Saturday, May 3, 2014

Dr. Vanessa Svihla Receives National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Award

Dr. Vanessa Svihla
A former graduate of mine and our Doctoral Program at The University of Texas at Austin, Vanessa Svihla, recently received word that she is a recipient of a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. For those of you not familiar, The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. This nonresidential postdoctoral fellowship funds proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education. The program also develops the careers of its recipients through professional development activities involving National Academy of Education members. You can find more information about the program at:

Title of Project: Learning to design and designing to learn

Abstract: The students who present the greatest need– those who are underrepresented in science and engineering and who come from low socioeconomic groups– are the least likely to receive authentic, intellectually engaging learning experiences. Diversity matters for the future of STEM fields; diversity is a critical resource for the kinds of perspective-taking that results in innovative solutions to grand challenges. The goals of this project are (1) to identify teacher-guided strategies that allow underserved, underrepresented, struggling learners to engage in problem finding and problem framing, and (2) to document connections between such experiences and learning. These goals are investigated in the context of students designing. While a great deal is known about problem solving, problem finding and framing are much less studied and understood, especially in relation to how they can support learning. Student learning and interactions will be documented across two design projects through the collection of video records, design artifacts, and surveys. Data will be analyzed using interaction analysis and regression modeling. Triangulation of data sets will compare qualitative and quantitative findings. The participants are teachers and students at a charter school whose mission involves high impact—that is, they seek to serve those who have not been well-served by traditional schooling. The school includes a focus on engineering and architectural design, informed by industry partners.

Bio: Dr. Vanessa Svihla is an Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico. She received an M.S. in Geology (2003) and a Ph.D. in Science Education (2009) from The University of Texas at Austin. She was a post-doctoral scholar in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley and interned at the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center, University of Washington. She directs the Interaction and Disciplinary Design in Educational Activity (IDDEA) Lab ( Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn. She is passionate about interdisciplinary research as a means to find innovative solutions and applies integrated methods to investigate complex phenomena.