, that I could work within learning environments and things like that — it just seemed like it was the perfect career for me.
What can we learn from your work with youth in the community, and how to think about connecting neighborhoods and reaching new audiences?
Well, we’re really excited about this work, looking at youth and how they do science in their everyday lives. I think that a lot of times we focus mostly on schools, and we miss a lot of the really rich and powerful ways that children are learning outside of school. And we often leave certain educators out of the picture who we’re thinking about helping with respect to learning, and so we’re really excited about this project, because it enables us to work with informal educators, to work with parents, and to work with teachers. But to bring them all together in these really cool ways with new technologies. And so, a lot of times also, we think of—we’re working with low socioeconomic communities, and we often tend to think with a deficit perspective when we work in low socioeconomic communities.
But the way that we’re approaching this is such that we’re looking for the resources that are available in those communities. And we want to leverage and promote what’s there, so that they don’t have these isolated pockets of resources and opportunities. But we want to actually connect those across learners’ lives. And so we really want to understand the information flows and the connective practices that are needed for that.
So what information does a teacher need to know about what their child is doing, what their students are doing at home, and then there at the school communities, and what connective practices do teachers and educators and parents need to have together to work together around technology to see what their children are doing across the context, and be able to leverage that to promote science in new ways.
How is cyberlearning transforming how you do your work in neighborhoods?
So I feel that technology is enabling us to offer new identity opportunities for learners. So it enables the learners to actually engage in these rich learning contexts. And then to showcase that to other people—to showcase the learning that they’re doing to their peers, to showcase it to their teachers, who often may not see them in these other realms. But it gives us the opportunity to not just share a verbal experience, right? But to share videos, to share photos, to share drawings, right? To share real-world artifacts from the experiences that they’re having so that they can bring these contexts, so that they can bridge these contexts more fluently and effectively.
I would like to have a center where we bring together researchers who are studying these really rich, real-life contexts for learning. So for example, people like Joe Polman, who’s looking at youth creating infographics in their own neighborhoods, or Nichole Pinkard’s work with the Digital Youth Network, and others who have these longitudinal programs that are really getting youth active and engaged in their communities and in learning in these powerful ways for promoting identity development.
And I would want to look at how we can promote identity development across contexts. How do children’s identities develop? Are there more specific ways that we can look at identity? So for example, when I study identity, disposition is a big part of that, right? And so identity is so huge and so broad, but for me, disposition helps me to map what the kids are doing day to day to their larger picture identities, and I would want to see how other researchers are doing that. And we could work together to figure out, how do we conceptualize identity? How does it develop over time, and how can we develop learning environments and technologies that really promote and leverage that? And how can those technologies really be deeply integrated into learning settings in ways that promote identity over long term engagement.
How do you see your work contributing to transformation in 10 years?
I see my work really helping us to get a picture of what learning looks like—what learning happens—what identity development looks like, and what identity development happens without having to pre-imposed tests, without having to do assessments; moving us away—without having to do formalized assessments. There are traditional assessments that we typically think of, so I would like for our technology, our science kit technology and other technologies that I’m building to really capture the essence of what learners are doing, and what learning is happening over time in really authentic ways that we can look back at later and see progressions of development.
But also so that my work would help us understand how to design technologies such that they reveal this information in meaningful ways to people who can really better use that information and promote children’s learning. So, for example, what are the ways that we can design technologies so that teachers can see these out-of-school experiences that children have that don’t conflict with their other—you know, that don’t take large amounts of time that would prevent them from doing it right—that don’t show them large amounts of data or information that they don’t need, right? But that help them to see these things, this development, in meaningful ways, in ways that they haven’t seen it before.
What you could share with other researchers about working with people in all these different boundaries, and trying to draw everyone together?
Yeah, it’s really great. I think there’s a lot of power in working in interdisciplinary spaces, and really understand—like, I guess one powerful thing I see with the cyberlearning program—I think about what are the ways that cyberlearning has transformed my work. Maybe that’s one of the ways as well, right? Like, helping us to see the importance of building these interdisciplinary teams. Cyberlearning has always pushed that as something that we should do, and really it helps us to see the different types of expertise that we might need on a team to really push learning forward, push technology forward in these new directions.
I feel like the interdisciplinary collaborations that I have are so much fun to really spark new ideas from, that the new ideas and creativity that comes out of it—the idea generation is so worth it. But there, you know, you have the challenges of your disciplinary boundaries, like the language that you’re using, the things that the different disciplines value being different. And to me, the important thing about that is really communicating. So on the research teams that I work on, we’re very interdisciplinary, but we talk a lot about those values that we have, and sort of envisioning the future, and like how those values can come together and connect.
Do you have any final thoughts or perspectives you’d like to share?
Just the whole past two days have been really full of these generating ideas, and really digging deeply about topics. That’s so meaningful and so important for sparking new—you know, the future directions of the work that we’re going to do, transforming education and transforming learning.