Daniel Schwartz, TC Alumnus, Will Become Dean of Stanford's ... | Teachers College Columbia University

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Daniel Schwartz, TC Alumnus, Will Become Dean of Stanford's Graduate School of Education

TC alumnus Daniel Schwartz (Ph.D. 92, M.S. ’88), an expert in human cognition and educational technology, has been named the next dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education (GSE).

“Students today face a future that is likely filled with changing careers, opportunities for social mobility and demanding advances in science and technology. In the meantime, they are being prepared with models of instruction and assessment that emphasize routine mastery, not adaptation,” said Schwartz, who earned his TC degrees from the College’s program in Cognition Studies, said in Stanford GSE’s announcement. “For them, the question will not involve their training in past facts, but, rather, their preparedness to learn new ones.”

Before joining Stanford’s faculty in 2000, Schwartz taught math at a day school in rural Kenya, English in a south-central junior high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and math, science, reading and language arts to junior high and high school students in the rural village of Kaltag, Alaska. As Stanford’s Nomellini & Olivier Professor in Educational Technology, he oversees a laboratory that develops teaching and learning technologies. He has designed numerous computerized instructional tools, including teachable agents, choice-based assessments and a pre-school mathematics program called Critter Corral. He is the author of numerous landmark papers on the transfer of learning and the role of perception in higher-order cognition. His newest book, The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work and When to Use Them , will be published in early 2016.

“How do students deal with failure?” Schwartz mused in a story in TC Today magazine in 2011. “Do they try to resolve contradictions, or do they slide over them? Technology is helping us teach and understand 21st-century skills, which aren’t so much about facts and procedures but about making good choices when you need to learn and adapt.” 

To that end, Schwartz has developed a series of software programs called Teachable Agents. A Teachable Agent called Betty, for example, will wait for the student to impart knowledge to her. The student might ask Betty to tell him what happens when, say, algae are added to a fish pond. During much sophisticated give-and-take between human and computer, the student creates a “concept map” in Betty’s “brain.” By periodically asking Betty what she now knows, the student ultimately teaches her that bacteria increase with an increase in algae, which decreases the oxygen that fish need to live.

Schwartz has found similar results in studies of a game called Stats Invaders, which he developed with a Stanford colleague, Dylan Arena. In the game, which is modeled after the arcade classic Space Invaders, aliens drop from the sky according to one of two probability distributions. In addition to shooting down the aliens, players must determine which of the two displayed distributions is generating the alien attack. Schwartz and Arena found that students who played Stats Invaders were better prepared for a classroom lecture on probability distribution than those who did not play the game.

“This is a nice example of using technology to do what technology can do well,” Schwartz says. “Technology can give you a set of experiences that will prepare you to understand a more formal treatment that you get from a textbook or a class.”

Schwartz credits his years at Teachers College, where he was the first recipient of TC’s Ben D. Wood Fellowship, with helping him to forge his ideas.  

“The faculty I found at TC were profound and inspiring,” Schwartz says. “John Black, my adviser, provided a model and gave me the freedom, gentle steering and support to find my own interests. Herb Ginsburg opened the very precise world of children learning mathematics. Robbie McClintock showed how to see the ideas du jour within the sweeping themes and changing conditions of cultural history.”

On learning of Schwartz’s new appointment, Black, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications & Education, returned the compliment.

“Dan Schwartz was the best student I’ve ever had,” he said. “His concept of ‘preparation for future learning’ – the idea that teaching students in a way that enables them to do well in the near term on, say, a standardized test is often not the best to way to ready them to learn more advanced topics – has had a huge impact, and it’s something that I’ve incorporated into my own research. I think he will provide visionary leadership at Stanford, and that his new role will give him a platform to promote the best kind of thinking about teaching and learning.”

Sandra Okita, Associate Professor of Technology & Education, who was Schwartz’s advisee at Stanford, predicted students will benefit from his leadership.

“Dan is an incredibly caring and patient professor who believes in the value of learning from mistakes, even in doing research,” Okita said. “I think in part that’s because, as someone who spent years being a teacher before he was a professor, he’s very aware of how people really learn. But he also works continually to improve his own methodologies, constantly taking himself outside his own comfort zone. I think the School of Education is in really good hands.”

Catherine Chase, Assistant Professor of Cognitive Studies, who was also Schwartz’s advisee at Stanford, called Schwartz “a visionary in his field whose ideas on preparation-for-future-learning and choice-based assessment have helped people reconceptualize theories of transfer and measurement.

“I’m sure he’ll bring this same vision to leadership at the GSE,” Chase said. “Perhaps more importantly, he brings a passion and sincere caring to everything he does – research, teaching, collaborating, advising. He was an outstanding mentor, and I look forward to seeing where he takes the School of education next.”

Schwartz was named Graduate School of Education Teacher of the Year for 2015.


Published Friday, Jul. 24, 2015