Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Ben Kirshner

Second Advisor

Kris D. Gutiérrez

Third Advisor

William R. Penuel

Fourth Advisor

Bianca Williams

Fifth Advisor

Susan Jurow


The interdisciplinary field of the Learning Sciences has made significant strides in understanding basic processes in human learning, and identifying implications for the design of learning environments (Meltzoff et al., 2009). Of significance, scholars in educational psychology and human development have generated insights about the importance of adult-youth relationships for engagement and motivation in learning settings (Piaget, 1969). The field lacks clear understanding, however, of how educators can design learning environments that support and cultivate humanizing relationships between people of different ages, social identities and institutional powers. A humanizing relationship in educational settings is characterized by relational equity, or relations in which participants’ sense making are taken up and brought into joint activity in equally valued ways. Grounded in sociocultural theories of learning—which understand learning as fundamentally constituted by and through social and relational interactions—I empirically investigate the development of human social relations as supports in the design of equitable learning environments. By investigating the design of humanizing relationships, I provide case study evidence from two distinct informal learning environments, in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Toward this end, my research contributes to equity-oriented research on the role of more symmetrical adult-youth relationships in school-based, informal educational contexts.


"A three-article dissertation"--Title page.