Research Interests

The Limits of Instruction
Constructionist research has demonstrated the benefits to students engaged in active learning by doing. The existing literature stresses the importance of a project approach as a precursor to instructional practices or as an ancillary activity to instruction. My work suggests that the project should be an educator’s smallest unit of concern and may replace instruction entirely, with better results. This research may also seek to define the limited efficacy of instruction.

The Seymour Papert Papers Project
Dr. Stager has assembled the largest collection of text, audio, and video by Dr. Seymour Papert. Papert, widely credited as the father of educational computing, made substantial contributions to child development, computer science, education reform, robotics, play, learning theory, mathematics, artificial intelligence, epistemology, social justice, the maker movement, and personal computing. Many of the documents collected have been ready by few and not subjected to scholarship. Curation and analysis with graduate students would make a serious contribution to knowledge.

Open Education
One of the most ambitious implementations of progressive education in history emerged in the early 1970s. Built on the ideas of John Dewey, John Holt, Herb Kohl, Lillian Weber, Jonathan Kozol, Ivan Illich, Charles Silberman and influenced by the British Infant schools, unschooling, Summerhill, the America civil rights and women’s rights movement, Open Education was implemented in public schools across the USA, UK, Canada and Australia. Open Education, also known as Open Classroom and Open Plan is widely dismissed as a colossal failure the likes of which should never to be attempted again. This research seeks to learn from open education, while revisiting its literature, identifying its lessons for contemporary school reform, and seeking a more nuanced view of its earlier implementation, informed by a clear distinction between politics, pedagogy, learning theory, and space design.

Computing and Young Children
Even the boldest most progressive approaches to early childhood education, such as the Reggio Emilia approach, display a conservatism about pre-k-3 making, tinkering, and engineering focused on tactile materials. My research interests seek to explore the power of computing – programming, design, and computational learning – as a means of knowledge construction by young children. Computing can supercharge the breadth, depth, and range of what children can learn and do while adding “colors to the crayon box,” in a fashion wholly consistent with the best traditions of progressive education. Early educational computing research of the 1970s and 80s informs a research agenda that has been largely abandoned due to mediocre software, a lack of vision, and “screen time” hysteria. New tools, activities, and learning materials will emerge from this work. Read more about this project.

The Future of Teacher Education
Correct or not, the prevailing consensus is that teacher education is in crisis. External forces (pundits and politicians) question its necessity. Colleges of education suffer from a catastrophic brew of decreasing enrollment, intellectual sclerosis, and disinterest in schools. The shift from teacher credentialing being an undergraduate to graduate course of study, beginning in the mid-1980s meant that students spend less time in apprentice situations and actually enroll in half the number of education subjects as when Education was offered as an undergraduate degree. The result of this shift was not greater scholarship among teaching candidates, but rather the sacrifice of programs fostering the creative art of teaching. What remains is a mechanistic focus on curriculum delivery and classroom management, with a sprinkling of systemic phonics and multiculturalism. If one is to believe that education quality has deteriorated, that decline has accompanied this narrowing of teacher preparation.

My interest is in the development of new models, curricula, and standards of teacher education that re-empower educators, provide deep, broad, rich experiences, exploit wondrous new constructive technologies, while developing practical pedagogical wisdom rooted in theory and a commitment to social justice.

Programming as Literacy

Research has established strong parallels between computer programming and process writing. This research will explore computer programming as a vehicle for learning to read.

Clever Computing for Kids
A research and development project concerned with identifying appropriate project-based and computationally-rich computer programming experiences for elementary school students. Rather than design a computer science curriculum for young people based on a list of topics, our efforts are concerned with identifying what children can learn and do in a developmentally appropriate context while supporting educators developing their own ability to support visible learning.