SESAME Colloquium

The SESAME Colloquium offers talks on a variety of subjects related to the learning sciences. Videos of many past talks may be found on our Colloquium YouTube channel(link is external).

Talks are given on Thursdays from 4:00 to 5:30pm in room 4500, Berkeley Way West (2121 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94704).

September 2, 2021: Michelle Wilkerson

Learning from Youths' Resistance in the Design of Scientific Computing Activities

Michelle H. Wilkerson

Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley

Note: This talk will be a repeat of my 2021 Jan Hawkins Address at AERA.


At its core, my work seeks to introduce youth to scientific computing as an expressive and human endeavor. In collaboration with wonderful colleagues, I've worked to position building simulations, designing data visualizations, or analyzing large-scale datasets as both epistemic and communicative activities that can help students understand and advocate for issues they care about. Across multiple projects, we have observed several instances of youths' resistance to the tools, tasks, and social narratives embedded within these activities. These instances of resistance, coupled with ongoing conversations in the Learning Sciences, have led us to iteratively expand the underlying theories and analytic focus of our work.

In this talk, I'll present a series of such episodes that examine the specific ways in which youths' resistance to our designs and activities have challenged our underlying theories of learning, pedagogy, and design. Then, I'll talk a bit about the Writing Data Stories project, a collaboration with Kris Gutiérrez, Hollylynne Lee, and Bill Finzer in which we are explicitly designing for resistance by surfacing tensions between computational and everyday ways of knowing. 

About the speaker

I am a learning scientist whose work explores computational and data literacies, with special focus on how young people learn about scientific computing tools such as computer simulation, data visualization, or statistical analysis packages. Broadly, the questions that animate my research agenda are: How do young learners come to understand the epistemic and communicative functions of scientific computing tools (and the texts these tools produce)? And, What are social, curricular, and technological supports for facilitating such learning in K-12 classrooms and beyond?

Given the impact that scientific computing has had across fields, my scholarship has appeared in a variety of venues including Journal of the Learning Sciences, Instructional Science, Science Education, Mathematical Thinking and Learning, Educational Studies in Mathematics, and Educational Technology Research & Development. In 2014 my research was awarded a U. S. National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award, and in 2021 I was honored with the Jan Hawkins Award for Humanistic Scholarship in Educational Technology.

October 14, 2021: Suneal Kolluri

Love and Meritocracy: Culturally Affirming Care and Cheating at an Urban High School

Suneal Kolluri

San Diego State University, College of Education


Scholars of education have interrogated care in educational contexts, mostly theorizing the concept in schools with an absence or abundance of authentic care. Authentic care includes culturally affirming care that honors students' cultural backgrounds as well as critical care that encourages them to analyze injustice and enact change in their communities. Authentic care is distinct from aesthetic care, a version of care more traditionally applied in schools that emphasizes learning standards and educational achievement. In schools where authentic care is absent, students struggle; in schools where it is abundant, they excel, scholars assert. In most urban schools, however, care is neither absent nor abundant.

This talk draws on an ethnography of an urban school to understand how authentic care is applied at the school and how students respond to this unique ecology of care. At Sunrise High School educators employed an incomplete version of care where they held high academic standards, demonstrated profound cultural affirmation, but promoted meritocratic ideologies devoid of social critique. In the face of this culturally affirming, academically rigorous care sans a critique of injustice, students responded by completing their work, but cheating to do so. Findings suggest implications for care in urban high schools and the importance of a critical approach to learning in urban educational contexts.

About the speaker

Suneal Kolluri is a sociologist of education interested in how schools reinforce social stratifications. His work manifests as three strands of research. The first and most prominent strand regards college readiness, looking to the policies and pedagogies of high schools that impact the ability of marginalized students to achieve success in postsecondary contexts. The second looks at the intersection between the classroom and communities, seeking to understand how schools prepare working-class, racially minoritized students to engage and challenge social hierarchies. The third strand of his research is theoretical, engaging the intersections of sociology and educational scholarship to understand how social stratifications unfold in educational contexts. HIs research has made substantive impacts on educational discourse in scholarly and popular media contexts.

October 21, 2021: SpEED Group

Catching up with SpEED: Applying a framework for inclusive equitable learning opportunities through Special Education Embodied Design

Christina Krause, Sofia Tancredi, Rachel Chen, Brittney Cooper, Erin Foley, Jacqueline Anton, John Kim, and Dor Abrahamson

University of California, Berkeley


Inclusive learning environments seek to involve all learners and, at best, allow learners to learn in their own ways. Going beyond access, educational designers should embrace diverse learner profiles as a resource for active participation and content-learning. How can we rethink existing approaches to inclusive design for learning?

We suggest reconsidering educational accessibility from the theoretical perspective of 'Embodied Cognition,' a view on thinking and learning that foregrounds the body’s sensorimotor interaction with and in the world as central to the development of cognitive structures. The resulting perspective is a framework for accessibility design and design-based research that we refer to as Special Education Embodied Design (SpEED).

