The SESAME Colloquium

The SESAME Colloquium offers talks on a variety of subjects related to the learning sciences.

Unless otherwise noted, in-person talks are given on Thursdays from 4:00 to 5:30 pm in room 4500, Berkeley Way West (2121 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94704). When talks are given remotely or in hybrid format, a Zoom link is included in the emailed announcement.

Contact to be added to our mailing list.

Videos of many past talks may be found on our Colloquium YouTube channel.

January 26, 2023: Özge Hacıfazlıoğlu

Cultivating Resilience and Balance In Times Of Uncertainty: Stories Of Faculty Members and Academic Leaders

Özge Hacıfazlıoğlu

UC Berkeley School of Education


This talk presents accounts of three complementary papers that investigated topics of balance and resilience in the lives of faculty members and academic leaders.

The first paper is a comparative study that examines the experiences of women leaders in Turkey and the US. It argues that the theme of balance in leadership appeared to be the most influential driving force in women leaders’ stories. It further shows that balance in leadership is associated with balance in two areas: balancing private and professional life, and balance in research, teaching, and leadership (Hacifazlioglu, 2010a). Academics who aspire to become academic leaders experience a number of changes as they move into administration. New academic leaders find themselves immersed in a transition that demands personal development and creates new learning settings. The followup study reveals that initial challenges felt and experienced during the transition stage are similar in both countries. The theme of transition to academic leadership involved the following three subthemes: entry to the academic leadership and adjustment; fit with the institution; and maintaining balance, overcoming resistance, and interpersonal relations. Academic leaders appeared to overcome the initial challenges they encountered through the following strategies: communities of practice, mentor and role models, and leadership training (Hacifazlioglu, 2010b).

The second paper focuses on the excessive practices of entitlement in higher education institutions and investigates the ways in which faculty wellbeing can be cultivated in challenging times. The dilemma of entitlement features in most faculty members’ stories, especially those in leadership roles. The paper shares accounts of faculty members who resigned from their current institutions due to the adverse effects of excessive entitlement on their wellbeing (Doyran and Hacifazlioglu, 2021).

The third paper shares stories of academic administrators traversing in waters of uncertainty during Covid-19. I was part of a team of scholars from Istanbul, Gaziantep, and Berkeley who, once the Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed, began to collect stories of academic leaders from two cosmopolitan cities that are home to different cultures and nationalities, Istanbul and Gaziantep. These narratives revealed the ways in which academic leaders sought to strike a balance between existing policies and the urgent issues they were facing, while also building resilience in dealing with layers of uncertainty that the pandemic made more complex. While for some the decisions they took and implemented and the strategies they created helped to mitigate uncertainty, for others the higher education context became foggier. We felt it important to inform our institutions of our findings, suggesting ways to improve academic leaders’ working conditions so they could become even more effective leaders during crises (Hacifazlioglu, Kuyumcu, Kalkavan and Cheung, 2022).

This research has given me, as a scholar and a leader in higher education, hope and courage to lead in times of change and uncertainty, and it has provided a compass in teaching and leading. The talk is expected to bring insights for the faculty members navigating waters of change and uncertainty, whilst nurturing their souls as scholars, leaders, and teachers.

About the speaker

Dr. Özge Hacıfazlıoğlu is currently a visiting professor at the UC Berkeley School of Education. She has recently served as a professor and a vice rector at Hasan Kalyoncu University in Turkey. She holds a doctorate in Educational Administration and pursued her post-doctorate education at Arizona State University.

Dr. Hacıfazlıoğlu has always been one of the leaders in promoting school faculty collaboration. She has been involved in projects focusing on improving the lives of migrant children and their families in marginalized contexts in different parts of the world. Her research can be categorized under four headings: Higher Education Leadership; Teacher Education, Principal Preparation, and Communities of Practice; Marginalized and Underrepresented Populations; and Doctoral Education.

