Learning Sciences and Policy (LSAP) Courses

For course numbers not listed below, please refer to the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education LSAP course listing

Current LSAP Courses

Advanced Applied Qualitative Analysis

Instructor: Jennifer Russell

This course will focus on approaches to the analysis of qualitative data. It is designed for students who have some experience with qualitative field research methods (introductory coursework or project experience) and have a set of qualitative data they are interested in analyzing for their own research. The principal aims of the course are to: (1) enable you to make informed and well-documented choices regarding the analysis of qualitative data – that is to establish a “transparent path of inference” in your analysis and writing; and (2) explore a range of analysis strategies, techniques and tools.

The course has two primary strands. The reading strand will introduce readings about qualitative analysis that delve into methodological issues, technical aspects of various approaches to qualitative analysis, validity and reliability, and issues related to writing and presentation of qualitative research. We will also examine examples of published qualitative analysis for their methodological and presentation choices. The second strand will be a practicum segment included in each course session that will provide time for consultation on your own work in small groups.


Advanced Applied Statistical Analysis

Instructor: Richard Correnti

This course is designed as an advanced seminar for students who are interested in exploring statistical modeling with their own social science data. There will be two primary foci for the course. First, the course is designed to provide opportunities for students to examine their own data and gain experience interpreting and writing about their findings. In this sense the course attempts to build student knowledge about the use of advanced statistical techniques and provide individualized experience applying those methods to student-relevant data. The course is also designed as a seminar where students will gain exposure to models and issues that their classmates are working on. Therefore, a second goal of the course is also to provide opportunities for students to learn about a variety of advanced methods that they can consider in their future work.


Design of Educational Systems

LSAP 3540

Instructor: Chris Schunn

To develop successful educational innovations, a systems view must be taken, analyzing instructional goals, constraints and resources, considering alternative approaches to conveying ideas, motivating students, and guiding students to instructional objectives. Students will work in teams to enact an innovative educational design process with real projects and real clients. In the past, educational systems being (re)designed included museum exhibits, high school robotics units, afterschool digital literacy workshops, college lab courses, processes for selecting student assessments tools, and a professional development sequence for mathematics teachers. Throughout the process we will be learning about and addressing constraints from (1) organizational and policy contexts; (2) learning sciences; and (3) disciplinary content. The course will be interdisciplinary in that it will draw students with diverse backgrounds to form the design teams.  


Educational Policy

Instructor: Mary Kay Stein

School quality is at the forefront of public concern. Numerous (and at times conflicting) educational policies have been enacted at the federal, state, and district level all aimed at improving students’ learning opportunities. The difficulty of substantively improving teaching and learning through externally imposed policies, however, has been well documented. In this course we examine theoretical and methodological approaches to understanding educational policymaking and the processes by which policies are (and are not) translated into practice. Specific questions we address in this course include: How are “problems” framed to constituents and how does this influence policy implementation? How do educators “make sense” of policies in the context of their prior beliefs and experiences? How does variation in human and social capital resources in schools and districts influence policy implementation? What are the “learning demands” for individuals and organizations entailed by specific policies? And, how can policies be designed to more effectively support improvements in teaching and learning?


Learning Sciences and Educational Change

Instructors: Kevin Crowley & Jim Greeno

This course provides an intense introduction to the learning sciences and their role in helping to support sustainable educational change. The course is designed for students interested in the intersection learning research and educational practice/policy, and is appropriate for Ph.D. students who bring background in either. In an effort to maximize the connections between learning research and educational change, the course is organized around the three major learning sciences discoveries with direct implications for how educational experiences should be organized. Although widely supported by learning sciences research, these claims are often in direct conflict with how education systems actually operate – especially schools. The claims are: 1) The form of cognitive learning that education should target is understanding; 2) Participation and positional identity are core educational outcomes; 3) Schools are a special case of a learning environment. Learning is organized differently in different settings, which has direct implications for what is learned, how it is learned, who learns it, and why they do (or don’t) engage with learning. As we consider each of these claims, we explore how learning science gets done, introducing forms of research that allow us to get beyond simplistic distinctions between "basic" and "applied" science, including the notion of design experiment in creating classroom learning communities, technological learning environments, and informal experiences.


