Designing for the Future: How the Learning Sciences Can Inform the Trajectories of Preservice Teachers

Article excerpt

Over the past 20 years, the interdisciplinary study of learning, teaching, and the design of educational environments, hereafter referred to as the Learning Sciences, has extended our understanding of the social and cultural organization of learning and methods for studying it in situ (Sawyer, 2006). Though still in its early stages, the impact of the Learning Sciences on the field of education has been profound. A review of the websites of educational psychology programs at U.S. universities reveals that a growing number of these programs are shifting their foci to the more expansive view offered by the Learning Sciences. What this shift means concretely for how faculty in Learning Sciences programs prepare teacher education students remains an open question. For example, although educational psychology is typically offered in U.S. teacher education programs, little attention has been given to how insights from Learning Sciences research should be incorporated into teacher preparation.

In this article, we consider the impact of principled changes we made to our educational psychology course for preservice teachers based on Learning Sciences research. In particular, we focused on two strands of Learning Sciences research, cultural processes of learning and informal learning environments. We begin by articulating two claims about learning derived from these strands that have been central to redesigning preservice teacher education courses in educational psychology at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The redesign of our course had multiple, interrelated goals, including exposing students to learning environments where children and adults share responsibility for organizing learning and teaching, engaging students in reflection about their assumptions about marginalized populations, and developing their dispositions toward teaching as a form of public work/service. In this analysis, we focus on how community-based practica, where our students worked with youth from underrepresented racial and linguistic populations, created opportunities for our students to develop their views on learning and teaching. We present two case studies documenting how students engaged with the redesign of our course to consider the power and limitations of our revision. We conclude with a discussion of what these cases suggest more broadly for using insights from the Learning Sciences in teacher education.

Two Key Claims About Learning

Claim I: Learning Occurs as People Participate in Social and Cultural Practices

Traditionally, educational psychologists studied learning processes as if they were independent from the settings in which they took place. The dominant perspective in psychological studies of learning treated cognition as an individual, mental process that took place apart from social interactions with other people and tools in personally and culturally meaningful circumstances (Lave, 1988; Rogoff, 2003). Learning Sciences researchers challenge this decontextualized view of learning. Drawing on theory and research from anthropology, cultural psychology, and sociology, they propose that learning is situated in broad cultural, historical, and economic contexts and local interactions between people and tools in settings.

A starting assumption from this perspective is that individuals' socioeconomic, linguistic, and racial backgrounds along with their gender and sexual orientations shape the opportunities available (or not available) for them to learn. Following from this is the fact that members of historically marginalized groups are confronted by systemic challenges to their academic achievement, social and emotional well-being, and future possibilities. Although these structural inequities are great, they do not determine what individuals can do. As Learning Sciences researchers have documented, family, community, school, and religious practices are important resources for mediating and working around inequitable structures and processes located beyond the individual (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Nasir, Rosebery, Warren, & Lee, 2006). …