After working as a Computer Science Engineer for about a decade, Preeti Raman arrived at OISE with a plan to earn a Master of Education degree. However, she is leaving with a PhD and an expanded vision and mission.
“The magic of OISE took hold,” says Raman, who will take part in OISE’s November Convocation ceremony. “I often use the word OISE-fy, right? You come to OISE as a different person and you leave a different person.”
Raman recalls, “I was working with school teachers in Peel, and introducing them to educational technology, because I have the experience with the technology part. But, I didn’t quite get the nuances of the education part.”
It was that itch to understand education’s relationship to technology that urged her drive to study at OISE. “It’s easy for me to tell teachers, ‘Okay, let’s go use Kahoot’ – because it does have some good features. But, how they use it, and in what ways it actually impacts their classroom, is an important question,” explained Raman, who eventually earned her Master of Arts from OISE in 2019.
“You can go into any depth you want and that reflection is something that I’ve experienced at OISE,” she adds.
Early courses with Professors Kathleen Gallagher, Jim Hewitt and Jim Slotta were all eye openers for Raman because they challenged what she knew and urged her to inquire further than she ever had. “I think it's important for any of us to go to those uncomfortable spaces. I think that’s what OISE encourages you to do,” says Raman, who is grateful for those early months. “So, I took courses that, yes, spoke to technology, but then, push your thinking beyond that.”
It is a curiosity around education technology that formed Raman’s doctoral focus. Under the tutelage of Professor Marlene Scardamalia, a Royal Society of Canada fellow and a global leader in education technologies, Raman sought to design and research about data-enhanced education experiences and technologies – ones that support pedagogies across a range of settings. Raman’s work is at the intersections of Affect Studies, Human Computer Interaction, the Learning Sciences, and Knowledge Building.
Scardamalia saw that curiosity and passion immediately, when they met in her Introduction to Knowledge Building course. “She stood out from the first moments,” said Scardamalia, whose innovations helped create and shape the field of Knowledge Building to engage students directly in the means by which knowledge in the world is advanced. “Each comment was insightful and conveyed careful study of material—before the material was even assigned! The quality and quantity of contributions was exceptional and other students often thanked her for her contributions to their research.”
She adds, “she is genuinely interested in the ideas of others and spends significant time advancing their ideas—to the benefit of the entire community. She advances community knowledge regardless of the context.”
Working with the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning – in particular with Scardamalia but with many others – Raman’s focus refined and evolved over time. It was changing her, for the better.
“You come in thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to design technology that’s going to work,’ but then you leave asking questions around critical pedagogy and [ask] where’s the action in this for students? Is this technology actually contributing to epistemic agency? How am I knowledge building?,” she adds.
“The questions become deeper – you start with something simple and you just go deep.”
Keeping the user at the centre
“It’s about going back to Julia.”
For Raman, Julia – or any person or user – should always be at the centre of developing learning technologies.
Her dissertation on learning analytics – that is, the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts – is just as personal. She introduced the concept of the five koshas, which she learned from her from childhood in India, into her treatise titled “The Role of Integrative Analytics for Knowledge Building: Supporting Practices of Care.”
In her defense, she successfully connected those five kosha, or layers of human growth and existence – that is, Annamaya (physical body), Pranamaya (breath and energy), Manamaya kosha (feelings and emotions), Vijnanamaya kosha (knowledge and wisdom), and Anandamaya kosha (creativity and bliss) – to core care practices in Knowledge Building, including self-care, care for the other, care for the community and care for the world.
“She introduced us to this and … actually made a transition that all committee members thought was pretty brilliant,” said Scardamalia, in public comments about Raman’s successful dissertation defence in September. For Scardamalia, Raman’s analysis successfully brought a refreshed outlook to Knowledge Building. “She took this framework and expanded it to caring for others, and then caring for the community and the world.”
