UCL News


Spotlight on Sara Price

23 January 2019

Sara is a Professor of Digital Learning at UCL Knowledge Lab. She discusses Move2Learn, a project whose findings provide the foundation for ongoing collaborative work with museums in the UK and US, examining children’s action and gesture experiences of scientific exhibits.

Sara Price

What is your role and what does it involve?
I am a Professor of Digital Learning at UCL Knowledge Lab, within the Institute of Education. My research focuses on the role of digital technologies for learning and communication, and informs teaching and training in formal and informal settings. Much of my work involves the design, development and evaluation of emerging digital technologies (mobile, tangible, sensor), exploring ways in which they can enhance learning through mediating new forms of thinking, reasoning and communication, and the development of methodological approaches for researching embodiment in Human Computer Interaction. My role also involves leading research teams, mentoring post-doctoral researchers, supervising PhD students and teaching MA students. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I joined the IOE’s Knowledge Lab as a post doc in early 2005, working with Martin Oliver on an EU-funded project, which looked at the impact of technology enhanced learning on the role of teachers in HE. I was then awarded a RCUK Academic Fellowship in 2006, during which time I was PI on projects funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). They were collaborative interdisciplinary projects exploring the design, development and evaluation of emergent digital technologies (e.g. tangible, mobile) for teaching and learning in science contexts. Before coming to UCL IOE, I completed my PhD in 2001 at the University of Sussex under the supervision of the late Dr. Mike Scaife, followed by a post doc position, working with Mike and Yvonne Rogers on EPSRC’s EQUATOR project: one of the first Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) projects to be funded by the EPSRC. Prior to this, I trained as a State Registered Nurse, District Nurse and Health Visitor, working as a Health Visitor before I had children, and then undertaking my UG degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex between 1994 and 1997.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
Reaching the level of Professor, given that I was awarded my PhD at the age of 41.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
Move2Learn aims to inform the design of interactive digital science exhibits for young children (aged 3-6 years) by providing evidence-based design guidelines that foster meaningful action-based experiences. By meaningful we refer to specific actions and sensorimotor experiences that are congruent with particular science ideas, and thus are potentially instrumental in supporting young children’s scientific concept development. 

The project draws on theories of embodied cognition, where recent research has not only shown the importance of particular sensory experiences in learning and development, but also the importance of gesture in reflecting the abstraction of key concepts that are underpinned by action experiences. To date such work has primarily been undertaken within mathematics domains and with older children, while our project seeks to extend our understanding of these theories of learning and communication to the domain of science, in the early years.

An important aspect of our initial work has involved understanding how children of this age group use gesture, and the role it plays in their communication of science ideas. This is of particular interest given the lack of sophisticated language skills, at this age, for scientific communication. Our studies show how gesture gives new insight into the complexity of young children’s scientific understanding, and the important role it plays in conveying rich visuo-spatial information. While this work delivers theoretical contributions, it also provides the foundation for ongoing collaborative work with museums in the UK and US, where we are examining children’s action and gesture experiences of various scientific exhibits. Based on this we aim to implement new iterative designs of exhibits or facilitation around these exhibits, that exploit particular sensorimotor experiences, and examine the impact of these designs on children’s science understanding and communication.

The project is funded by NSF/Wellcome/ESRC, and is a collaboration between academia and museum practitioners, across the UK and the US. I am enjoying working with research partners that contribute multiple perspectives to the work, both through the practitioner-academic collaboration, and the UK-US partnership. It has provided some exciting and interesting opportunities to develop stimulating working relationships with new colleagues and broaden the research base, and is a project, which has a real prospect of bringing together research and practice in an impactful way.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Album/music: As a teenager I was a fan of Elvis, the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd, other favourites over the years include U2, Paul Simon and Eric Clapton’s Layla unplugged version, but at the moment my go-to listening is Voces8 - I particularly like their performance of Lux Aeterna.

Film: Not sure I have a favourite, but there are a couple of films that have stuck in my memory: Rabbit Proof Fence, Beasts of No Nation and Whiplash.

Novel: I’d have to say, D H Lawrence, The Rainbow. I read a lot and belong to a book club, where we read a variety of genres, a couple of recent books that stand out are Erwin James', Redeemable: A Memoir of Darkness and Hope, and Wendy Holden’s Born Survivors for its stark, harrowing insights into the lives of three pregnant women in WWII concentration camps. 

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
I'm hopeless at remembering jokes, but someone recently told this one, which did make me laugh. "How many narcissists do you need to change a light bulb? One to hold the light bulb while the world revolves around them!"

Who would be your dream dinner guests?
My family, with Yotam Ottolenghi to cook for us all! And Lawrence Anthony (the ‘elephant whisperer’), conservationist and head of Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand.

What advice would you give your younger self?
Worry less, full stop!

What would it surprise people to know about you?
I’ve brought up seven children, have a springer spaniel and keep a small flock of hens.

What is your favourite place?
The Scottish Highlands, in particular the view looking south from just above Camusfearna (Sandaig), where Loch Hourn joins the Sound of Sleat.