My work centers on democratic education: How can we guide the educational enterprise by an ethical vision, not simply a technocratic one of transmitting isolated facts and skills? Democratic education seeks to foster critical, socially-engaged citizens through learning environments––schools, universities, libraries, museums, community centers, workplaces––which are themselves democratic.
For me, this has meant a philosophical perspective coupled with community-based work. This occurs through extended stays and continuing collaboration in Nepal, Romania, Turkey, Ireland, Haiti, Australia, China, as well as in the US.
Is it possible to for individuals, and by implication, for society as a whole to flourish in our modern world? Common ground seems unstable at best—yet lacking a shared vision, how can we address issues or economic injustice, alienated labor, environmental destruction, political dysfunction, inadequate health care, violence, and intolerance?
That vision should include helping every individual develop as a fully-formed person, while situating that development in the context of helping the society thrive as well. Education here is seen as occurring in formal sites such as schools and universities, but also in libraries, museums, workplaces, online, and in our daily interactions in the social and natural world.
Drawing upon the work of pragmatist philosophy and progressive education, democratic education implies fostering productive methods of thinking and problem-solving, appreciation of music, art, and literature, healthy social attitudes and sensitivity to others, and a consistent philosophy of life. It further implies the development of a critical, socially-engaged intelligence, in which individual learning is embedded in active participation in community life.
My own work
My background in computer science enhanced my interest in the promise, as well as the perils, that information and communication technologies offer for understanding, representing, and transforming our lived experiences. That has led to explorations of a variety of questions regarding the nature of knowledge, democratic participation, community, technology, and literacy. It has led to research across many subfields of education, as well as computer science, bioengineering, philosophy, writing studies, and community development.
Aspects of this work include
- Community inquiry through collaborative community-based work, enacted through projects of the Community Informatics Initiative,
- Inquiry-based learning, drawing especially upon scholarship of the American pragmatists and the history of Progressive Education,
- Technology-enhanced learning, the affordances and constraints of new media for learning, including the development of computer systems to support collaboration and community action, such as Quill, the Inquiry Page, and Community Inquiry Labs (iLabs),
- Math and science education, such as Chickscope,
- Situated evaluation, studying the ways that contexts change innovations as the innovations change the contexts.