Dr. Hacıfazlıoğlu is delighted to reflect upon her experiences as a leader scholar of the PLI and LEAD programs and the PhD program in School Psychology, and to contribute as one of the members of communities of practice at UC Berkeley School of Education.

Dr. Hacıfazlıoğlu has been the outreach coordinator on International Study Association on Teachers and Teaching (ISATT) Executive Committee since 2017.

February 2, 2023: Margus Pedaste

Digital competence and learning in Estonia – a country that is well known as one of the best in Europe according to digital readiness and PISA results

Margus Pedaste

University of Tartu, Institute of Education


Estonia is a small country in Northern Europe where flexibility in the education system and autonomy of the schools and teachers has led to good results. Estonia ranks first in Europe according to both the Index of Readiness for Digital Lifelong Learning and the PISA results. This talk will focus on how kids learn in Estonia and how their digital competence enables technology-enhanced learning. In this context, I also present data about teachers as agents of change in the learning process.

This presentation is largely tied to the research project DigiEfekt funded by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Research. In this project we have developed a framework to describe the use of digital learning materials, building on a review of current theoretical models and research studies as well as observations and interviews in schools in Estonia. I will additionally introduce and discuss frameworks of digital competence for learning and digital competence for teaching.

Data about students and teachers help identify clusters of learners and teachers as well as the challenges for further improvement of the technology-enhanced learning process. The results distinguish four profiles of learners as well as four profiles of teachers. The learner profiles are Beginners, Casual users, Creators, and Programmers. The teacher profiles are described according to their main practices and goals of integration of digital technology in the classrooms: Introducing, Facilitating, Motivating, and Deepening.

This new framework of digital competence for teaching highlights the needs to study educators’ decisions about using digital technologies in the learning process for the purpose of promoting equity and inclusion of the learners. The framework distinguishes basic, contextual, and transformative competences. The innovation of the framework lies in the dimension of transformative competence, which consists of creative adaptation of digital technologies in professional contexts and ethical and responsible use of digital technologies. I show how critical ethical and responsible use of technology should lead to better equity and inclusion in education.

About the speaker

Professor Margus Pedaste is currently a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Education working in Professor Linn’s group. At the University of Tartu (Estonia) he is Full Professor of Educational Technology at the Institute of Education of the Faculty of Social Sciences. He leads the Centre for Educational Technology and is also head of Pedagogicum, which is a consortium of all faculties for coordinating teacher education at the University of Tartu.

His teaching and research focus on improving learners’ digital competence and inquiry skills, as well as on educational technology in supporting teaching and learning. He has led or participated as a principal investigator in several international research and development projects to support students’ learning, teachers’ professional development, and teacher education reform in Estonia. He is an associate editor of the journal Educational Research Review. He is also the national educator for the Advanced Trauma Life Support program in Estonia and a member of Tartu Rotary Club.

February 16, 2023: Ane Bjerre Odgaard, Roland Hachmann, Stig Børsen Hansen, Niels Bonderup Dohn, Nina Bonderup Dohn

Designing for situated computational thinking with computational things

Ane Bjerre Odgaard (1), Roland Hachmann (1), Stig Børsen Hansen (1), Niels Bonderup Dohn (2), Nina Bonderup Dohn (1)

(1) Center for Learning Computational Thinking, University of Southern Denmark (SDU); and (2) Danish School of Education, Aarhus University


In this talk we present our ongoing research project, Designing for situated computational thinking with computational things. Building on research within situated learning, the project questions the widespread assumption that Computational Thinking (CT) consists in abstract, general, transferable skills that can be trained in one subject and reapplied in unmodified form to others. Instead, the project takes its outset in an understanding of CT as situated and embodied and asks as its main research question:

Research question: How can philosophically consistent and pragmatically useful pedagogical designs for CT be developed which take situativity into account and support learners in transforming their situated CT skills across contexts?

