Vanessa Svihla

Associate Professor

Organization, Information and Learning Sciences

Contact Information

  • Zimmerman Library 242
  • (505) 750-0263


Curriculum Vitae

Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist, meaning her research seeks to understand how people learn. Her research investigates learning as a dynamic and power-laden process, generally answering the following broad questions, commonly in design and engineering settings:

  • How do learners develop the capacity to frame design problems, and especially in ways that are just, ethical, empathetic, and creative?
  • Under what conditions do authentic, ill-structured learning experiences foster belonging, commitment, and agency, and especially for learners from minoritized groups in STEM?
  • In what ways can an asset-based, teaching-as-design, and intersectional power-informed approach shift pedagogy and contribute to organizational change?
  • What measures and assessments provide just and valid information about learning and development in such endeavors?

She applies a range of research methods (regression modeling, interaction analysis, design-based research, survey development, discourse analysis) to understand learning in real world, interdisciplinary settings.

Dr. Svihla also holds an appointment in Chemical & Biological Engineering.

Dr. Svihla was awarded the NSF CAREER award in 2018. Her project, Framing and Reframing Agency in Making and Engineering (FRAME) investigates a new construct, framing agency—making decisions that are consequential to problem framing, problem solving, and learning. She investigates ways students can develop framing agency, why framing agency matters, and she creates tools for instructors who want to support their students to develop framing agency.

Her research has been supported by the NSF, NIH, DOD, and USDA. She was selected as a 2014 National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Scholar. She served as co-PI on UNM's NSF-funded Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project, FACETS.

Dr. Svihla received an MS in Geology and a PhD in Science Education from The University of Texas at Austin. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines (1998-2000), was a post-doctoral scholar in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley and interned at the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) Center, University of Washington. She previously chaired the American Educational Research Association special interest group, Learning Sciences (2010-2011).

Dr. Svihla also enjoys fashion design and painting, drawing upon these as a source of inspiration for her understanding of designing and creativity. Her paintings have been featured in Prism Magazine (https://www.asee-prism.org/fresh-perspectives/).

Selected Publications


  • Bishop, M.J., Boling, E., Elan, J., & Svihla, V. (Eds.). (6/2020). Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (5th Edition). Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Springer.
  • Ruecker, T. &Svihla, V. (Eds.). (2019). Navigating Challenges in Qualitative Educational Research: Research, Interrupted. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Svihla, V. & Reeve, R. (Eds.). (2016). Design as scholarship: Case studies from the learning sciences. New York, NY: Routledge.


Related to agency, design learning & problem framing

  • Svihla, V., & Kachelmeier, L. (2022). Latent value in humiliation: A design thinking tool to enhance empathy in creative ideation. International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation, 10(1), 51-68. https://doi.org/10.1080/21650349.2021.1976677
  • Svihla, V., Peele-Eady, T.B., & Gallup, A. (2021). Exploring agency in capstone design problem framing.Studies in Engineering Education, 2(2), 96–119, https://doi.org/10.21061/see.69
  • Gravel, B.E. & Svihla, V. (2021). Fostering heterogeneous engineering through whole-class design work. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 30(2), 279-329, https://doi.org/1080/10508406.2020.1843465
  • Svihla, V., Gallup, A., & Kang, S.P., (2020). Development and insights from the Measure of Framing Agency. Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference and Exhibition.https://doi.org/10.18260/1-2--34442
  • Svihla, V., Gomez, J.R., Watkins, M.A., & Peele-Eady, T., (2019). Characterizing framing agency in design team discourse. Proceedings of the ASEE  Annual Conference and Exhibition. https://peer.asee.org/32505.
  • White, L., Svihla, V., Chen, Y., Hynson, T., Drackart, I., James, J.O., Saul, C.Y. & Megli, A.C. (2019). Validating a measure of problem framing ability to support evidence-based teaching practice. Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference and Exhibition. https://peer.asee.org/33528.
  • Svihla, V. & Reeve, R., (2016). Facilitating problem framing in project-based learning, Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. 10(2). http://dx.doi.org/10.7771/1541-5015.1603.
  • Svihla, V., Reeve, R., Collins, J., Lane, W., Field, J., Stiles, A., (2016). Framing and reframing: decision making in project-based unit, International Journal of Designs for Learning. 7(1), 19-36. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/ijdl/article/view/19427/2...
  • Svihla, V., Reeve, R., Sagy, O., & Kali, Y. (2015). A fingerprint pattern of supports for teachers’ designing of technology-enhanced learning. Instructional Science, 43(2), 283-307. doi:1007/s11251-014-9342-5.
  • Svihla, V., Petrosino, A. J., & Diller, K. (2012). Learning to design: Authenticity, problem posing and problem solving. International Journal of Engineering Education. 28, (4), 1-17.
  • Svihla, V. (2010). Collaboration as a dimension of design innovation. Journal of CoDesign: International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts, 6(4), 245-262. https://doi.org/10.1080/15710882.2010.533186

