News Article

Jan Hawkins: Pioneer in the Field of Education

Tuesday, February 9, 1999

Dr. Jan Hawkins, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, vice president of the Education Development Center based in Newton, MA, and, until recently, director of the Center for Children and Technology in New York City, died on Tuesday, February 9, 1999. She was 47.

A developmental psychologist internationally recognized as one of the world's leading experts on education and technology, Dr. Hawkins was perhaps best known for her insistence that technology was no more than a useful tool to enhance processes of teaching and learning. Often described as a leading proponent of "humanistic" uses of technology, she was interested in finding ways to use technology to bring about broad educational change.

Dr. Hawkins was a pioneer in the field of technology in education. Over two decades, her research and design work stressed that computers and other technologies were not educational panaceas, but needed to be viewed as powerful aids in addressing complex educational challenges. She stressed the context of technology use -- the ways that teachers, students and others used them to foster particular learning outcomes.

Her first studies of classroom computing, conducted in the early 1980s, found that young children used computers in highly social and collaborative ways, and were not isolated by them in the ways early critics had warned. And her next studies, on the learning that occurred as youngsters mastered the programming language Logo (developed by MIT professor Seymour Papert) found that children developed key programming concepts only when teachers made these concepts an explicit part of their teaching and not, as Logo proponents had claimed, simply as a result of exposure to interactive technology. Both sets of studies found that the social and human context of computer use mattered greatly.

With these and other studies Dr. Hawkins and her colleagues moved the educational community to think of technologies as powerful tools for the advancement of carefully chosen ends. In turn, this helped spark investigations, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, into the roles that technologies could play in school reform.

Through her participation in numerous advisory boards and panels for national and international organizations, Dr. Hawkins continued to shape the way researchers, government and foundation officials and educators at every level thought about the roles that technologies might play in teaching and learning. She received numerous grants for research projects and advisory work with the US Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the World Bank, the National Education Association, The American Museum of Natural History, the Asia Society, IBM, the White House Technology in Education Task Force, and numerous schools and school districts.

Dr. Hawkins's practical work focused on creating a nexus for three important fields: the research community; educators, both in practice and policy; and the technology development community, both private sector and nonprofit. She also was concerned with how complex social systems interact with emerging technologies in ways that provide or prevent access to information for various groups of people based on gender, race, and cultural and ethnic background. The overall goal of Dr. Hawkins's research was the effective use of technologies in roles that help to solve the difficult problems of teaching and learning, both nationally and internationally. Hawkins was the recipient of numerous research grants from such sources as the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, Apple Computer Advanced Technology Group, IBM, and Nynex. Her research includes a variety of studies and projects she has conducted with schools, teachers, students, and in informal learning settings such as homes and museums. Dr. Hawkins served on national and international boards and task forces related to education and technology, including, for example, the White House Technology in Education Task Force of the President's Council of Science and Technology Advisors, the National Advisory Council of Scholastic, Inc., the chair of the Advisory Board of the Center for Innovative Learning Technologies of Stanford Research International. She was a regular reviewer and advisor for federal agencies and foundation grant programs, an editor for a variety of journals including the Journal of the Learning Sciences, and was an editor of the Learning by Doing Series of Cambridge University Press. She was an advisor to numerous schools, school districts, states, and policy organizations such as Education Commission of the States. She was a reviewer on interactive learning environments for the National Science Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, and the Spencer Foundation.

Hawkins earned a B.A. in psychology and English from Tufts University (1973); and an M.Ph. in psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology with a concentration in cognition, both from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (1987).

Dr. Hawkins helped found the Center for Children and Technology in 1980, beginning a twenty-year tenure at the education research and development group. She played a vital role in the establishment of CCT as a leading voice in educational technology. And from 1990 until recently, she served as director of the organization. She joined the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education as Professor of Practice in September 1998. At the time of her appointment, she was the Vice President of Education Development Center based in Newton, MA.

A list of selected boards, task forces, and advisory groups she participated in follows:

  • Board member, Beginning with Children Foundation, New York, NY
  • Board member, Kimball Union Academy, Meriden, New Hampshire
  • National Advisory Council, Scholastic, Inc., New York, NY
  • White House Technology in Education Task Force, President's Council of Science and Technology Advisors, Washington D.C.
  • Technology in Education Task Force, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Washington, D.C.
  • The World Bank, Technology in education advisor;
  • Infodev Fund: Jamaica Program.
  • Cambridge University Press. Editor, Learning by Doing Series (with Roy Pea & John Seeley Brown)
  • Editorial Board, Journal of the Learning Sciences
  • Editorial Board, International Journal of Computers for Mathematical Learning
  • Consulting Editor, 1998 Review of Research in Education.
  • Reviewer: Interactive Learning Environments, National Science Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Spencer Foundation
  • Advisor, The M Group, Bangkok, Thailand
  • Education Board, 7th Level
  • Education technology advisor, Hole in the Wall Gang Foundation
  • Co-chair, Program, Conference of the National Education Computing Consortium, Boston, MA, 1995
  • Assistant chair, American Education Research Association meeting, 1993, Division C.
  • Teacher Participation chair, Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Conference, 1997.
  • Task Force on Technology and Education, National Education Goals Panel, 1994.
  • Education Commission of the States, Advisor to Chairman's (Governor Bransted) Technology and Education Program, 1997-98.
  • Doctoral Consortium, Institute for the Learning Sciences, Northwestern University 1996.
  • Advisory Board, Adult Literacy Media Alliance
  • Advisory Board, Asia Society.
  • Education Task Force of the Board of Trustees, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
  • Urban Education Advisory Board, ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) (1994-95).
  • Advisory board, Technology and education initiative, Council on Economic Development, New York, NY(1995).