We investigate this question through a set of subprojects focusing on embodied learning and the use of “computational things,” that is, tangible, physical artefacts using algorithms. The subprojects are aimed, on the one hand, at providing a consistent conceptualization of CT as situated and embodied, and on the other, at empirically investigating how to design for the embodied learning of situated computational thinking at all educational levels. We shall present research on pedagogical designs from preschool, primary school and upper secondary school, focusing on whether and how CT integrates with play, transforms school subjects, and motivates for participation.

About the speakers

Ane Bjerre Odgaard is Postdoctoral researcher at University of Southern Denmark and Senior Lecturer at University College South Denmark. Her research focuses on Early Childhood Educational activities with CT at the intersection between technology use and play,

Roland Hachmann is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at University of Southern Denmark and Senior Lecturer in technology and Learning at University College South Denmark. His research covers educational research, Didaktik, and computational literacy.

Stig Børsen Hansen is an associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark. Originally trained in philosophy of logic, his interests include themes in philosophy, such as technology, language and philosophy of science and their relevance for the learning sciences.

Niels Bonderup Dohn is Associate Professor in Science Education at Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. His research focuses on motivation, interest and subject-didactics within science education,

Nina Bonderup Dohn is a Professor of Learning and ICT, Head of the Center for Learning Computational Thinking, and Senior Fellow at Danish Institute of Advanced Study at SDU. Her research focuses on situated knowledge, designs for learning with ICT, and computational thinking,

March 16, 2023: Gil Schwarts

Responsive mathematics teaching and responsiveness to mathematics teachers: Complexities and opportunities

Gil Schwarts

University of Michigan, Marsal School of Education


In this talk, I share my work on mathematics teachers' professional development (PD) in the GRIP lab at the University of Michigan. I discuss this issue under the lens of responsiveness at two levels: mathematics teachers' responsiveness to student thinking and how it might be enhanced (the classroom level), and responsiveness to mathematics teachers during collaborative learning (the PD level). I present two related studies. The first examines teachers' decision-making about student thinking during approximations of problem-based lessons in algebra and geometry. The second explores the complexities teachers and facilitators encounter in collaborative, process-oriented PD environments.

Building on the two studies, I offer principles for designing learning environments for mathematics teachers that focus on mathematical responsiveness to students' ideas while addressing teachers' professional needs. Overall, I emphasize the need for coherence (but not sameness) between the classroom and the PD levels, that is, between teacher and student learning goals.

About the speaker

Dr. Gil Schwarts is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Marsal School of Education at the University of Michigan. She earned her PhD in mathematics education at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Her scholarly work focuses on mathematics teachers' professional learning, collaboration, leadership, and decision-making processes. She is also interested in how teacher-student interactions can be enhanced to facilitate meaningful learning. Currently, Dr. Schwarts explores these issues in the context of secondary geometry and algebra teaching, at the GRIP (grasping the rationality of instructional practice) lab headed by Prof. Patricio Herbst.

March 23, 2023: Eleanor O'Rourke

Why Do Students Think They're Bad at Programming? Understanding and Supporting Motivation and Learning in CS1

Eleanor O'Rourke

Northwestern University


In this talk, I will introduce a surprising motivational challenge in the domain of computer science education: students often think they're bad at programming, even when they are performing well. I will present a series of studies showing that students in introductory courses at the university level assess their own programming ability frequently, using criteria that are often misaligned with best practices (e.g., "I should be able to debug quickly based off a first glance"; "I shouldn't have to sit there and think"). Then, I will show how we can use these self-assessment criteria as a lens to better understand student experiences and the ways they approach learning.

Finally, I will present initial research exploring how we can help through the design of both curricular interventions and intelligent programming environments that help students re-frame these experiences. Through this body of work, I will demonstrate the value of conducting research that crosses the boundaries of computer science and the learning sciences to deeply understand learning contexts and inform the design of novel learning environments.

