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About Deborah A. Fields

My research focuses on the productive intersection of interest, learning, and identity in kids’ lives, seeking first to document and analyze connections between these areas and second to create and evaluate spaces that facilitate such connections. It is well documented that students struggle with their engagement in academic disciplines when spaces like school are felt to have different values, activities, and ways of being than home or other social spaces students value. In other words, when students feel a gap between who they are (or their “identity”) at home and who they are supposed to act at school, their engagement and thus their learning suffer. This disconnect between identities in- and out-of-school tends to be more prominent among non-dominant students, and tends to exacerbate divisions of class, ethnicity, and gender. Yet when students feel more connected—when they feel like themselves in a subject area at school or in another learning setting—they tend to identify more strongly with that academic learning area. This has an additional and perhaps equally important benefit of encouraging students to thinking creatively by drawing on knowledge and practices across settings in their academic learning. Studying the connective sites in kids’ lives, those social settings that facilitate intersections between interest, learning, and identity, has two important values. First, we need better theories for understanding the relationship between engagement, interest, identity, and learning learning. Second, by understanding connective sites better, we can facilitate the development of such connections in students’ lives to promote more equity and creativity in learning.
As part of supporting and studying the relationship between interest, identity, and learning I currently pursue three related research concerns:
• Engaging kids in making interest-driven technological objects that unit interests and learning through the creation of objects,
• Studying and providing design feedback on massive online spaces for children and youth that can act as connective spaces,
• Developing blended methods that incorporate large scale data mining and ethnographic understanding in order to understand processes of learning, engagement, and identity development in both digital design making and massive online spaces.
These interests have guided my studies in virtual worlds and STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) education in and across classrooms, clubs, and digital social environments. I spent several years studying and writing about identity, avatar design, ethnicity, gender, and cheating in the virtual world of Whyville.net. Related, I recently co-authored a critical review of children’s participation in social networking sites for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Some of my current studies focus on the role of aesthetics, learning processes, and gender in kids’ designs with digital technologies, specifically with computational textiles and computer programs made with Scratch. Thus I am especially interested in digital media that draws together creative production and social sharing of kid-created media.
I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a recipient of the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Best Student Paper award in 2007. I am serving as program chair of AERA’s Special Interest Group Media, Culture, & Curriculum.

Positions

Present Faculty Member, Utah State University Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences
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Curriculum Vitae



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