#AskDr.Dé | The Role of Academic Research in the IslandWood Graduate Program

#AskDr.Dé | The Role of Academic Research in the IslandWood Graduate Program

Dr. Déana Scipio, Director of the IslandWood Graduate Program in Education for Environment and Community, has been even busier than usual lately. Between adapting the graduate program to align with current educational research, collaborating with fellow educators, and preparing to step into her upcoming role as chair of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Special Interest Group for Informal Learning Environments, Déana has been hard at work participating in a reciprocal conversation between the IslandWood Graduate Program and the broader field of education research. Read on to learn more about what she’s been up to recently, and the relationship between research-driven theory and practice in the graduate program.


P.S. Want to learn more about Déana and her work? Check out the full Ask Dr. Dé blog series here.


What research projects have you been working on recently?


Co-writing a Book Chapter on Practice-Based Teacher Education…


Recently, I collaborated on a chapter titled “Preparing Science Teachers Through Practice-Based Teacher Education” in the [upcoming] book Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining Approaches to Ambitious Science Teaching Pedagogies, with Jessica Thompson, Kristen Mawyer, Heather Johnson, and April Luehmann. We are all practitioners from different parts of the country – Jessica is at the University of Washington, Kristen’s at the University of Hawaii, Heather’s at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and April’s at Rochester University in New York.


Developing Multiple STEM Teaching Tools…


I also worked on an environmental intersectionality STEM Teaching Tool. It’s a tool that [IslandWood Urban School Programs Educator] Laura Brown and I worked on with other two educators. The STEM Teaching Tools are widely used in teacher education, by both pre-service and in-service educators. The goal of many of the tools is to boil down complex theories or ideas, and make sure that that information gets translated to practitioners in ways that can be really useful for them. I also collaborated on another Teaching Tool about race equity, anti-racism, and STEM, that will be available soon.


Collaborating on a White Paper About Project-Based Learning and Equity…


I’ve been working on a white paper about project-based learning and equity for the George Lucas Educational Fondation. As opposed to a journal article, a white paper is a theory-driven report that is typically requested by an organization or other entity. Again, with this project, I get to work with a group of other scholars and think about how project-based learning can be a tool for equity-oriented instruction for young people. This project is “discipline agnostic”, so we’re including STEM examples alongside examples from many different disciplines.


Leading a Professional Development Unit for High School Physics Teachers…


Another recent project I worked on was an energy and equity professional development opportunity for teachers. I worked with a group of folks – some at UW-Bothell, and some at Seattle Pacific University – who had received a National Science Foundation grant to work with in-service high school physics teachers who are specifically teaching topics that have to do with energy. I taught a unit for those teachers based on the work that we do with IslandWood grad students around intersectionality and positionality.


Working with the American Educational Research Association…


I’m on the board for the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and I’m the incoming chair of the AERA Special Interest Group for Informal Learning Environments. That particular role puts me in communication with other informal learning environments and researchers. As a board member, I work with my fellow members to review panel submissions and determine which ones will be presented at the national AERA Conference. We also work to build networks and connect to other informal learning environments and researchers around the country, including people who do research at museums, zoos, aquariums, after school programs, etc. – whoever determines themselves to be an informal learning environments researcher. That particular work is very important to me, and I’ve been pushing hard for us to include justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion into that work as well.


Writing an Article About Intersectionality and Positionality…


I’m currently writing an article about the work of looking at intersectionality and positionality as a way to highlight justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the IslandWood Graduate Program. The article addresses the question of “Why talk about positionality and intersectionality, as opposed to starting with privilege?” It’s not that I don’t believe that privilege is important. It’s that I think, pedagogically, there are a lot of pitfalls that you can fall into when trying to have conversations with people about their privilege. When you have conversations with people about their privilege, they can get stuck on the word “privilege.” People are like, “My life is hard. I don’t experience privilege. I don’t know what you’re talking about”, or “My parents worked really hard for everything that we have, so I don’t have privilege.” I think those conversations tend to lead to defensiveness and discomfort. And we know that those are not learning places for most people – shame, discomfort. It’s not that I’m pacing for the comfort of privileged people; it’s more that beginning conversations by talking about privilege feels less effective to me than talking with people about their positionality and intersectional identities. Positionality allows you to talk about the way that each person’s identities position them in relation to larger systems of oppression. So, you’re still talking about systems of oppression, and you’re still talking about how people are relationally placed because of their intersectional identities. But it’s a way of talking about people within the structures of social practice that allows people to think about their individual experience in relationship to larger systems of oppression.


[Ed. note: Since our conversation, Déana has also been asked to be a contributor to the National Science Foundation’s Science Education Campaign for Research, Equity, and Teaching project. Stay tuned for updates about Déana’s contributions to the project!]



Why is research so important to you and to the IslandWood Graduate Program?


Part of why it matters to me to continue research and scholarship is because the network of people I’m able to collaborate with are so central to my own development. I think of scholarship, and of participating in writing and conferences, as joining a conversation. This is a conversation that I have participated in for quite some time, and that I wanted to participate in when I went to graduate school myself. So it’s important to me to continue to do this work.


I think that there is critical scholarship happening in both formal and informal learning environments. In both areas, you will run into researchers who say, you know, “I just study science” or “I’m just doing math.” And so they can think that research doesn’t apply to them. For me, the goal is to try to make it clear that all of the work we do in informal learning environments is connected to critical scholarship, and that we need to be looking at all of our work through this lens.


The thing that has been so important to me about this type of work is having the ability to talk about our teacher preparation program in relationship to other teacher preparation programs – to think about the things that we hold in common, as well as the things that are unique about our program. Our program is about practice-based teacher education, and our practicum is where our graduate students get that practice, so it’s really important to me to make sure that the work we’re doing in the graduate program is aligned with and in conversation with research and theory around teacher learning. Also, because our work [in the graduate program] is so theory-driven, it’s important to me to continue to develop connections and to build and sustain those relationships with colleagues.


At IslandWood in particular, we have the context to be able to blend research, design, and practice. I think we do an especially great job with the practice aspect right now. We’ve been working to evolve and redesign aspects of our academics in collaboration with new faculty, which is helping us be much more aligned with what’s happening in the field of educational research. And that feels really good to me.



How do you see the role of researching in the graduate program evolving in the future?


I think the next logical extension of this work is incorporating research opportunities into our graduate program, so that our students can begin to fully participate in research before they leave IslandWood. Deepening research connections, writing grants, and conducting research on the things that students are experiencing in the practicum will not only help our program connect to the broader research community, but will really benefit our graduate students. Especially at a Master’s level, many students don’t have opportunities to participate in research projects. And I think that having those opportunities can develop even more marketable skills as they go out into the world. And research is a practice as well, so connecting students to the practice of conducting research can also help set them up to participate even more fully in broader conversations about research and design and pedagogy.


We have a reciprocal relationship with the field of educational theory, where we have things to offer the field based on our practical experiences, and we have things to learn from the field in turn. That’s what our participation in these conversations looks like, right? We find out new things, we hear new information, we’re inspired by something happening out in the world, and then we bring it in and figure out how we can operationalize it here at IslandWood. And then we’re able to share back to the community, to say, “We use this method, and here’s how we do it.”



This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Learn more about the IslandWood Graduate Program here.

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