Mawasi graduating with a PhD while participating in an elite global research challenge


Erik Ketcherside

PhD graduate Areej Mawasi

Areej Mawasi
will graduate from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College next month with her PhD in Learning, Literacies and Technologies. Also in May, she’ll finish work on what amounted to an early graduation present: Mawasi is one of 25 students from 21 nations selected for the Spring 2021 “Research Sprint” launched by the Digital Asia Hub, a nonprofit think tank based in Hong Kong; and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, in collaboration with the Global Network of Internet and Society Centers.

The sprint charges the participants with examining “... how the notion of digital self-determination is invoked as a term to describe the possibility and realization of human flourishing as it relates to the use of digital technologies and their affordances.” The students bring the perspectives of their myriad fields: branches of law, political and social science, communication and language, philosophy, psychology, public policy, gender and culture studies, computer science, media studies and digital activism.

Since starting the LLT program in 2017, Mawasi has pursued interdisciplinary research in learning sciences, design-based research and research methodologies. As a research assistant at ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination, she worked with Ruth Wylie on projects at the intersection of learning sciences, educational technology, imagination and STEM education.

Her dissertation is titled, “Learners’ Engagement in Transdisciplinary STEAM Activities: A mixed-methods analysis of perceptions, self-efficacy and self-determination within an out-of-school science program.” A Palestinian scholar, Mawasi earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She earned her master's degree in educational technology from MLFTC in 2017, and was a fellow of the Fulbright Outreach Program for Graduate Studies.

Mawasi described her research, how the Spring 2021 Research Sprint works and the results she expects from it.

What got you interested in your research area?

Years of exploration and interest in interdisciplinary research in social sciences and humanities. Particularly I was interested in thinking about applied ways of bringing theory into learning environments and ways we design with educators and learners. Such interests came from personal experiences shaping my learning trajectories, like being an educator in informal spaces, being involved in digital media projects related to digital rights and citizen journalism, and teaching. It also came from my academic studies in undergrad, master's, and mostly the PhD journey, where I have been learning to bridge between theoretical and methodological approaches in social sciences and humanities in education, digital media and ed-tech, STEM, and sociocultural and political dimensions of learning.

The research sprint is examining “digital self-determination in an increasingly interconnected world.” What about that appeals to you?

In some of my dissertation work, I address the construct of self-determination by looking at learners’ engagement with artifacts and peers within a classroom environment, building on the work of Davis, Vossoughi and Smith (2020). For several years I have been wondering how such concepts can be studied and applied to digital environments at pedagogical and methodological levels as we engage in designing for and with learners and educators. In addition, as a practitioner and researcher of digital media and educational technology, I was interested in ways technologies can shape users’ behavior dynamics and how users actively react to that in creative ways. These two made me interested in joining the program because I thought it can be a space where I bridge between thinking about technology systems as sociocultural and political and human behaviors as they interact with technologies. Within the program, I also learned tools to decolonize my thinking about technology, considering more than human beings in the technology ecologies and the consequences of digital and technological innovation.

What’s a “research sprint”?

Research sprints bring people with interdisciplinary backgrounds and interest in research to work on constructing knowledge together within a short period of time, a few days to several weeks. Such a group can engage in a learning process around a phenomenon and produce various artifacts, such as essays, reports and art.

You’re participating with 24 others from 21 nations. How does that work?

There is a nice structure facilitated by the Digital Asia Hub in collaboration with the Berkman Klein Center and the Global Network of Internet and Society. We meet over Zoom in weekly two-hour sessions that involve speakers from the fields of digital media, digital rights and law, and technology. Within the sessions, participants join small-group discussions, and then complete weekly artifacts about the session’s themes. Organizing the activities this way enables varied forms of participation and expression. For example, participants are encouraged to create podcasts, blog posts, graphic designs, writing pieces and any other forms of expression they choose.

When is the sprint done and what will it produce?

The sprint will be done by mid-May, and materials from the sessions will be accessible to the public at the sprint’s homepage.

What do you hope comes out of your participation?

When I participated in the program I hoped to learn about ways digital self-determination is conceptualized across different disciples and in perspectives that attend for legal, social, cultural and political dimensions of technologies. I hope this learning experience will be an opportunity to network with other participants interested in such work all over the world, and also be a space where I can learn from and with participants and speakers. Also, as I am interested in education and learning sciences, I really hope I will be able to transfer and apply what I am learning in the research I am doing on learners’ self-determination and engagement within learning environments, both digital and face-to-face.