Alumna Erin Riesland receives Fulbright Specialist Award to travel to South Africa

September 22, 2023

Alumna Dr. Erin Riesland has received a Fulbright Specialist Program award to complete a project at SayPro in South Africa that aims to exchange knowledge and establish partnerships benefiting participants, institutions and communities both in the U.S. and overseas through a variety of educational and training activities within education. Dr. Riesland is one of more than 400 U.S. citizens who will share expertise with host institutions abroad through the Fulbright Specialist Program this year. Recipients of Fulbright Specialist awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, demonstrated leadership in their field and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

Dr. Riesland graduated from the UW College of Education with her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences and Human Development in 2023, under the direction of Dr. Katie Headrick Taylor. Before completing her doctorate, she enjoyed a long career working with technology in educational settings and completed her master’s degree under the late Dr. Bill Winn as an education technology major at the College of Education, where she investigated the role of digital communication in learning and literacy. Shortly after, she took that knowledge to West Africa where she became fascinated by the way emergent technology practices — including new access to the internet and computers — were being taken up in ways that were culturally relevant to the young girls she was working with.

"This experience transformed the ways I looked at technology and its role in communication and learning — not as a neutral tool or resource, but as an emergent process that is taken up, distributed and transformed differently across cultural contexts," Dr. Riesland shares.

She adds, "During my career as a learning designer back in the U.S., I grew more and more interested in how different learning settings adopted and transformed technology practices that greatly influenced learning and communication. However, I could find very little in the literature that addressed the disconnect between practice, policy and reality as technology continued to progress."

Dr. Riesland returned to the College of Education to address this disconnect in her doctoral research by approaching her work from a postdigital perspective, acknowledging that teaching and learning practices cannot be separated from the ubiquity of the digital landscape. Her dissertation, "Reimagining Place-Based Education for our Postdigital World," investigates the relationship between emergent technologies of space and place (VR, AR, Geolocation maps) and theorizes about their future role in place-based learning. In her findings, Dr. Riesland attends to the persistent tension between young learners’ spatial reality of their experiences with home and homeland, and their encounters with digital representation.

One of the underlying issues she addresses in her research is unequal access, and that is what she is heading to South Africa to take on with the educational NGO SayPro. Over her six-week visit, she will be collaborating with SayPro staff to develop a learner-centered instructional design process that is sustainable for their needs. Dr. Reisland's goal is to leave the organization with the skills and processes to produce their own instructional resources through which they can prompt original, creative work from their students through available technologies.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.