Faculty member Danish wins major early-career award

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Indiana University School of Education Assistant Professor Joshua Danish is the recipient of a nationally-recognized early-career award for conducting research that advances learning in technology. Danish received the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies in April during the national meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The award is given to one outstanding early career researcher a year by AERA’s Division C.

Danish is a faculty member in the Learning Sciences program of the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department at the IU School of Education. His many research projects include work as a co-primary investigator on a National Science Foundation-funded project to use technology that takes elementary-age students inside complex science concepts. He is also continuing work on another NSF-funded effort, the “BioSim” project that uses electronically enhanced puppets to simulate biological phenomena. In addition, Danish is a three-time recipient of the Trustees Teaching Award from the IU School of Education and previously earned honorable mention for the Teaching with Sakai Innovation Award, given for creating a rich online learning experience.

Nominators praised Danish’s creative thinking and his ability to translate it into useful learning tools. “Dr. Danish is having a major impact on the field as he investigates young children’s learning about systems,” wrote Cindy Hmelo-Silver, professor in the Learning Sciences department and director of the Center for Research on Learning and Technology at the IU School of Education. “Dr. Danish’s innovative work empowers young children by supporting learning about complex systems. This work provides critical insights into how activities can be designed to foster learning about complex phenomena.  Dr. Danish’s research exemplifies the best of learning sciences research by attending to both student learning and the ways that learning is supported through the organization of activity.”

The award is designed to particularly identify scholars early in their careers. Honorees are expected to show new ways to think about technology used for learning and education, place young people and educators in the middle of their problem-solving process, balance innovation and understanding, and use technology for broad educational improvements. For earning the award, Danish receives a stipend, a plaque, and will present a talk during the award session of next year’s AERA conference.

Danish said his doctoral studies advisor won the award when he was in graduate school, so the Hawkins Award had been an early-career goal. “I remember hearing about it and thinking ‘I want to do that one day,” he said. Before entering academia, Danish was an engineer and educational software designer.

Danish said the fact that he received the award is a nice nod to the idea that his work is not simply something that looks interesting, but also has a real impact. His projects certainly are that; the “Science Through Technology Enhanced Play” uses motion capture software that allows students to test models. A child can play the part of a rolling ball using the computer and test theories about how forces would affect the ball’s movement. The BioSim project creates wearable puppets such as one that looks like a bee that contains electronic sensors to indicate behaviors as the bee seeks nectar.

The fact that the work is changing how young students learn is why Danish thinks he was selected for the award. “I'm focused on really young kids,” he said. “A lot of the work in the field tends to focus on older students, or when it focuses on younger kids it focuses on what they're not good at. I've tried really hard to position my work to assume kids are smarter than we usually think and build on their strengths so that technology can let them shine through.”