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Re: [xmca] What's new in the learning sciences?

Hi Mike,
Thanks for asking, Mike!  Below is the original proposal for a special issue
that eventually became the NSSE Yearbook ­ this will provide an overview.
Also, with the permission of Teachers College Record, which now publishes
the NSSE Yearbooks, I¹ve attached the introductory chapter.  Of course,
different authors in the yearbook develop the idea of a human science in
different ways and would emphasize different points.

Research on Learning as a Human Science
Organizers and Co-Editors:
William R. Penuel
Kevin O¹Connor

Theme Overview:
This special issue of Teachers College Record will articulate an approach to
learning research as human science.  This human science approach views
science as an inherently value-laden social practice, implying different
epistemologies, methodologies, and research foci.  It is concerned not just
with what works but also with questions about the goals and purposes of
education; the involvement of different actors and groups in advancing those
goals; and the enactment of designs for learning and their consequences.
The papers aim to exemplify this approach, showing how it can inform broader
debates over the nature and purposes of learning, and suggest different
understandings of and approaches to how education can transform social
futures for individuals and their communities.
Recently, both academic research into learning and broader policy
discussions over the nature and direction of learning and education have
been framed by two largely distinct scientific paradigms.  On one hand is an
approach, modeled on clinical trials in medicine, that promotes controlled
experimentation on learning outcomes as the route to knowledge about
learning, and on the other hand is an approach, modeled on engineering, that
promotes detailed in situ studies of learning processes in
theoretically-derived learning environments. A third broad paradigm of
scientific activity, social science as human science, has yet to gain a
unified voice in these discussions, despite the work of many individuals.
This special issue aims to articulate and offer exemplars of this human
science approach to studying learning, which we believe can stand alongside
and extend currently prevailing approaches to inform broader debates over
the nature and purposes of learning and education.  Framing learning
research as a human science implies different epistemologies, methodologies,
and foci of research than those pursued by many researchers today. In
addition, the approach implies different understandings of and approaches to
how education can transform social futures for individuals and their
Significance of the Proposed Special Issue Theme
Much attention in recent years has been paid to the status of research on
learning as a science, especially with respect to what kind of science it
ought it to be. Although the debate is hardly new, it is particularly
pitched at the moment, with significant resources at stake for both research
and practice. For example, advocates for more experimental research in
education (e.g., Cook, 2002) argue that education should be a science that
advances through testing of impacts on student achievement of discrete
programs. Their view is that educational research should proceed like
medical research, and that such tests are best carried out through random
assignment studies is now reflected in federal law that defines research as
the products of experiments and allocates evaluation funds principally to
those investigators who agree to conduct randomized controlled trials
(Slavin, 2002). An alternate view proposed by researchers in the learning
sciences is that research on learning ought to be a design science (Barab &
Squire, 2004; Brown, 1992; Collins, 1990; Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc,
2004; Kelly, 2003). This work has received significant federal support
itself over the past two decades (Suter & Frechtling, 2000), primarily from
the National Science Foundation, and its signature methodology, the ³design
experiment² (Brown, 1992), has received prominent attention within major
journals in education (e.g., special issues of Educational Researcher and
The Journal of the Learning Sciences). The likening of education to
engineering in the learning sciences draws attention to the goal of engaging
in the task of developing usable and useful curricula that impact teaching
and learning. 
Each of these images of what kind of science research on learning should be
obscures some important humanistic aspects of the discipline. The logic of
experimentation explicitly treats characteristics of persons and their
contexts as sources of experimental error controllable by random assignment.
But teachers, administrators, and policy makers are often very interested in
context, in ³what works when, how, and for whom² in ways that demands
researchers pay much closer attention to persons and context in selecting
programs for adoption (Means & Penuel, 2005). Moreover, the hypothesized
relationship of research to practice?namely that identification of effective
programs will become information that rational actors use to select programs
and improve practice (e.g., Dynarski, 2008)?fails to acknowledge inequities
in access to information about programs and resources to support them that
exist in systems and overlooks one of the features that makes medical
knowledge so useful, namely its signature pedagogies and methods of
induction (Shulman, 2005). The image of education as an engineering science
gives greater primacy to the local context (e.g., Squire, MaKinster,
Barnett, Luehmann, & Barab, 2003), but often either taken for granted or
left underspecified are both the larger educational purposes of curricular
innovations and the probable consequences of those innovations, if
implemented widely, for the long-term social futures of participating
students. Casting educational improvement as a problem of design and
engineering provides few conceptual handles for engaging larger debates
about what is worth knowing (Whitehead, 1929), particularly given how the
world is changing; about how to teach ³other people¹s children² (Delpit,
1986); or even for considering who might benefit and who might be harmed if
designed innovations were brought to scale.
An alternative approach is to cast educational research as a human science,
distinct from the logic of social experimentation and from design science.
Some key ideas of the approach are:
* Educational research is a social practice situated in broader
institutional and historical contexts; participants as agents within those
contexts are reproducing, adapting, and transforming the social practice of
educational research through their research activities.
* In contrast to experimental research, a goal of human sciences research
should be to understand why actors do what they do from multiple
perspectives, including their own. This ³emic² turn in educational research
seeks to re-voice the experiences of actors within theoretical frames.
* In contrast to engineering-oriented research, a goal of human sciences
research should analyze design itself as human activity and consider what
values designs reflect and deflect, who benefits and who loses from
implementation, and the extent to which particular design activities
reproduce or transform new social futures. Like education, design is
value-laden. Design research approaches have often foregrounded engineering
issues and backgrounded the articulation of values and their origins, with
important exceptions (e.g., Edelson & Joseph, 2004) that suggest a human
sciences approach may be seen as an extension of or fulfillment of the
design research tradition as opposed to a break from it.
* Following from these points, research on learning requires that the
researcher stipulate, explicitly or implicitly, the endpoint or telos toward
which learning and development are directed.  Thus, human science is an
inherently value-laden endeavor (Kaplan, 1983).
* Relationships between researchers and research participants are implicated
in operations of power, locally and beyond the immediate situation. This
provides an additional warrant for arguing that a human science approach
merits more extensive discussion and articulation as a ?third way¹ in
educational research ­ beyond both the medical-model and the engineering
Such perspectives are not entirely new.  Indeed, the idea that the human
sciences represent a distinct kind of science, distinguished from the
natural sciences, has a long tradition in Western social science and
philosophy of science, originating in Vico¹s New Science, which argues for a
science of human society based not on an understanding of universal laws but
rather on those sensibilities that govern different communities in different
human ages. More recent formulations draw attention to the fundamental role
of language and interpretation in social scientific accounts (Taylor, 1985),
to the vital uses of reasons and arguments in human affairs that consider
the particulars of situations rather than a Cartesian timeless and
context-free rationality (Toulmin, 1990), and of the need to explicate
operations of power within such accounts (Flyvbjerg, 2001)
What is new in this series of papers is the articulation of a linked set of
perspectives for guiding programs of research based on the idea that
educational research should be concerned not just about what works but with
questions about the goals and purposes of education; the involvement of
different actors and groups in advancing those goals; and the enactment of
designs for learning and their consequences. We anticipate that many design
researchers agree with such a perspective; others argue explicitly that
design research and experimental aims are both similar to the goals for the
natural sciences (Collins et al., 2004; diSessa & Cobb, 2004). But in both
the design-based and experimental tradition, practitioners, communities of
parents, and students rarely get to define the goals for endeavors
(Engeström, 2008). Needed within the learning sciences are perspectives and
methods that lead to research that can guide practical action and that opens
questions about purpose to public dialogue; to designs that enable learners
and communities to advance new social futures; and to organizational
settings that allow for broad participation in debates about the ends of

