Meet Tamara Clegg

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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.

Tamara Clegg

Tamara Clegg is an Associate Professor in the College of Information Studies 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 and participatory design with children.

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, and saw the work that they were doing, and it brought back memories of when I was young and wanted to be a teacher. As I got older, I wanted to do math and 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 a community, 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. So we’re really excited about this work because it enables us to work with informal educators, to work with parents, and to work with teachers — and to bring them all together in these really cool ways with new technologies.

A lot of times, also, we’re working with low socioeconomic communities, and we often tend to think with a deficit perspective when we work in low socioeconomic communities. The way that we’re approaching this is such that we’re looking for the resources that are available in those communities. We want to leverage and promote what’s there so that they don’t have these isolated pockets of resources and opportunities. And we want to connect those resources across learners’ lives, so we really want to understand the information flows and the connective practices that are needed for that. What information does a teacher need to know about what their students are doing at home and in school communities? What connective practices and technologies do teachers and parents need to work together and see what their children are doing across various contexts? How can they leverage that to promote science in new ways?

How is cyberlearning transforming how you do your work in neighborhoods?

I feel that technology is enabling us to offer new identity opportunities for learners. It enables the learners to actually engage in these rich learning contexts and then showcase that to other people — showcase the learning that they’re doing to their peers and their teachers, who often may not see them in these other realms. It gives us the opportunity to share more than a verbal experience, right? They can share videos, photos, drawings, and real-world artifacts from the experiences that they’re having so that they can bring in 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 — people like Joe Polman, who’s looking at youth creating infographics in their own neighborhoods, 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.

I would also like 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? For example, when I study identity, disposition is a big part of that. 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. I would want to see how other researchers are doing that. We could work together to think about how 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 helping us to get a picture of what learning looks like, what identity development looks like, and what identity development happens without having to pre-impose traditional tests and formalized assessments. I would like for 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.

I also see my work helping us understand how to design technologies such that they reveal this information in meaningful ways to people who can better use that information and promote children’s learning. For example, how can we can design technologies so that teachers can see these out-of-school experiences that children have, and their development, in meaningful ways that they haven’t seen before?

What you could share with other researchers about working with people across different boundaries and trying to draw everyone together?

I think there’s a lot of power in working in interdisciplinary spaces. And there are the ways that cyberlearning has transformed my work, like helping us to see the importance of building these interdisciplinary teams. Cyberlearning has always pushed that as something that we should do, and it really helps us to see the different types of expertise that we might need on a team to push learning forward and push technology forward in these new directions.

I feel like the interdisciplinary collaborations that I have are so much fun and that the new ideas and creativity that comes out of them — the idea generation — is so worth it. But there are also challenges of working across disciplinary boundaries, like the language that you’re using and the different things that the different disciplines value. To me, the important thing about such collaborations is really communicating. So on the research teams that I work on, we’re very interdisciplinary, but we talk a lot about the values that we have, and how those values can come together and connect to envision the future.

Do you have any final thoughts or perspectives you’d like to share?

Just that the Cyberlearning convening has been really full of generating ideas and digging deeply into topics. That’s so meaningful and so important for sparking new directions for the work that we’re going to do in transforming education and transforming learning.

(Watch video excerpts from an interview that took place January 27, 2015, at Cyberlearning 2015, below.)