Yasmin B. Kafai, a United States citizen who was born in West Germany, set out to explore the field of digital media and learning, much of it virgin territory in the late 80’s. Researchers had not considered the benefits of designing (rather than playing) digital games for learning. With her pioneering research of children’s learning when programming digital games she helped to launch what two decades later would become the field of serious gaming. Her research empowers students to use computer programming to design games, tell interactive stories, and sew electronic textiles with the goal to support creative expression, build social connections, and broaden participation in computing. She helped develop scratch.mit.edu, called the YouTube of interactive media, where millions of kids create and share their programs and more recently, ecrafting.org, an online community, where everyone can share and celebrate their electronic textile and paper designs. Her award-winning work has received generous funding from the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.
In her recent book series on youth digital media, she unveils the connections between playing online, learning programming, and making games for more constructive and creative participation in networked communities. With Connected Play: Tweens in a Virtual World, written with Deborah Fields, she investigates what happens when kids play in virtual worlds, how this affects their offline lives, and what this means for the design of educational opportunities. A second book Connected Code: Children as the Programmers, Designers and Makers for the 21st Century, written with Quinn Burke, examines the downfall and comeback of programming, connects coding to design and participation in digital media cultures, and will be published by MIT Press in 2014. The third book Connected Gaming, also with Quinn Burke, will focus on constructionist approaches to gaming and learning. Other recent publications include book editions Textile Messages: Dispatches from the World of e-Textiles and Education that report on the emerging field of electronic textiles for learning about circuitry and programming, Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Gender and Gaming, and The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and Creativity in Youth Communities.
Dr. Kafai has contributed to numerous national policy efforts. She coauthored the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan for the United States Department of Education and wrote the 2006 synthesis report Under the Microscope: A Decade of Gender Equity Projects in the Sciences for the American Association of University Women, in addition to briefing the National Research Council for the 2011 report Learning about Science through Games and Simulations and contributing as a member of the National Research Council workshop series Computational Thinking for Everyone. She is also active in local community outreach. In 2007, she received the $25,000 Rosenfield Community Prize together with Youth Opportunities Unlimited and was recognized by the City of Los Angeles for her mentoring partnership initiatives.
A graduate of the Technische Universität Berlin, she was awarded a DAAD fellowship to work with Elliot Soloway in computer science departments at Yale University and then at University of Michigan before attending graduate school at Harvard University. She also worked with Seymour Papert and Idit Harel Caperton at the MIT Media Laboratory from 1989-1994 where she received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Nintendo Corporation. In 1994, she joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles, until 2008, when she was appointed professor of learning sciences at the Graduate School of Education University of Pennsylvania. She is a fellow of the American Educational Research Association, a recipient of the National Science Foundation Early Career Award, a postdoctoral fellow of the National Academy of Education, and the past editor of the Journal of the Learning Sciences and president of the International Society of the Learning Sciences.
She lives, works, and plays in Philadelphia.