SESP Alumnus Named Professor of the Year

SESP Alumnus Named Professor of the Year

FishmanNorthwestern University alumnus Barry Fishman (PhD96), one of the first graduates of the pioneering learning sciences doctoral program, was recently named the Michigan Association of State Universities 2017 Professor of the Year, which recognizes outstanding faculty from Michigan’s 15 public universities. 

Fishman, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Michigan School of Information and School of Education, studies video games as model learning environments, the use of technology to support teacher learning and the development of usable, scalable, and sustainable learning innovations through design-based implementation research. 

In 1992, Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) launched the first learning sciences doctoral program in the U.S. The combination of education with computer science and other fields piqued the curiosity of Fishman, who joined the inaugural cohort of students that year and was one of the first to graduate with this new degree. 

We asked Fishman, who has been teaching at Michigan since 1997, to reflect on the rapidly evolving field of learning sciences and his time at SESP.

Q:  What are the learning sciences, anyway?
We work to understand how people learn so we can make teaching and learning better in the real world. This requires addressing a complex and complicated set of problems using a range of design and research approaches. Learning scientists think about big, interconnected systems. And we study the different kinds of supports both individuals and groups need in order to learn.

Q: How did SESP or certain professors influence your thinking?
A: SESP is where I learned how to be interdisciplinary. My advisers and teachers included computer scientists, cognitive scientists, anthropologists, psychologists, and scholars in educational policy, science education, and math education. I was particularly fortunate to have dual PhD advisers: Roy Pea and Louis Gomez. They had complementary styles, knowledge, and expertise. But I worked closely with many other faculty as well, especially Brian Reiser, Danny Edelson, and Allan Collins. And of course, my thinking was heavily influenced by the fantastic students in my cohort. My fellow doctoral students are all doing great things, and continue to inform and shape my own work.

Q: SESP recently launched the first undergraduate learning sciences major. How can this help students?
I’m a strong believer in interdisciplinary learning and work. An undergraduate major would be eye-opening and transformative for students who haven’t experienced the real power of thinking across boundaries. Students who do work that draws from many different areas with a focus on real-world applications will be well-prepared to act and make a difference in the world.

Q: What changes have you seen in the learning sciences field over the last two decades?
A: As Janet Kolodner, the founding editor of the Journal of the Learning Sciences once put it, in the early 2000s the field slowly shifted from “changing school” to “doing school." More recently, with the rise of learning analytics, maker spaces, personalized learning, games for learning, computer science for all, and similar movements, I’ve observed another move back towards “academic innovation,” with a renewed focus on thinking about how to reinvent school. 

Q: Any advice for current students of learning science?
As cartoonist and “comics theorist" Scott McCloud said, “If you want to be successful, you have to do four things: (1) Learn from everyone, (2) Follow no one, (3) Look for patterns, and (4) Work like hell.”  As soon as I heard McCloud say it, I knew it described my own experience in graduate school, and it is, in fact, good advice on how to succeed in any endeavor.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 4/25/17