About the speaker

Eleanor O'Rourke is an Assistant Professor in Computer Science and the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, where she co-directs the interdisciplinary Delta Lab. Her research explores the design of novel computational systems to support motivation and learning in STEM domains. Recent projects include studying student beliefs about programming ability in introductory computer science courses, designing game mechanics that encourage students to practice problem-solving skills, and developing web inspection tools that allow novice developers to learn directly from authentic professional websites.

Her interventions have been used by over 100,000 students online, adopted by companies, and integrated into classrooms. Her work has been recognized through an NSF CAREER Award, a Google Systems Research Award, and best paper awards and nominations at SIGCSE, UIST, and CHI.

April 6, 2023: Keisha Varma

Amplifying Parent Voices to Increase Middle School Students' Science Learning

Keisha Varma

University of Minnesota, Educational Psychology


Parental involvement is a critical lever that can increase positive academic outcomes for K-12 students. Technology can increase access to parental involvement opportunities to broaden the participation of parents who are from backgrounds that have historically been excluded from STEM fields. Increasing their involvement has the possibility of increasing students’ STEM learning outcomes.

My research focuses on middle school students and parents from groups that have been historically underrepresented in STEM. We work with teachers to leverage a technology enhanced social learning environment (SLE) to invite parents and students to share familial knowledge and everyday lived experiences that are relevant to the scientific content being covered in their classes. We hypothesize that a technology enhanced SLE will support parents’ participation in students’ science learning activities, explicitly validate diverse cultural backgrounds in science instruction, and, ultimately, broaden STEM participation for students of color. Teachers will have an innovative method of instruction and a new tool for cultivating home-school partnerships centered on academics. Students will have a method of engaging in scientific practices that are relevant to their lived experiences, and parents will have a new avenue for contributing to their child’s science learning.

In this talk I will present details of the NSF-funded ESPRIT (Fostering Equitable Science through Parent Involvement and Technology) I-Test Project and some of our early findings about the relationship between parent involvement and student learning.

About the speaker

Keisha Varma is a professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Educational Psychology. Her research program explores the cognitive processes that underlie science learning. In her work, she investigates students’ understanding of complex science concepts and how technology can facilitate science learning. She works at the intersection of educational psychology, cognitive science, and the learning sciences, examining learning and cognition in technology-enhanced classroom settings.

A theme throughout her research is examining K-12 students’ representations of complex systems. Her work shows that technology can enhance students’ learning behaviors and improve their representations for complex systems. Her current interests focus on using multiple methodologies to measure students’ representations of complex scientific systems as she analyzes the relationship between students’ interactions with scientific visualizations and their learning outcomes. Additionally, she is interested in studying teacher knowledge development. She is currently looking at ways to leverage psychological methodologies to understand changes in teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge and their representations of effective teaching practice.

Keisha is also Associate Vice President of the UMN Office for Equity and Diversity and Director of the Institute for Equity, Diversity, and Advocacy.

April 13, 2023: Tomas Højgaard

Mastery goals and high-stakes summative assessment

Tomas Højgaard

Aarhus University, School of Education, Copenhagen, Denmark


In this talk, which is based on a submitted conference paper, I discuss the challenges and affordances of assessing students’ possession of mastery goals in general and mathematical competencies in particular. I argue that using a set of mathematical competencies as learning goals for mathematics education challenges the reliability of the assessment schema, but also holds potential in raising the validity. The latter is evidenced and exemplified by a case study of oral exams following experimental competency oriented mathematics education in grades 7-9 in Denmark, cf. a translation of parts of the logbook with links to subtitled video shots from the exams (the required password is Tomas).

About the speaker

Tomas Højgaard holds a position as Associate Professor at The School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark ( He has a Master’s Degree in mathematics and public economics and a PhD in mathematics education from Roskilde University, Denmark. His professional work follows three major strands: teaching mathematics teacher educators; researching the use of descriptions of mathematical competencies in general and mathematical modelling competency in particular as a means for developing mathematics education; and cooperation with teachers on various developmental projects.  His most recent projects have focused on curriculum development, systematic in-service development of teachers’ professional competencies, structuring and writing of mathematics textbooks and the use of project work to develop directed autonomy. He is currently on study leave at the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley, visiting Professor Alan Schoenfeld.