LSAP Writing Seminar

Instructor: LSAP Faculty

This course for Learning Sciences and Policy students covers the essentials of writing for publication.  Students are expected to have rough drafts of manuscripts that they can bring to the course. These should be manuscripts that they intend to send to journals.  Students will work on these manuscripts over the course of the semester.  Each week the entire seminar reads one or two of their peers' manuscripts and provides comments and suggestions for improvement.  A faculty member organizes the schedule and participates in the construction of feedback and suggestions for improvement. 


Organizational Perspectives on Educational Improvement

LSAP 3095

Instructor: Jennifer Russell

One way to see the act of education is that it is essentially about what occurs between teachers and learner.  In other words, the key unit of analysis is the classroom or activity structure. The classroom is important, but teaching and learning are also shaped by their context. Individuals are situated in organizations, which are situated in broader social, cultural, and political environments.  Consequently, reform and improvement efforts must not only take seriously individual factors, they must understand the ways in which individual action is enabled and constrained by organizational and environmental contexts.

This seminar will focus on schools as organizations drawing on theoretical and empirical work grounded in organizational theory. We will interrogate the institutional, organizational, and day-to-day contexts of work in schools. We also explore how reform efforts targeting organizational features can intervene and perhaps, improve teaching and learning.  In order to grapple with the concepts from the literature, students will analyze several cases of organizational improvement efforts and conduct a small study examining an improvement effort in a local educational organization.  



Other LSAP 3595 Special Topics Courses Taught in Previous Semesters

Assessment and Accountability, LSAP 3595/PSYED 3589 (Spring 2014; Spring 2011)

Instructors: Lindsay Clare Matsumura & Laura Hamilton (RAND)

Policies establishing standards and requirements for testing codified in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) are, in principle, aimed at improving teaching and learning and closing the achievement gap between more and less privileged students. The specific design and implementation of NCLB, however, has been sharply criticized. In this course we will explore the debate surrounding NCLB and test-based accountability generally. The topics this course will address include the use of assessments to lever instructional change, the assumptions about learning that underpin different types of assessments and test-based accountability, and research investigating the influence of high-stakes testing on instruction and learning. This course also will consider the variable quality and alignment of state tests, standards, and curricula, and the “fairness” of the AYP targets.


Instructional Policy, LSAP 3595 (Fall 2013)

Instructor: Richard Correnti

This course focuses on current theories of effective K-12 instruction in the content areas (language arts, science and mathematics) with a specific focus on the nature and implementation of curricula (tasks) and the quality of classroom discourse.  The (often implicit) assumptions about teaching and learning that underlay instructional policies at the state and federal levels will be identified and challenges associated with implementing policies that are constructed solely on outdated behavioral learning theories will be discussed.


Networks in Education, LSAP 3595 (Fall 2014)

Instructor: Jennifer Russell

Network theory and social network analysis provide powerful tools for unpacking how patterns of social relations within and across organizations can facilitate or impede the work of educational reform. A focus on social networks broadens the focus of educational change from individuals and/or formal organizational entities (e.g. schools, districts, museums) to the network of actors that interact with one another in a variety of forms and enable the flow of information, influence and other resources. Network analysis within educational organizations has demonstrated how school-based networks provide resources for instructional improvement and provide normative pressure to motivate practice improvement and given the formation of networks among organizations has been identified as a way to bridge research and practice, connect educators with sources of expertise, and mobilize stakeholders for collective action.

This course will examine theory and research relevant to the topic of networks in education with major segments organized around:

--Social network theory and educational change

--Social network analysis and/other related methodological approaches for studying networks

--Applications of theory and methods to the study of networks within organizations (intra-organizational networks)

--Applications of theory and methods to the study of networks among organizations (inter-organizational networks)

--Case studies of networked organizations and/or reform initiatives (e.g. National Writing Project, Strive and Hive)


Research Methods, LSAP 3595 (Spring 2013)

Instructor: LSAP Faculty

The course is focused on research methods and analysis as they apply to the diverse research problems that characterize the Learning Sciences. The goal is to have students develop an appreciation of the range of research methods and approaches that can be applied to problems and issues in cognition and learning and how questions and methods align. In considering these issues, we also explore some of the current debate about scientific methods in educational research and issues of philosophy and epistemology as related to research methods.

