Marina Umaschi Bers—former chair of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts University and widely recognized for her work on computational thinking, robotics, and technological tools for children to learn computer programming—has joined the Lynch School of Education and Human Development as the Augustus Long Professor, Charles F. Donovan Dean Stanton E.F. Wortham has announced.

To welcome her to BC, the Lynch School will host a presentation by Bers on Thursday, September 15, at which she will present an overview of her work, using the metaphor of playgrounds versus playpens to understand the role of technology in children’s lives. The lecture, which will take place in at Higgins Hall Room 300 at 7 p.m. and be followed by a reception, will cover ideas from her recent book, Beyond Coding: How Children Learn Human Values through Programming, in which she argues that coding should be taught not only as a technical skill but as a new literacy—a new way for children to express themselves and engage with the world and others.

“We are thrilled to have Marina Bers join our faculty,” said Wortham, who noted that she will also have a courtesy appointment in BC’s Computer Science Department.  “Her work touches tens of thousands of children in dozens of countries around the world, and the technological skills that she focuses on are increasingly important today. Her emphasis on learning as a whole person process, one that involves the development of ethical dispositions as well as technical knowledge, fits wonderfully with the BC and Lynch School mission.”

Bers, a native of Argentina, is a pioneer in the field of early childhood technology, with projects of national and international visibility.  She is widely recognized for co-creating the free ScratchJr programming language, used worldwide by over 35 million children, and is the creator of the KIBO robotic kit, which helps children learn how to code without screens or keyboards by using wooden blocks.  She also serves as content director for the upcoming “Work It Out Wombats!” PBS animation series focused on computational thinking for preschoolers, which will air nationally next year.

At Tufts, she established and served as director of the graduate certificate program on Early Childhood Technology, and held a secondary appointment in the Computer Science Department. In 2001 she created the interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies (DevTech) research group, which she is conveying to the Lynch School.

Passionate about tapping the power of expressive technologies to promote learning in young children, Bers is the author of six books, including Coding as Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom; Teaching Computational Thinking and Coding to Young Children (which she edited with contributions from the DevTech research team); The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code (with Mitchel Resnick); Designing Digital Experiences for Positive Youth Development: From Playpen to Playground; and Blocks to Robots: Learning with Technology in the Early Childhood Classroom. Published in March, the aforementioned Beyond Coding: How Children Learn Human Values through Programming, focuses on how learning technological skills also involves developing ethical dispositions.

“I am excited to join the Lynch school and the Boston College community,” said Bers. “This is a wonderful opportunity to build on the work of my DevTech research group for the last two decades to have wider impact in laying out a pedagogical foundation for teaching programming that encompasses the cultivation of character and a moral compass along with technical knowledge and skills.”

In 2022, Bers was named an AERA Fellow by the American Education Research Association, an honor that acknowledges exceptional contributions to and excellence in education research.  Earlier, she received the AERA’s Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Scholarship in Learning Technologies, and a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the Office of Science and Technology, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding researchers and technologists launching their external careers.

Bers conducts seminars and professional development institutes on learning technologies for early childhood educators, and serves as a consultant to toy companies, media studios, schools, and educational organizations seeking to capitalize on the power of new technologies for young children. She has worked with international partners in Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Costa Rica, Singapore, Israel and Thailand, among others.

She completed her undergraduate studies in Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, and in 1994, came to the U.S. where she received a M.Ed. in Educational Technology at Boston University’s School of Education, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Media Arts and Sciences from the MIT Media Laboratory.

The Augustus Long Professor is named in honor of the former president, chair, and CEO of the Texaco Corp., who received an honorary degree from Boston College in 1957.

Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | September 2022