April 20, 2023: Edit Yerushalmi

Noticing and Tailoring Instruction to Data Revealed by GrouPer: A Group-Oriented Learning Analytic Tool for Physics Teachers

Edit Yerushalmi

Department of Science Teaching, Weizmann Institute of Science


A central direction in the integration of artificial intelligence in teaching and learning is the use of learning-analytic tools to inform teachers’ decision making with data on their students’ reasoning. However, to benefit from these tools, teachers may need to change their instructional perceptions and practices.

This presentation describes the large-scale implementation of a learning analytic tool dubbed GrouPer. Based on big data, it clusters students into groups who exhibit similar knowledge structures when solving problems on a specific physics topic. It presents teachers with projection of their own class on these clusters. The problems target conceptual difficulties as well as problem-solving strategies. We examined what teachers noticed and how they planned to tailor instruction to the data presented by the GrouPer dashboard. I will discuss the considerations underlying the design of the tool, and the findings revealed in two datasets:

  1. Interviews with 10 teachers who were asked to compare the GrouPer dashboard with a more standard dashboard. The discussion will center on the teachers’ views of advantages and disadvantages of the additional data provided by the GrouPer.
  2. Reports by participants in a national network of professional learning communities of Physics teachers. First, the teachers experienced the GrouPer at community meetings. Then, teachers in turns reported how they tailored their instruction to the GrouPer data. Even though the teachers appreciated the additional data provided by the GrouPer on students’ clusters, analysis of ten self-reports suggested that they in fact attended to the outliers rather than the clusters, and interpreted the data hierarchically rather than in terms of the underlying knowledge structures.

About the speaker

Edit Yerushalmi heads the Physics Education Research Group at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The group is involved in research, curricular design, and operation of nation-wide professional development frameworks.

Current projects include the National Physics Teacher Center, the National Network of Professional Learning Communities for Physics Teachers, 'Gateway to Physics' middle-school inquiry units and accompanying professional development workshops, the Physics track in the Personalized Teaching and Learning (PeTeL) environment, the Rothschild-Weizmann MSc Program for Excellence in Science Teaching, and the 'Interdisciplinary Computational Science' advanced-level program.

April 27, 2023: Jennifer Higgs

Title TBA

Jennifer Higgs

University of California, Davis, School of Education



About the speaker


May 4, 2023: Jing Lin

Technology-based Cognitive Diagnosis of Scientific Modeling

Jing Lin

Collaborative Innovation Center of Assessment for Basic Education Quality, Beijing Normal University


Scientific modeling has been recognized as a core scientific practice. Previous studies have examined students' modeling practice by evaluating students' modeling products, but much less is known about the challenges students encounter during the complex process. We have developed two versions of a computer-based measurement instrument for procedural observation of students' scientific modeling from the four-element process, i.e., the construction, use, evaluation, and revision of models. Using the validated instruments, we tested students in grades 4, 7, and 8, and correlated the relevant higher-order thinking such as spatial visualization and creative thinking to analyze their performance in scientific modeling. The results of the different difficulties of the four elements and their grade differences, as well as the predictive role of spatial visualization, might enlighten model-based instruction and provide a clue for further research on the cognitive mechanism of the modeling process.

About the speaker

Jing Lin, PhD, Associate Professor of Beijing Normal University (China), Director of Science Education Quality Development Department at Collaborative Innovation Center of Assessment for Basic Education Quality. Dr Lin is the PI of National High-end Foreign Experts Project on improving scientific literacy for all, and NSFC Project of cognitive and brain mechanisms of scientific modeling. In collaboration with experts from inside and outside China, Dr. Lin focuses on assessment and improvement of students' scientific literacy and teachers' key competencies. She also studies SSI-based teaching and learning for primary and secondary schools. (

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