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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 howpeople learn. Her research focuses on:

  1. How people learn when they design
  2. Ways technology can embed authentic assessment without pausing learning

She is particularly interested in how people frame design problems, and how this relates to identity, agency, and creativity. She applies a range of research methods (regression modeling, network analysis, interaction analysis, data mining, design-based research) 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—taking opportunities to make decisions that are consequential to learning and designing. 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 and USDA. She was selected as a 2014 National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Scholar. She is currently 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 photography, drawing upon these as a source of inspiration for her understanding of designing and creativity.

Selected Publications


  • 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.
  • Petrosino, A, Martin, T., and Svihla, V. (Eds.). (2007). Developing student expertise and community: Lessons from How People Learn.New Directions in Teaching and Learning. (Vol. 108). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Related to design learning & problem framing

  • Svihla, V., Gomez, J.R., Watkins, M.A., & Peele-Eady, T., (2019). Characterizing framing agency in design team discourse.Proceedings of the ASEE 126thAnnual Conference and Exhibition.
  • 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 126thAnnual Conference and Exhibition.
  • Svihla, V., Gomez, J., Bowers, S., James, J., Prescott, P., & Datye, A. (2017). Asset-based design projects in a freshman level course. Proceedings of the ASEE 124th Annual Conference and Exhibition.
  • Svihla, V. & Reeve, R., (2016). Facilitating problem framing in project-based learning, Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. 10(2).
  • 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.
  • 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.

Related to engineering education

  • Gomez, J.R. & Svihla, V. (2019). Building individual accountability though consensus. Chemical Engineering Education, 53(2), 71-79.
  • Gomez, J.R. & Svihla, V. (2018). Rurality as an asset for inclusive teaching in chemical engineering. Chemical Engineering Education, 52(2), 99-106,
  • 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.
  • Svihla, V., Moses, M., Lim, W., Peele-Eady, T., Esterly, E.E., Lee, I., Prescott, P. (2017). Designing for assets of diverse students enrolled in a freshman-level computer science for all course. Proceedings of the ASEE 124thAnnual Conference and Exhibition.
  • Svihla, V., Marshall, J., Liu, Y., Winter, A. (2017). Progress toward lofty goals: a meta-synthesis of the state of research on K12 engineering education. Proceedings of the ASEE 124thAnnual Conference and Exhibition.
  • 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.
  • Svihla, V. (2016). Fundamental Research: Characterizing Underrepresented Students’ Interest in Engineering Careers. In the Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education 123rdAnnual Conference and Exhibition.
  • Svihla, V. (2010). Contingent Identification in a Biomedical Engineering Classroom. In K. Gomez, L. Lyons & J. Radinsky (Eds.), Learning in the Disciplines: Vol. 1, p. 913-920. International Society of the Learning Sciences.

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.
  • 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.