Related to justice, equity, inclusion & intersectional power dynamics

  • Chow-Garcia, N., Lee, N., Svihla, V., Sohn, C., Willie, S., Holsti, M., & Wandinger-Ness, A. (2022). Cultural identity central to Native American persistence in science. Cultural Studies of Science Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-021-10071-7
  • Svihla, V., Chen, Y., & Kang, S.P. (2022). A funds of knowledge approach to developing engineering students’ design problem framing skills.Journal of Engineering Education, 111(2), 308-337. https://doi.org/10.1002/jee.20445
  • Chen, Y., Kang, S.P., James, J.O., Chi, E., Gomez, J.R., Han, S.M., Datye, A.K., & Svihla, V. (2022). Leveraging students’ funds of knowledge in chemical engineering design challenges supports persistence intentions. Journal of Chemical Education, 99(1), 83-91, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jchemed.1c00479

Davis, S.C., Kellam, N., Svihla, V., Sundaram, B.V., & Halkiyo, J.B. (2021). Powerful change attends to power relations. Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference and Exhibition. https://peer.asee.org/37590

Velarde, C., Fetrow, M., & Svihla, V. (2021). A tool for informing community engaged projects. Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference and Exhibition. https://doi.org/10.18260/1-2--36625

Kellam, N., Davis, S., & Svihla, V., (2021). Using power, privilege, and intersectionality as lenses to understand our experiences and begin to disrupt and dismantle oppressive structures within academia. Proceedings of CoNECD. https://cms.jee.org/36136

Kellam, N., Svihla, V., & Davis, S. (2020). The POWER Special Session: Building Awareness of Power and Privilege on Intersectional Teams. Proceedings of Frontiers in Education. https://doi.org/10.1109/FIE44824.2020.9274238


Related to engineering education

  • Gomez, J.R. & Svihla, V. (2019). Building individual accountability though consensus. Chemical Engineering Education, 53(2), 71-79. http://journals.fcla.edu/cee/article/view/106541.
  • Gomez, J.R. & Svihla, V. (2018). Rurality as an asset for inclusive teaching in chemical engineering. Chemical Engineering Education, 52(2), 99-106, http://journals.fcla.edu/cee/article/view/105855.
  • Gomez, J., Svihla, V., & Datye, A. (2017). Jigsaws & parleys: Strategies for engaging sophomore level students as a learning community. Proceedings of the ASEE 124thAnnual Conference and Exhibition. https://peer.asee.org/28597
  • Svihla, V., Gomez, J., Datye, A., Law, V., & Bowers, S. (2016). Mapping Assets of Diverse Groups for Chemical Engineering Design Problem Framing Ability, in the Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education 123rdAnnual Conference and Exhibition. Best Diversity Paper Award.


Related to authentic assessment

  • Svihla, V., Kubik, T., & Stephens-Shauger, T. (10/2019). Performance assessment practice as professional learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 13(2).
  • Oishi, M., Svihla, V., Law, V. (2017). Improved learning through collaborative, scenario-based quizzes in an undergraduate control theory course. Proceedings of the ASEE 124th Annual Conference and Exhibition.https://peer.asee.org/28485
  • McKay, T., Jimenez, E.Y., Svihla, V., Castillo, T., Cantarero, A. (2016). Teaching professional practice: Using Interactive Learning Assessments to simulate the nutrition care process (NCP), Topics in Clinical Nutrition. 31(3), 257-266.
  • Svihla, V., & Linn, M. C. (2011). A Design-based Approach to Fostering Understanding of Global Climate Change. International Journal of Science Education, 34(5), 651-676. doi:1080/09500693.2011.597453.
  • Svihla, V., Vye, N. J., Brown, M., Phillips, R., Gawel, D. J., & Bransford, J. D. (2009). Interactive Learning Assessments for the 21st Century. Education Canada, 49(3), 44-47.