Faculty/Program Coordinator Spotlight: Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan, Communication, Computing, and Technology in EducationBy mst • May 27th, 2013 • Category: Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design, Lead Story
Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan, Program Coordinator and Associate Professor in the Communication, Computing, and Technology in Education (CCTE) program at TC, is currently teaching Culture, Media, and Education, and Youth Media and Educational Justice.
She was born in Kolkata (Calcutta), India and came to the United States when she was four years old. She grew up in suburban New Jersey and attended the University of Pennsylvania for undergraduate and graduate studies.
She began her undergraduate studies with a focus on environmental engineering and mechanical engineering; she wanted to be involved in aeronautics. Deeply moved by the Challenger explosion of 1985, she wanted to be an engineer that prevented those types of accidents. In her sophomore year of college, she took several social science courses which directed her toward a path with an education focus. Dr. Vasudevan refers to this as her renaissance semester. Following this semester, she changed her major to psychology with a minor in linguistics.
Dr. Vasudevan recalls childhood experiences with technology. “My earliest memories included playing with a video camera for a variety of reasons and learning how to program in BASIC,” she says. She has always been a tinkerer and she enjoyed exploring new media and technology to explore the extent of her creativity. “Education for me was always connected to technology in some kind of way. At least personally in my life I never worked hard to integrate technology into my education. My education was always infused with technology of some kind, be it television, radio, tape recorder, video camera, computer. It’s just a very natural way I approach education specifically and the world broadly,” she explains.
As a child she loved to read and write. Her love of reading could take her to different places, getting so deeply lost in reading that she often got in trouble as a child for reading too late into the night. Dr. Vasudevan treasured the idea that she could learn about the world through reading the words that someone put on the page in years past. Her childhood explorations lead to several bicycle adventures throughout her neighborhood. She also played team tennis in her youth.
After her undergraduate studies, she worked for an alternative education program for youth who were on probation in Philadelphia. She began her work there in her junior year and two years after graduating, initially as a tutor then later as a teacher. She was teaching and learning with students from 16-20 years of age. At the time, she was in her early twenties and she described her experience as deeply humbling.
She return to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue graduate studies in the Reading/Writing/Literacy program after being moved by the experiences of the young people she was teaching and learning with at the alternative education program. She initially began in the masters program and then transitioned into the Ph.D. program. As a doctoral student, she was influenced by practitioner inquiry which allowed her to investigate questions that she had involving the literary identities of young people. More specifically, she was interested in exploring the ways in which media and technology are infused in how young people understand and express themselves as literate people. She also developed a focus on out-of-school learning where education develops outside the school walls.
Dr. Vasudevan mentioned several people who have influenced her graduate studies and her career path thereafter, including her dissertation advisor, Kathy Schultz; Susan Lytle, a professor in her program who developed work around practitioner inquiry; and Vivian Gadsden who has done work looking at issues of diversity, literacy, the arts, and the impact of incarceration on families. Her rich graduate experience provided a sound foundation for her research and work today.
For one year immediately following her Ph.D., Dr. Vasudevan was a postdoctoral fellow in the Curriculum and Teaching Department at TC. She came to know TC through that position and developed an appreciation for New York. During that year, she was also searching for an academic position when a faculty position became available in CCTE. Following her fellowship, she joined the CCTE program as a full-time faculty member. “The CCTE faculty understood communication, computing, and technology in education in a way that was deeply resonant with literacy, identity, and a way of being in the world,” she says.
At TC, Dr. Vasudevan teaches courses related to the intersection of media, culture, and education. One of the courses she teaches is Culture, Media, and Education, a course she developed as a TC faculty member. “All the courses I teach take a sociocultural approach to trying to understand how technology and media, in particular, influence media production, media consumption, media representation, which are at play in how we understand the world and how me understand ourselves.” Some of her course listings include Television and Youth, Digital Geographies and Virtual Spaces, Adolescents and Digital Literacies, in addition to a year-long pilot course entitled Youth, Media, and Educational Justice that began this academic year.
She leads a research team comprised of graduate students and youth researchers. In their work, they use a pedagogical approach to the ethnographic research they pursue. In the past, she taught arts and media workshops that have influenced the participatory research that she and her team conduct in after-school programs located within an alternative to detention program for court-involved youth between the ages of 12-16. The research team works in partnership with the facilitators of the program to develop workshops that are responsive to the needs of the program and to help them understand the ways in which arts-based and media approaches can create spaces for young people’s inquiry and learning. These spaces will allow us to understand their literate lives and also allow them to cultivate a range of media practices.
Dr. Vasudevan has recently published several pieces; among them a publication in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacies titled, “In the Middle of Something: Reflections on Multimodal Inquiry as Artful Bricolage,” an article co-authored with Mary Ann Reilly, an educator and an artist in New York City. The article documents their conversation over the period of several months across a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, blogs, and Flickr.
Along with Dr. Tiffany DeJaynes, a CCTE alumnus, she has co-edited a volume called Arts, Media, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth. The volume features several graduates from the CCTE program, two faculty members from TC, teachers involved in the participatory research they conducted, and youth researchers. “The volume is a collection of chapters that explores the way media-based approaches were used in research and pedagogical work within two different alternative to incarceration programs in New York City,” she says.
She co-authored a piece in Reconceptualizing the Literacies in Adolescents’ Lives last year with a graduate school friend and colleague, Kelly Wissman, who teaches at SUNY Albany. They looked at the notion of autobiographies and authoring to understand the literate lives of young people.
Dr. Vasudevan has self-identified several consistent research threads that broadly span her published work, projects, and research interests in the areas of out of school community-based settings for education, how education is lived, and the use of spatial theories to frame ongoing exploration of how education is lived, enacted, and experienced. Related to that, she maintains a focus on adolescents, specifically court-involved youth and those in the foster care system. A third thread was the presence of media and thinking about technology as, not only a tool for learning, but also a way to come to know and live in the world. Dr. Vasudevan and her research team investigate how media and media technologies can be and are used by young people as space to perform new identities and also as a space where they are making themselves known.
While Dr. Vasudevan maintains a full academic and research load, there are moments when she allows herself to indulge in activities such as walking, reading, letter writing, photography, and cooking. These are the quiet places she retreats to in contrast to the interactive work that she does while engaged in teaching, research projects, and collaborating with other people.
By Deiana Jackson, Graduate Student, Mathematics Education Ed.D.