Faculty News

Exploring the Connection Between How People Learn and the Actions They Take

Michigan Minds Season 3 Episode 49

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Angela Calabrese Barton and Leslie Rupert Herrenkohl, professors in science education and the learning sciences, discuss their research examining the information people learn about COVID-19 and how that information impacts the actions they take with respect to COVID-19 and justice-related concerns. 

For this project, Barton and Herrenkohl have two research practice partnerships, one in Michigan and one in Washington. They explain the overarching research questions:

  1. What science do people learn about COVID-19?
  2. How do people activate and apply the science they learn to make or revise decisions?
  3. How is what they learn about COVID-19 shaped by their critical consciousness around racial education and economic justice?

They have been engaging remotely to dive into the experiences of their research participants, which include adults and youth. They also have informal conversations periodically, sometimes through texting, Snapchat, or other channels that participants are comfortable using for ongoing conversations and check-ins. 

“The last method that we’re using, that we’re really excited about, is what we call experienced method sampling—we’re engaging with our participants to share with us all of the different kinds of ways in which they’ve been engaging with COVID in their lived experiences as they’re trying to learn,” Barton says. 

Through this, participants send photos, video, audio, and even TikToks that they have used to gather information to make decisions. 

“Over time, this multimodal approach is really purposeful because we know that people have different ways of experiencing this pandemic and they have different ways of wanting to communicate it. Learning is not just a cognitive process. It’s a socio-cultural process. It’s a political process. It’s an emotional process. We want to have all of these ways for our participants to express that,” Barton explains.

Herrenkohl adds that it’s been interesting to examine what is shared because it seems generational—some of the younger participants are using different channels than the adults to gather information. She says that some people shared that they intentionally curated their social feeds to stay away from certain topics, including some of the younger participants. 

“As we’re looking at community wisdom, we’re also thinking about how we communicate to the scientific and academic community that the idea of developing knowledge about COVID-19 and taking action is perhaps more complicated than is typically thought of,” Herrenkohl says. “Because I think a lot of the prevailing, and perhaps overly simplistic, models of knowledge construction suggests that it’s this linear process. You develop knowledge of something, and then you take action based on that knowledge,” adding that their research demonstrates the complexity of acting on new knowledge inside different cultural systems. 

With the study, the researchers hope to help others recognize the wisdom of communities and change the models that currently exist around how people develop knowledge. They also want to call on policymakers to make room at the decision-making table for people who live and work in the most vulnerable communities. 

“They should have a seat at the table, too. Their participation shouldn’t be treated as just mere tokenism, but really an effort to really substantially engage with and learn from the wisdom of the communities they represent,” says Barton. 

Learn more in this episode of Michigan Minds