Kevin O'Neill

Associate Professor, Education and Technology

Let me play the fool;
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come,
And let my liver rather heat with wine
Than my heart cool with mortifying groans.

William Shakespeare, A Merchant of Venice I,I

A Short Career History

It was a windy road to the Faculty of Education at SFU. After completing my Ph.D. in Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, I took up a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). There I worked with the CSILE/Knowledge Building team, directed by Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Berieter, to put my dissertation work on telementoring into action in Knowlege-Building classrooms. This work was generously supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation under a fellowship from their Cognitive Studies in Educational Practice program, and by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Extensions of this work were funded by the Office of Learning Technologies, Human Resources Development Canada.

After leaving OISE/UT, I spent a year working with Alan Lesgold and Lauren Resnick's team on the NetLearn project at LRDC, University of Pittsburgh, helping to design web-based tools to support the Institute for Learning's work on professional development.

Software Projects

Since part of my background is in Computing Science, I like to contribute to the field by creating software that I believe will be useful to educators, but that is unlikely to be developed in the corporate world. My first contribution of this kind was back in graduate school, I was part of a team of researchers working on the CoVis Project, an educational networking testbed project supported by the National Science Foundation. As part of CoVis I did a lot of work on a piece of educational groupware called the Collaboratory Notebook, which you can read about in some of my publications. As I also prototyped a WWW service called the CoVis Mentor Database, to support on-line mentoring (also called "telementoring" or "e-mentoring") for K-12 students. For a variety of reasons having to do with the nature of schools, curricula and growing up, orchestrating distant, long-term mentoring relationships between schoolkids and knowledgable adults winds up being a lot harder to do (or to do well) than you might expect. It's equally hard to evaluate. If you're interested in these sorts of issues, you might want to peruse some of my writings, linked below.

A few years years ago, some of my graduate students and I produced a new piece of software to support telementoring programs, the Telementoring Orchestrator. This is a much-enhanced successor to the CoVis Mentor Database, developed under contract for Human Resources Development Canada. It is available free for noncommercial use. Find out more about it.

Currently, my team at SFU is conducting research around a web site designed to help teachers and professors of history assess their students' understandings of why historical accounts may differ. To what extent do students in a particular class believe that differences in the stories we tell about the past are due to some people witnessing the events and others not? To what extent do they think that storyteller bias explains the differences? To what extent do they believe that the differences are shaped by available evidence, or the questions we ask of it? Understanding the differences in students' understandings may help us to teach them in ways that are both more effective and more interesting to them. With the HistoryConcepts site, any professor can have their students take a brief, anonymous survey and see instant analysis of the responses, for use in planning lessons or leading discussions.

Personal History

I am originally from St. Catharines, Ontario. If you've ever driven to Toronto along the Queen Elizabeth Way, you've passed through it. You may even have stopped for gas or a Tim Horton's doughnut there, and met one of our friendly Ontario Provincial Police. St. Catharines is mostly known for its innumerable coffee shops and pizza parlors, and for a yearly rowing meet called the Royal Henley Regatta.

One of the under-appreciated gems of St. Catharines is Brock University, where I spent several years getting a great education, largely to the credit of the Great Books/Liberal Studies Program.


These days when not working, I am mostly with my with my wife Laura (another Learning Sciences grad) and our two adorable, very energetic and whip-smart children in our home on Burnaby mountain. If you've read this far you may also be interested in knowing that I am not related to Dr. Susan O'Neill of the Faculty of Education, though she is a credit to the name. It turns out that O'Neill is a very common Irish name, and Kevin O'Neill is also quite common. If you're on Facebook you can look up the group "We are Kevin O'Neill", which contains a lot of very interesting people, but not me.

Selected Publications

Saghafian, M. & O’Neill, D.K. (2017). A phenomenological study of teamwork in online and face-to-face student teams. Higher Education.

O'Neill, D. K., & Feenstra, B. F. (2017). “Honestly, I Would Stick with the Books”: Young Adults’ Ideas About a Videogame as a Source of Historical Knowledge. Game Studies, 16(2).  Retrieved from

O’Neill, D.K. (2016) Understanding Design Research–Practice Partnerships in Context and Time: Why Learning Sciences Scholars Should Learn From Cultural-Historical Activity Theory Approaches to Design-Based Research. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25:4, 497-502, DOI: 10.1080/10508406.2016.1226835

O'Neill, D. K. (2016). 21st Century Bunkum: What do we value about kids learning to code, and why? Teacher Learning and Professional Development, 1(2), 111-116. 

O'Neill, D. K. (2016). When form follows fantasy: Lessons for learning scientists from modernist architecture and urban planning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(1), 133-152. doi:10.1080/10508406.2015.1094736

O’Neill, D.K. and Sai, T.S. (2014). Why not? Examining college students’ reasons for avoiding an online course. Higher Education. 68:1, 1-14.

O’Neill, D.K., Guloy, S. and Sensoy, Ö (2013). Strengthening Methods for Assessing Students’ Metahistorical Conceptions: Initial Development of the Historical Account Differences Survey. The Social Studies, 105:1, 1-14

O'Neill, D. K. (2012). Designs that fly: what the history of aeronautics tells us about the future of design-based research in education. International Journal of Research & Method in Education, 35(2), 119-140.

O’Neill, D. K., Guloy, S., MacKellar, F., & Sensoy, Ö. (2011, April 8-12). Retooling the teaching of history: Refining a unit targeting conceptions about differing historical accounts. Paper presented at the Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

O'Neill, D. K., Asgari, M., & Dong, Y. R. (2011). Trade-offs between perceptions of success and planned outcomes in an online mentoring program. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 19(1), 45-63.

Asgari, M., & O'Neill, D. K. (2005). What do they mean by “success”? Examining mentees’ perceptions of success in a curriculum-based telementoring program. In J. Pascarelli & F. Kochan (Eds.), Creating Successful Telementoring Programs. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

O'Neill, D. K., Weiler, M. J., & Sha, L. (2005). Software support for online mentoring programs: A research-inspired design. Mentoring & Tutoring, 13(1), 109-131.

O'Neill, D. K. (2004). Building social capital in a knowledge-building community: Telementoring as a catalyst. Interactive Learning Environments, 12(3), 179-208.

O'Neill, D. K., & Harris, J. B. (2004). Bridging the perspectives and developmental needs of all participants in curriculum-based telementoring programs. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 37(2), 111-128.

O'Neill, D. K., & Polman, J. L. (2004). Why educate "little scientists"? Examining the potential of practice-based scientific literacy. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(3), 234–266.

O'Neill, D.K. (2001). Knowing when you've brought them in: Scientific genre knowledge and communities of practice. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(3), 223-264.


E-mail: koneill-at-sfu-dot-ca

Snail Mail:

Faculty of Education
Simon Fraser University
8888 University Drive
Burnaby, British Columbia
Canada V5A 1S6

Phone: 778-782-3476