The course introduces, through theoretical and empirical readings, the multiple theoretical perspectives and research paradigms that are employed by Learning Scientists in order to understand the complexities associated with the nature and conditions of human learning and cognition. These methods include a variety of forms of quantitative and qualitative research as well as design-based experiments and research. Students will read, discuss, and analyze research studies and conceptual pieces that are seminal to the Learning Sciences field. The course aims to deepen student skills in, and understanding of, the components of scientific arguments and execution of the research design and analysis process through analyzing and critiquing issues involved at various stages of research activities. The course concerns both the theory and practice of research. A central aim is to articulate key research issues that arise when creating, studying, and analyzing learning environments and evaluate various efforts and the results of those efforts in the context of these questions. An important emphasis in this course is on when, and how, methods and forms of data and accompanying analytic techniques may be used to address a significant research question, often as part of larger program of research that demands multiple methodological approaches to make substantial empirical and theoretical progress. Students will consider how a research problem is framed in order to conduct a rigorous and credible line of inquiry and the range of methods that may applicable to facets of the problem -- beyond basic hypothesis testing and experimental design.


Design and Methodological Issues in Examining Effects on Student Achievement, LSAP 3595

Instructor: Richard Correnti

Recent calls for rigorous research in education (i.e., from the Institute for Education Sciences) stress the need for research examining student achievement outcomes.  This course is designed to provide students with an introduction to prior research examining the myriad factors affecting student achievement.  Substantively, we will discuss research examining different independent variables on student achievement, from student background characteristics, to family influences, to the influence of teachers and schools.  On this latter point we will study and discuss whether programs designed to intervene on teaching and learning can be effective on a large scale.  Additionally, throughout the course we will attend to issues of equity and also issues of how student characteristics influence the effectiveness of educational interventions.  Methodologically, we will examine different ways researchers have examined effects on student achievement – culminating in several class sessions devoted to an understanding of causal models using both experimental and quasi-experimental data.


Learning Technology, LSAP 3595 (Spring 2012)

Instructors: Lindsay Clare Matsumura & Sam Abramovich

There is strong evidence that Technological Innovations such as Computer Games, Robotics, Simulations, Computer Based Tutors, Mobile Divides and Online Social Networks have tremendous potential to support learning in both formal and informal environments.  What is less clear is how new technologies can be designed, applied, and evaluated to best induce learning.  The goal of this class will be to help participants use learning science theories to examine technologies, including:

--Evaluating technology for potential educative benefit

--Investigating why a technology did or did not have a desired effect

--Generating ideas for how technologies could be more effectively designed or used for formal and informal learning

--Examining how education policies could be designed to support the productive use and development of learning technologies

Class participants will be given an introduction to an array of emerging educational technologies with a specific focus on case study and evaluation, looking at both the positive and the negative in regards to learning.  Special attention will be paid to exploring learning technologies being developed in the Pittsburgh area.

The class will require the completion of a culminating project, the purpose of which will be to use the knowledge gained over the course of the semester in a practical take-away.  Possible projects include writing a proposal for using a learning technology in a novel way, an analytic paper focused on why a technology does or doesn't work, or analyzing the implicit assumptions about learning in a particular technology.  Participants will be strongly encouraged to use the technologies covered over the semester to produce prototypes or examples that inform their project.


Informal Learning, LSAP 3595 (Fall 2011)

Instructor: Kevin Crowley

This advanced seminar covers what's current in theory, evidence, and design in the field of informal learning. We begin with a scan of the current learning sciences research on how people learn in the disciplines across time and place, focusing particularly upon the disciplines of science and art. We then turn to questions of how settings are best designed to support informal learning, including museums, after-school, community organizations, media, drop-in make shops, and digital gaming. Finally, we speculate about future research, evaluation, and design work that is needed to advance the field. The class revolves around a semester-long collaborative research and design project where we work in a local setting to conceptualize, prototype, and refine a new informal learning setting. In Fall 2011, we will work in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to develop new reflective learning spaces on the museum floor.


Foundations of Cognitive Psychology, LSAP 3595 (Fall 2011)

Instructor: Chris Schunn

This course will introduce core issues, theories, and experimental findings in cognitive psychology. Topics to be covered include history of cognitive psychology, sensory perception, attention, memory, imagery, language, reasoning, learning and expertise, problem solving, decision making, and individual differences in cognition. The class format will be a small amount of lecture and a large amount of in-class discussion. You will be expected to understand these foundational theories and issues as well as the research methods used this area—in other words, how human cognition can be studied scientifically, and why the results of experimental investigations support particular theories. You will also learn something about how to write and present effective arguments on these topics to your peers—to argue points in a way that makes your arguments clearly presented, logically structured, and reflects insightful and reflective thinking. Most importantly, it is my hope that you will find deep connections between aspects of this course and your current and future professional life.


