Engagements Blog Series: Part I – An Opportunity for Discussion and Reflection

Noel Enyedy & Jamie Gravell

Editor In Chief & Editorial Assistant, Cognition & Instruction

Recently two of the premiere journals for the Learning Sciences published editorials that call for our field to deeply consider aligning our research with societal needs. The publication of two editorials on the same topic, written concurrently but without coordination, presents an opportunity to have a public discussion about the direction that our field is headed and different visions for where it should be headed.  The intent of this blog series is to begin that conversation.

The editorial in the Journal of the Learning Sciences asks us to move our research towards practical solutions that have immediate potential and suggests that part of that practical work involves more carefully considering issues of implementation, scale, and research-practice interactions (McKenney, 2017).  The editorial in Cognition & Instruction asks us to move forward with the immediate as we simultaneously wrestle with the cultural and political contexts and consequences of our work, especially the purpose of our work, who our work benefits, and with whom we engage in research (Philip, Bang & Jackson, 2017).

In subsequent blogs, we’ll take a closer look at the two editorials side by side and ask for your collegial discussion of the two perspectives on how the field should proceed.If you haven’t had a chance to read them, please do. For today, and to think about as you read, what issues do you foreground as you work towards practical solutions to pressing societal issues and problems of practice?

Part II of this series will be posted on Friday, December 8.

A personal note from Noel: You may ask what my goal is here. In talking with younger scholars I have felt their sense of urgency and perhaps even impatience with the slow pace at which the field of the Learning Sciences has moved to address issues that they find central to understanding learning and education. At the same time, while I have yet to find a scholar who stands against equity and justice, I have perceived an undercurrent that these concerns may not be the only way societal needs can be served and that there is good research being done in the learning sciences that does not address race, culture and power. I constantly struggle with conflicting ideas and values in my own thinking and scholarship and so my goal is to learn from this discussion and from my colleagues. My hope is that since this is a discussion about the future of our discipline that people at all stages of their careers will feel invited to join the conversation. Further, I hope that people that engage here will recognize how a conversation like this might make people feel vulnerable, and will be charitable towards one another as we strive to find a common language and common ground. 

Part II — Implementation and access and/or for what and transformation

4 Replies to “Engagements Blog Series: Part I – An Opportunity for Discussion and Reflection”

  1. Ok Noel, I’ll bite. I think there’s an interesting (and not invalid) conflation in this discussion between the issues of what the research conversation should be about (i.e., what are the most pressing issues for the field?) and the weird, glacially slow ways that universities and departments do hiring (i.e., what are the issues that define one’s scholarly identity, and how does that impact employment?). I think there’s a parallel, though, in that additions are different than either substitutions or transformations in both. As a field we can say that it’s important to focus on issues of social justice and equity, but does that mean we are going to do that on top of, or instead of, something like mental models or conceptual change? (Please note I’m not picking on mental models or conceptual change here, just using them as examples…) Do we stop publishing about one thing in order to focus on another, or just add more pages? Likewise, when departments and Learning Sciences programs do hiring, do we wait until we can grow in faculty numbers to create a focus on social justice and equity (if we don’t have one already)? Or can it happen that, say, a mental models expert retires (again, nothing wrong with mental models, just an example!), and we replace that line with a social justice expert instead? Or, to push the question even further, do we decide that, no matter what someone’s specific expertise is, social justice and equity are so foundational that everyone should be including them in some way, that to ignore these issues altogether is just inexcusable? Overall, additions, substitutions, and transformations are three very different things. So where are we, and where do we want to go?

  2. I was in a conversation recently with a more senior learning scientist who’s interested in helping move the field toward a stronger social justice focus. We were talking about the number of “old guard” who are full professors in the limited number of learning sciences programs, many of whom don’t seem particularly interested in social justice or equity concerns. To your point in this post, that doesn’t mean they’re not doing good work–it just means they’re taking up space. There’s a huge crop of junior scholars who see social transformation as the most important concern of the field, and who can’t find work in the field because there just aren’t enough jobs. My colleague said “In five years, most of those old guard will be gone.” And I said “In five years, it’ll be too late because most of the new guard will also be gone.”

    To be clear, I don’t think this is ~just~ a problem within the learning sciences. It’s a problem within academia more generally: Higher education is a top-heavy system that seems likely to topple under its own weight. I think that one solution is to look to the learning scientists who’ve walked away from (or have been forced out of) the traditional tenure track. We’re all over the place, doing cool stuff that senior learning scientists don’t often hear about.

  3. On facebook Jacob McWilliams pointed out that in my personal note I may have made this sound like it was just an issue for younger scholars. I did not mean to imply that at all. I made that note because as we discussed moving forward with this people kept asking me what my motives were in doing this, and I was trying to be honest that for me personally it was at least motivated in part to use my power to create a space for a conversation that I think needs to happen and at least in my circles it is the younger scholars that are thirsty for that conversation. I did not mean imply that more established scholars are not interested in this discussion or that this was somehow something new. It is more about it being timely. And yes Jacob, it is my hope that this will encourage a broader range of participation and publication in C&I.

    Since it is beyond my technical expertise to link to a comment on someone else Facebook page I have cut & pasted part of the discussion between Jacob McWilliams and Cynthia Carter Ching below.

    Jacob McWilliams: I hope this blog series also results in some publication opportunities for those “younger scholars” who hope to move the field forward in this area.

    Cynthia Carter Ching: Jacob McWilliams, agreed. Always a problem in academia. Always. New voices asking new questions are “provocative,” but nothing is recognized as a field shift until some established names take it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *