Ben Kirshner
Professor and Program Chair
Learning Sciences & Human Development

Miramontes Baca Education Building, Room 300G
University of Colorado Boulder
249 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309

Ben Kirshner is a Professor of Learning Sciences and Human Development at the University of Colorado Boulder. His experiences working with young people at a community center in San Francisco’s Mission District motivated his research agenda about learning environments that support young people’s critical reflection and collective agency. In his current work with the Critical Civic Inquiry research group he develops research-practice partnerships that increase public schools’ capacity to support student voice and youth participatory action research through teacher professional learning, policy alignment, and student activism. With the Research Hub for Youth Organizing he co-designs educational tools and research studies with youth organizing groups and networks that build capacity for young people to claim power in the public sphere. Ben’s book, Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality, received the social policy award for best authored book from the Society of Research on Adolescence. Recent courses he has taught include principles and practices of community-based research, leadership development, and youth activism and social movements. 


PhD Psychological Studies in Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 2004
MTS Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, 1999
BA History and Religious Studies, Brown University, Providence, RI, 1993

Ben Kirshner is a Professor of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder and Faculty Director of CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research. Through his work with CU Engage Ben seeks to develop and sustain university-community research partnerships that address persistent public challenges and promote education justice. In his scholarly work Ben collaboratively designs and studies learning environments that support youth voice and agency. Projects include design-based research in action civics classrooms, intergenerational participatory action research, and ethnographies of community-based youth organizing groups. His 2015 book, Youth Activism in an Era of Education Inequality, received the social policy award for best authored book from the Society of Research on Adolescence.

Teaching is an integral part of my scholarly career.  My enthusiasm for teaching began when I spent two summers in college teaching literature and writing to middle school students in Summerbridge (now The Breakthrough Collaborative), a national network of academically rigorous programs for children from low-income families.  This was where I first learned to design engaging, student-centered lessons by thinking from the perspective of a student—what question would be gripping here? What activities would make me want to speak up or get out of my seat?  After college I worked for four years as an educator with the San Francisco Conservation Corps, which hired young adults to mentor, teach, and supervise middle school students from underserved neighborhoods.  In addition to developing curricula for our summer program, I trained young adult AmeriCorps members in teaching strategies.  I enjoyed the challenge of designing lessons that were responsive to people’s work experiences and that helped them develop instructional tools.

Many of the characteristics of good teaching that I learned in non-traditional settings apply to my university teaching: intellectually challenging questions; discussions that ask students to construct their understanding; activities that embody central concepts; timely mini-lectures that communicate necessary information, and a personal style that is approachable and concerned with student understanding.  As a teacher, it is important to me that students master the subject matter, while also finding ways to draw relevant applications to policy and classroom problems.  I value rigorous, critical thinking, in a climate that allows disagreement and the exchange of ideas.  I enjoy advising students in one-on-one meetings as much as I enjoy leading discussion sections. 

Courses taught:

EDUC 4112: Educational Psychology and Adolescent Development

This course introduces undergraduate and post-baccalaureate teacher candidates to the foundations of adolescent development and educational psychology.  We focus on topics such as: identity development, adolescent resilience, cognitive development, social and cultural approaches to learning, diversity, out-of-school contexts, assessment, and motivation.  For each topic students learn about foundational, canonical theories as well as contemporary research from the standpoint of race, culture, and gender diversity. 

EDUC 6328: Advanced Child Growth and Educational Development

This course addresses similar topics to EDUC 4112, including central aspects of learning and development in adolescence.  Because it is geared towards graduate students, its seminar format will permit more in-depth understanding of child and adolescent development.  There also will be a greater focus on theories of development.

EDUC 8348: Youth Development in Schools and Communities

This course is for graduate students who are interested in adolescent development and/or who are planning to conduct research with adolescents.  The course begins by reviewing the central developmental tasks of adolescence, including: identity, forming a worldview, forming relationships, exercising agency, and overcoming adversity.  We then examine different contexts of development, such as schools, youth organizations, and work, and how they support (or don’t support) the accomplishment of developmental tasks.  The major assignment for the course is a research project developed in partnership with a local youth-serving agency.  The purpose will be for students to practice a “scholarship of engagement,” characterized by projects that help students learn more about a topic while also meeting the needs of research participants.

Professional Service

  • Reviewer, Educational Researcher, Human Development, Journal of Research on Adolescence,Member, American Educational Research Association
  • Member, Society for Research on Adolescence

University of Colorado

  • Planning Committee member, Urban Research Based Action Network (URBAN)
  • Contributing Civic Engagement Editor, Journal of College and Career
  • Faculty Director, CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research, University of Colorado Boulder

Local Community Involvement

  • Board member, SAGE Community Partnerships

(For complete list of publications, please see the faculty member's curriculum vitae.)

Edited Volumes 

Kirshner, B. (Ed.). (2007). Special issue: Youth activism as a context for learning and developmentAmerican Behavioral Scientist, 51(3).


Kirshner, B. & Jefferson, A. (2015). Participatory Democracy and Struggling Schools: Making Space for Youth in School Turnarounds. Teachers College Record, 117(6).

Kirshner, B. & Ginwright, S. (2012). Youth Organizing as a Developmental Context for African American and Latino AdolescentsChild Development Perspectives, 6(3), 288-294.

Kirshner, B. & Pozzoboni, K. M. (2011). Student Interpretations of a School Closure: Implications for Student Voice in equity-Based School Reform. Teachers College Record, 113(8), 1633-1667.

Kirshner, B., Possoboni, K., & Jones, H. (2011). Learning How to Manage Bias: A Case Study of Youth Participatory Action Research. Applied Developmental Science, 15(3), 140-155.

Kirshner, B., Salvdivar, M. G., & Tracy, R. (2011). How first-generation students learn to navigate education systems: A case study of First Graduate. New Directions for Youth Development, 2011, 107-122. 

Kirshner, B. (2010). Productive Tensions in Youth Participatory Action ResearchYearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 109(1), 238-251.

Strobel, K., Kirshner, B., McLaughlin, M.W., & O’Donoghue, J. (2008). Qualities that attract urban youth to after-school settings and promote continued participationTeachers College Record, 110(8), 1677-1705.

Kirshner, B. (2008). Guided participation in three youth activism organizations: Facilitation, apprenticeship, and joint workJournal of the Learning Sciences, 17(1), 60-101.

Kirshner, B. (2007). Supporting youth participation in school reform: Preliminary notes from a university-community partnership. Special issue of Children, Youth and Environments: Pushing the Boundaries: Critical International Perspectives on Child and Youth Participation, 17(2).

Kirshner, B., Strobel, K., & Fernandez, M. (2003). Critical civic engagement among urban youthPenn GSE Perspectives on Urban Education, 2(1).

Nasir, N. & Kirshner, B. (2003). The cultural construction of moral and civic identitiesApplied Developmental Science, 7, 138-147. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Kirshner, B. (2003). Reflecting on moral development and education [Review of the book, Education in the Moral Domain (2001), L. Nucci, New York: Cambridge University Press.] Mind, Culture, and Activity, 10(3), 260-265. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Book Chapters 

Kirshner, B. (2006). Moral voices of politically engaged urban youth. In New directions for youth development: Shaping the ethical understandings of youth, No. 108. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (Wiley Periodicals, Inc.).

Kirshner, B., O'Donoghue, J., & McLaughlin, M. W. (2005). Youth-adult research collaborations: Bringing youth voice to the research process. In J. Mahoney, R. Larson, & J. Eccles (Eds.), Organized activities as contexts of development: extracurricular activities, after-school and community programs. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

O' Donoghue, J., Kirshner, B., & McLaughlin, M. W. (2003). Moving youth participation forward. In New Directions for Youth Development: Theory, Practice and Research, No. 96. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass (Wiley Periodicals, Inc.).