In this presentation, we outline how practical and theoretical dimensions of SpEED continuously develop through new reflections from individual projects. We provide examples of these projects—each engaging students with diverse sensorimotor profiles—with a focus on how the framework can guide the process of designing equitable learning opportunities by ‘thinking SpEED.’

About the speakers

Christina Krause (Dr. rer. nat., Mathematics Education, University of Bremen Germany, 2015) is a postdoctoral Marie Skłodowska Curie fellow from Germany, sponsored by the European Union. Her interests lie in the intersections of embodiment, multimodality, and language in mathematical thinking and learning. She currently visits Dor Abrahamson’s Embodied Design Research Lab to carry out her project SignEd|Math in which she explores how Deaf students’ use of sign languages can be valued as a resource when designing mathematical learning opportunities.

Sofia Tancredi is a 4th year graduate student in the joint doctoral program in Special Education at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She conducts design-based research at the intersection of accessibility and embodied cognition theory with a focus on sensory neurodiversity and multimodality.

Rachel Chen Siew Yoong is a doctoral candidate in Special Education, with a designated emphasis in New Media. Through design-based research and video-based research on everyday human interaction, Rachel is currently writing her dissertation on the social cognitive abilities of non-speaking Autistic children. In her spare time, she enjoys improvising on her violin, and tinkering with interactive technologies, both of which have directly influenced her work.

Brittney Cooper is a 4th year student in the Special Education Joint Doctoral program. Her research explores the application of Enactivism and Ecological Psychology on the language learning of students with severe motor impairments. Specifically, her work is focused on designing activities that support relational concept development among children who communicate using voice output communication aids (VOCAs).

Erin Foley is a 3rd year student in the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education between UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. Her research focuses on how multimodal engagements with data through improved access to the core aspects of working with data can facilitate data literacy and data visualization literacy for non-visual learners.

Jacqueline Anton is a 1st year doctoral student in special education at UC Berkeley & San Francisco State University. Her research focuses on accessible/ enactive activities that allow students with intellectual disability to access the number line.

John Kim is a 1st year student in the Special Education Joint Doctoral program at UC Berkeley. His research interest consists of the association of language acquisition and its pragmatics within functional task-oriented activities reflecting the theories of embodied cognition.

Dor Abrahamson (PhD, Learning Sciences, Northwestern University, 2004) is a Professor at the Graduate School of Education, University of California Berkeley, where he runs the Embodied Design Research Laboratory. Abrahamson is a design-based researcher who invents pedagogical technologies for teaching and learning mathematics. He analyzes data gathered in the course of evaluating these products to develop theoretical models of cognitive and social processes leading to insight and fluency. Abrahamson is particularly interested in relations between learning to move in new ways and learning mathematics concepts. His research has been funded by federal agencies and private foundations. Otherwise, Dor enjoys playing the cello, hiking, biking, reading, and spending time with his family and pets.

November 4, 2021: Sarah Bichler

Leveraging Students’ Emerging Ideas to Guide Them Towards Knowledge Integration

Sarah Bichler

Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley

Note: This talk will be an extended version of a talk I gave at the Latsis Symposium, ETH Zürich, Switzerland.


In STRIDES (Supporting Teachers in Responsive Instruction to Develop Expertise in Science), we seek to make visible the various ideas middle and high school students have about complex science topics. In this collaborative project between UC Berkeley and ETS, we use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to automatically score students’ written responses and use the generated classroom analytics to design a teacher dashboard. We position students’ ideas as the starting point for deepening understanding and developing scientific explanations. To support teachers in noticing students’ ideas, affirming their initial ideas as well as the experiences and observations that led students to these ideas, and flexibly building instruction around these ideas, we show the average level of understanding, example student responses indicative of the class level understanding, and recommended pedagogical actions in the teacher dashboard.

In this talk, I’ll present how we design NGSS aligned assessment questions, develop NLP models to automatically score students’ written explanations in real-time, embed these questions and associated models in online science curriculum, and how we iteratively refineme the teacher dashboard. I’ll also talk about how teachers use the dashboard a) during instruction and b) during professional development and the impact this window into student thinking has on teachers’ responsiveness in the moment of teaching and while customizing curriculum.

About the speaker

I am an educational psychologist/learning scientist strongly interested in finding out how to design instruction that aptly suits different learners’ needs. I am particularly passionate about using technology and developing technology innovations that make personalized learning experiences possible.

In STRIDES, my research focusses on questions like: What ideas do students have? How can we make these ideas visible and support teachers to notice their students’ ideas? How does responsive instruction really look like? What are responsive teachers doing? How can we trace the impact that automatically scoring students’ responses and providing a teacher dashboard have on teaching practice and student learning? How do we design the dashboard to encourage a resource-rich perspective on students, their initial ideas, and their potential?

November 18, 2021: [talk to be rescheduled]

If you have questions about the Colloquium series, please contact