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Learning Scientists Named to National Academies’ Committee

March 21, 2024
Sepehr Vakil studies race, equity and identity in STEM areas.

Northwestern University’s Sepehr Vakil and alumnus Victor Lee (PhD08) of Stanford University have been named to a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine consensus committee charged with looking at artificial intelligence and data science in K-12 education.

The 16-person team will identify the core skills students need to thrive in the rapidly evolving computational landscape and the role of educators. Students who are historically underrepresented in computing-related fields are to be prioritized, according to the National Academies.

Vakil, associate professor of learning sciences in the School of Education and Social Policy, studies race, equity, and identity in STEM areas, including computer science and engineering education. He co-directs the Technology, Race, Equity, and Ethics in Education (TREE) Lab, and has long been interested in how technology and equity intersect. Who is STEM education for, and why are we developing it?” he asks.

The committee’s focus aligns with his work on the University’s Data Science and Artificial Intelligence steering committee, to which he was recently appointed."I'm looking forward to contributing to this national conversation about the complex role of these technologies in schools and education more broadly, and associated implications for equity, power, and justice," Vakil said.

Alumnus Victor Lee leads the Data Interactions & STEM Teaching and Learning (DISTAL) Lab at Stanford.

Lee is associate professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and the faculty lead for AI and Education at the Stanford Accelerator for Learning. He studies and designs STEM learning experiences with an emphasis on supporting teaching and learning with data, AI literacy, and elementary computer science education in schools, libraries, homes, afterschool programs and other spaces.

Lee, past president and an elected Fellow of the International Society of the Learning Sciences, previously served on the committee that produced the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s consensus report Cultivating Interest and Competencies in Computing: Authentic Experiences and Design Factors.

He also a commissioned paper author on learning with data for the 2019 Science and Engineering for Grades 6-12 consensus report.

Both Vakil and Lee previously received a National Science Foundation Career Award, the American Educational Research Association’s Jan Hawkins Award, and a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.

The committee will look at everything from ethics and obstacles to novel ways to weave computing-related fields into existing school subjects. They will also report on the status of research in this area, and outline new directions needed to expand the field.