Motivation and Designs for Engaged Learning, LSAP 3595 (Spring 2011)

Instructor: Phillip Herman

This course is intended to help students better understand human motivation in practice. The emphasis is on learning how to analyze and design learning environments to support engaged learning. We will review seminal theories of human motivation that have influenced, and continue to influence, the design of learning environments in schools, at work, at home, at universities, in sports, online, and in more informal contexts such as in museums, after-school, and other community settings. Throughout the course we will work to integrate theoretical and empirical papers with efforts to design for more engaged learning. A number of important questions will be taken up by the class as a whole and by individuals or groups based on students’ interests and research/work contexts.

In the first half of the course, students will read theoretical and empirical papers to better understand learning motivation including papers related to goal theory, self-determination theory, attribution theory, locus of control, emotions, self-efficacy, self-regulation, sociocultural theories of motivation, interest, and identity. In the second half of the course, students will work on projects (or students’ existing research agendas) that focus on integrating what we know about motivation with the design of a learning environment in a context of interest.

This course is designed for students with various backgrounds including more research-focused Doctoral students and more practice-focused teacher education or leadership students who want to better understand how insights about motivation can be understood, measured, and used in practice. Considerable latitude will be given to students in terms of the projects they design or the questions they want to research.

The timing of this course coincides with the Centennial of the School of Education. In early May 2011, there will be a two-day conference at the School of Education focused on some of the issues raised in the course. Prominent speakers will come from throughout the country to present and discuss the state of motivation research and how it might better inform the design of engaging learning environments. Students in the course will be given the opportunity to participate in the conference in various ways.


Measurement of Teaching in the Content Areas (Grades K-12), LSAP 3595 (Fall 2010)

Instructors: Richard Correnti & Lindsay Clare Matsumura

This course will examine the various ways scholars have tried to quantify and understand the practice of teaching in classroom settings. The course is meant to provide a broad exposure to the methods used to examine classroom instruction in content area disciplines – with a special focus in Mathematics and Literacy (where most of the work has been concentrated). We will consider the different dimensions of teacher practice that are important for student learning. This framework will be important for mapping out how researchers currently attempt to measure those dimensions in practice. Students will gain practical experience trying to utilize these measures in order to understand their application and better understand the strengths/weaknesses of various measures. An additional frame for the course will focus on validity concerns – e.g., how to establish the validity of instructional measures with particular emphasis on the predictive validity of measures on student learning. Finally, we will also consider whether and how measures of teaching can be used to improve instruction in K-12 classrooms.


Building Network Improvement Communities as an Agent of Reform, LSAP 3595 (Spring 2010)

Instructors: Louis Gomez & Anthony Bryk (President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching)

In this seminar we explore literature that might lead to understanding about the construction of diverse networks of practitioners, designers, researchers, and developers, from the public and private sectors, that collaborate on high leverage problems in school improvement and organizational transformation. How are arrangements created to enable diverse communities to work together? We have come to call these arrangements Networked Improvement Communities (NICs). The aim of the seminar is to identify NIC-like organizations and characterize their elements. We explore organizations inside and outside of education that appear to be NICs. We seek to understand what data and social practice (e.g., regular meetings) allow the organization to support organizational improvement. We will read about organizations include the Linux development organization, the Semi-Conductor Industry Association, and perhaps Wikipedia.  What these organizations have in common is that they are all networked and distributed, but engage in significant degrees of collaboration across formal organizational boundaries to get work done.  But precisely how do they do this?  What rules and roles are created? How are responsibilities allocated and taken up (evidence + social authority to adjudicate conflicts, etc.) across a network?  What incentives operate to catalyze participation? We are especially interested in networks that have intentional goals – to build something together—although these goals might be multiple and broad.  Ultimately we will attempt to apply our insights to educational organizations and improvement.


Skill Acquisition, PSYC 2450 (Spring 2010)

Instructor: Christian Schunn

This course will introduce the foundational theories and issues in research on skill acquisition, problem solving, and reasoning.  Core questions include: what is the nature of expert problem solving and reasoning, what changes cognitively as an individual moves from novice to expert, and what factors influence how quickly people get to expert performance? This course focuses on the skills that experts develop rather than the knowledge they have, although the interrelationship of knowledge and skill will be examined. We will also examine research methods used in this area — in other words, how human problem solving and reasoning can be studied scientifically, and why the results of experimental investigations support particular theories of human skill acquisition, problem solving, and reasoning.