On 7/6/10 12:53 PM, "mike cole" <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

> Looks wonderfully interesing, Kevin. McDermott got me to read Moll Flanders
> recently in connection with his contribution which is the only one I recall
> seeing.
> Is there somewhere in the volume or elsewhere where you and your colleagues
> lay out for the reader what is meant by a human science?
> Could that be made available to xmca readers?
> mike
> On Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 9:44 AM, O'Connor, Kevin <kevin.oconnor@rochester.edu>
> wrote:
>> (this time with attachment)
>> Hi Mike,
>> Bill Penuel and I have co-edited an NSSE Yearbook, just published, on the
>> topic of 'Learning Research as a Human Science.'  I was not at ICLS, but the
>> perspective was well-represented there by a number of contributors to the
>> yearbook who qualify as both 'learning scientists' and 'XMCA-o-types'.
>> I've attached the table of contents for those who might be interested.
>> I'm looking forward to others' reports of the conference!
>> Kevin
>> --
>> Kevin O'Connor
>> Assistant Professor
>> School of Education, 249 UCB
>> University of Colorado
>> Boulder CO 80309
>> kevin.oconnor@colorado.edu
>> On 7/5/10 11:33 AM, "mike cole" <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
>>> > Dear XMCA-o-types,
>>> >
>>> > Several of you have visited the charming city of Chicago and attending a
>>> > convocation of "learning
>>> > scientists."
>>> >
>>> > :-)
>>> >
>>> > MIKE*
>>> > _______________________________________________
>>> > xmca mailing list
>>> > xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
>>> > http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca

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