Dr. Hillary Swanson (she/her)
Contact InformationPhone: (435) 797-0782
PhD, Science and Mathematics Education - University of California at Berkeley
BA, Physics - Colorado College
Across her teaching and research, Hillary likes to share her favorite Einstein quote: “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” The idea has been a driving force behind her research, which explores how engaging in scientific practices helps students refine their everyday thinking into scientific understanding.
Hillary brings years of experience as a classroom teacher to her academic work. Before transitioning to research, she taught physics, chemistry, and math at high schools including High Tech High, a project-based school in San Diego, California.
Through her experience as a teacher, Hillary became interested in understanding how learning works. Her research focuses on how students develop new understanding by refining and building on their prior thinking, and how technology and instruction can support this process. By focusing on the productive resources students bring to their learning, Hillary’s work challenges deficit views of students and contributes to efforts aimed at honoring and building on the diversity of perspectives and experiences students bring to their learning.
Before joining the ITLS faculty, Hillary worked at the Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL) and the Tangible Interaction Design and Learning Lab (TIDAL) at Northwestern University.
Students who are interested in developing learning technologies and activities and building fine-grained models of the cognitive mechanisms through which learning occurs will be especially interested in Hillary’s work.
Hillary directs the Learning Dynamics Lab at Utah State University. Learn more about her current projects and the LDL research team.
Characterizing Student Theory Building
In this work, we are collaborating with middle school science teachers to develop computational modeling microworlds and instructional activities that support middle school students’ engagement in scientific theory building.
Refining Student Thinking through Theory Building in the Science ClassroomIn this work, we are collaborating with middle school science teachers to develop instructional activities that engage middle school students in theory building practices that help them articulate, evaluate, and refine their thinking.
Interactive Physics Simulations for Intermediate Classical Mechanics
In this work, we are developing computational microworlds to support undergraduate student learning in intermediate classical mechanics.
Broadly, Hillary’s work explores how students’ everyday thinking can play a productive role in their science learning. More specifically, she investigates how technology and classroom instruction can be designed to meaningfully engage students in scientific practices, and how their engagement in these practices elicits and refines their thinking.
Hillary is also interested in supporting teacher efforts to build on student ideas. She co-designs technological tools and instructional activities with science teachers, closely attending to the needs of their classrooms and students. She studies how the process of co-design helps teachers develop strategies for (and confidence with) eliciting and refining student thinking through scientific practices.
Swanson, H. (2022). Meta-theoretic competence demonstrated by students in the Patterns class. Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of the Learning Sciences - ICLS 2022. (pp. 679-686). Hiroshima, Japan: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Swanson, H., & Levin, M. (2022). Using reference models as a springboard for ontological innovation: Analyzing a central theory building move in the learning sciences. Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of the Learning Sciences - ICLS 2022. (pp. 703-710). Hiroshima, Japan: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Swanson, H., & Clarke-Midura, J. (2021). Integrating formative assessment and feedback into scientific theory-building practices and instruction. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy, & Practice. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2021.1929830
Swanson, H., & Trninic, D. (2021). Stepping out of rhythm: An embodied artifact for noticing rate of change. Educational Technology Research and Development. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09933-8
Swanson, H., Sherin, B., Wilensky, U. (2021). Characterizing student theory building in computational modeling. In de Vries, E., Ahn, J., & Hod, Y. (Eds.), 15th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2021). Bochum, Germany: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Swanson, H., Sherin, B., Wilensky, U. (2021). Refining student thinking through computational modeling. In de Vries, E., Ahn, J., & Hod, Y. (Eds.), 15th International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS 2021). Bochum, Germany: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Swanson, H. (2019). Refining student thinking through scientific theory building. In E. Manalo (Ed.) Deeper learning, dialogic learning, and critical thinking: Research-based strategies for the classroom (pp. 67-83). Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429323058-5
Swanson, H., & Collins, A. (2018). How failure is productive in the creative process: Refining student explanations through theory-building discussion. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 30, 54-63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tsc.2018.03.005