Social Foundations of Learning

These projects are exploring how to make technologies that enhance the best of social interaction for learning while mitigating the worst.


Values and social norms are the glue that makes learning through social interaction possible. Values are often invisible, which is one reason that tourists often misjudge the residents of a foreign country. Rate-and-Relate (R2) tries to facilitate safe conversations about the values that people hold dear, so people can come to understand one another and learn more effectively. It is primarily intended for teachers and their classrooms, but it can be used in many other settings. In the typical use, a teacher creates a prompt, for example, "What is the most important goal of this class?" The teacher provides five possible alternatives, for example: (a) to learn a few big ideas, (b) to get a good grade, (c) to explore one's interests, (d) to master all the content, (e) to be the very best student.

Working on-line individually, students and the teacher each sort the five alternatives from most important to least important (to them). The next step is the key twist that makes R2 effective for safe conversation. The students need to predict how the teacher ranked the alternatives, and the teacher needs to predict how the students ranked the alternatives.

When everyone has made their rankings, the teacher can project the results at the front of the class. The predictions that students have about their teachers and vice versa lead to safe and productive conversations about values - "Why did you think I would say that?" The goal of R2 is to help people come to understand one another and negotiate a common ground that enables social interaction and learning to go forward. This differs from telling the students they need to have the same values as the teacher, which simply does not work when students have very good reasons, often based on experiences and cultures foreign to the teacher, for their values.

Relevant publications: