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New director, new direction for ASU learning sciences institute

Ian Douglas, director of the Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning

Ian Douglas, director of ASU's Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning, brings new direction at the interface of humans, education and technology.

July 29, 2015

What lies at the interface of humans, education and technology? Ask Ian Douglas, the new executive director of the Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning, formerly the ASU Learning Sciences Institute. 

Douglas’ expertise grows from his early training in psychology and cognition at the University of Glasgow. This was followed by experience at the University of Warwick on an innovative interdisciplinary graduate program in the U.K., which combined psychologists and computer scientists in the study of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. This provided an early insight into the importance of interdisciplinary teaching and research.

Completing his education at Glasgow Caledonian University, which was built on the European Polytechnic model, taught Douglas about the importance of connecting research to practice. This education was the cornerstone for a career that since has ranged from research with the U.S. Army, Coast Guard and Navy to the study of global perspectives in technology usability, mobile and online learning technologies, classroom design, and translating use-inspired research into practice.

“I am very excited about Dr. Douglas leading the institute. He is intent on collaboration and bringing resources together to enhance work in learning sciences,” said Mari Koerner, dean of ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In addition to his role a director with the institute, Douglas has also been appointed an Innovation Fellow in the Digital Teaching and Learning Action Lab with ASU’s EdPlus

“Dr. Douglas brings both creative thinking and solid research skills to EdPlus’ entrepreneurial, fast-paced environment,” said Phil Regier, university dean of educational initiatives and CEO for EdPlus. “We look forward to his contributions as we seek to accelerate the adoption and advancement of digital teaching and learning.”

The Learning Sciences Institute was established at ASU in 2010 with a mission to build collaborations to improve teaching and learning at ASU through discovery in student learning. It has attracted a number of creative research groups at ASU at the forefront of the science of teaching and learning, including:

• Learning and Cognition Lab, headed by professor Michelene Chi
• Science of Learning and Education Technology Lab, directed by professor Danielle McNamara
• Embodied Games for Learning Lab, founded by professor Mina Johnson-Glenberg
• Individualizing Student Instruction Lab, headed by professor Carol Connor 

The institute enters a new chapter with the arrival of Douglas, as reflected in the new name. “The Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning,” said Douglas, “pulls teaching to the forefront.” 

“We must influence teaching practice. Not just work in a vacuum with a sole focus on the science of learning,” Douglas said. “There is a recognized problem in the diffusion of innovation, which is referred to as crossing the chasm: getting a proven innovation from research into widespread use. Basic learning science research must be accompanied by equivalent of an engineering discipline that can translate the research into practice.” 

Prior to coming to ASU, Douglas was the vice provost of innovative learning and academic support systems for Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in New York. While there, he reviewed educational technology, teaching methods, course evaluation and learning space design and established a center for innovative learning and invested in online and interactive forms of learning. 

He was also a senior faculty member at Florida State University in Tallahassee for 12 years before that, with the Learning Systems Institute, one of the oldest university-based education research organizations in the U.S. As professor and associate program director, he worked to implement the first online distance learning programs and advance instructional design, research and technology. 

One project he piloted in Tallassee addressed a long-standing challenge to teachers, how to connect field trips common in K-12 education with standards-based teaching curricula. Funded by the National Institute of Education, Douglas and colleagues from several disciplines designed a system that included an iPad app called Habitat Tracker: Digital Journal for Science Education in Wildlife Centers. Developed to enhance and assess teaching, the project paired website support for teachers and student activities, with wildlife observations designed to teach students how to formulate hypotheses, and ask and answer questions about animal behavior at the heart of scientific inquiry. A successful technology developed for the Tallahassee Museum, Douglas hopes to replicate the system on a larger scale that translates to other field trip locations and uses, for example: the Arizona-Sonora desert museum. 

“We can take existing research, engineer it and translate into practice to create meaningful outcomes,” Douglas said. “My role as director of this institute will be to support and enhance ASU’s innovative approaches to learning and facilitate and network experts in research and instructional design. I would like to see us help redefine both instructional design and digital learning for the 21st century.”