“As a global group we’re all trying to cope with issues of how to advance knowledge for public good and understand aspects of Knowledge Building that are hard to understand such as how the knowledge and feeling parts are inseparable. She just did a wonderful job showing how they are interwoven and can be advanced together; all of her committee members were really quite open about the fact that she is exploring new and important spaces for education.”
Ultimately, Raman wants to emphasize the importance of focusing on classrooms, students and teachers when taking learning analytics into account. “When you think about learning analytics, people think about it as the system that’s going to work for everyone – ‘It’s not always about the algorithm or the data, it’s always about the purpose,’” she explains.
But to Raman, who engaged in co-design work, the technology needs to go further. “I engage in co-design and I think that’s been a really great experience for me [at OISE] because when you’re in the classroom, you’re listening to the teacher, you’re learning from them. And you’re designing with them.”
It is a philosophy that has guided Raman through the kinds of projects she collaborated on during her time at OISE. As part of the Pepper Project group, she is dedicated to the design of online and blended learning software that fosters 21st Century skills. As a consultant, she worked with different private sector clients and university departments across Ontario and the world. Under the guidance of Professor Clare Brett, she has also supported faculty integration of digital technologies into Teaching at OISE.
Scardamalia reflected on Raman’s approach and work with regard. Preeti’s capacity for integrative thought is reflected in the fact that she has worked in the labs and published with all faculty in the Digital Technologies in Education emphasis, not to mention with many of the students of these faculty members, says Scardamalia.
“Her published work conveys yet another layer of integrative thought, spanning areas of research such as socio-emotional learning, critical action, equity, identity, socialization, data literacy, social and emotional presence, digital storytelling, gamification, award badges, empathy, design thinking, online learning and assessment—and now new work in Knowledge Building and communities of care,” added Scardamalia. “What good fortune for me to have met Preeti and to experience the joys of advancing cutting-edge work in Knowledge Building with her.”
It is this nature of care that Raman received from Scardamalia, something she is deeply grateful for.
“What Marlene did so well is that she cared for me in ways that I wanted to be cared for,” she said. “She gave me independence, but always guided me with critical feedback to help my ideas grow.”
Raman recalls when she would bring ideas to Scardamalia to consider. She would say that is a good idea, but “have you also considered… how will you address it…”
“I think having that kind of care was super helpful. And I think that pushed me to finish sooner, pushed my work further,” says Raman.
A teacher’s approach to MIT
With her time at OISE done for now, Raman has already begun her postdoctoral life. Beginning this fall, Raman begins a postdoctoral placement at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – in their Teaching Systems Lab (TSL). The Lab seeks to design, implement, and research the future of teacher learning.
“The work that TSL does is in teacher education, particularly in providing practice spaces for teachers to get uncomfortable in a safe environment, allowing them to rehearse for and reflect on important decisions in teaching” says Raman, explaining the Lab’s intent.
Professor Scardamalia praises Raman for completing her doctoral studies and her new position at MIT. “Off and away!” says Scardamalia, citing from Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You'll Go! “Congratulations on your brilliant work at OISE and your new position at MIT.
“You are an inspiration. Continue to align passion, purpose, and your capacity for Knowledge Building, and the path ahead will be bright for you, for education, and for the international Knowledge Building team.”
It is early days at MIT, but Raman says her OISE experience – gaining comfort in writing grants, academic writing and teaching courses – has given her the training she needs to excel at the vaunted institution.
TSL is part of the school’s department of Comparative Media Studies and Writing, and the only education lab of its kind there. “I am still getting used to the not OISE feeling,” she continues, “It'll take some time. But, I am fortunate to collaborate with some wonderful scholars and students at MIT around important global issues that require our attention.”
That OISE feeling will come eventually, as she feels more at home and engages with the many “deep thinkers” at MIT, she says. And, it won’t stop her from OISE-fying that place, too.
“OISE-fy MIT? Yeah, for sure,” she laughed.