Sam Johnston

Research Scientist
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Short BiographyEducationCurrent ProjectsSelected Publications

Short Biography

Dr. Johnston brings expertise in peer-based learning models, distance and blended education, and program evaluation to her role as Research Scientist. Her primary research focus has been the use of technology-mediated peer-based learning to transfer knowledge amongst human services providers.

Before joining CAST, Dr. Johnston was a Senior Associate and Distance Educator at the Center for Social Innovation (c4si), leading the company’s online learning strategy. In this role, she served as lead curriculum developer for a randomized controlled trial to compare the effectiveness of online peer-based learning with face-to-face training in Critical Time Intervention, an evidence-based practice used by case managers to support people transitioning from homelessness into housing.

Dr. Johnston also served as project director for the development of a blended learning curriculum for criminal justice and behavioral health professionals working together to create community-based alternatives to jail for individuals with serious mental illness involved with the criminal justice system. In addition, she develop and pilot-test an online simulation game designed to assist clinicians to improve their skills in motivational interviewing, an evidence-based practice used in behavioral health.

Her dissertation work involved the development, delivery and evaluation of a six-month blended learning professional development program for health care providers and policy planners who work in mental health recovery with refugees, asylum seekers, and in post-conflict societies. The program is entering its 7th year and has over 300 alumni working in 50 different countries.


Ed.D., Cognition and Instruction, Learning and Teaching; Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA

Ed.M., Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA

B.A., History, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

Current Projects

OPEN – With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Creative Commons (CC), Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative (OLI), and the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC), CAST is providing Comprehensive Infrastructure Support and Capacity Building to all Department of Labor, Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College & Career Training Grant (C3T) grantees. Our consortium will support the grantees to meet the Open Education Resource (OER) requirements of the C3T, adopt best practices in OER and learning design, develop institutional skills in open licensing, and document successes critical to ensuring future rounds of funding. These services address a missing component of the C3T grant program, and create a true multiplier effect by developing systems that are adoptable and adaptable, and that enable the broadest possible benefit from this huge public investment. This project represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for building a community college curriculum based on best practices for teaching, learning and openness. The goal is to both raise the baseline for community college education based on best practices, and foster an exponential spread of the benefits by providing a models, design support, authoring platforms and OER guidance to support future efforts.

The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities – With funding from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education, the Center conducts research on how K-12 online learning impacts the access, participation, and progress of students with disabilities. Research outcomes are expected to inform the design, selection, and implementation of online digital curriculum materials, the systems that deliver and support them, and the instructional practices associated with their use, in order to increase their efficacy for students with disabilities and other elementary and secondary learners. The research agenda is aimed at 1) identifying the trends and issues in online education, 2) developing and testing designs and practices that promise to make online education more effective and accessible, and 3) conducting research that impacts the future of online education. The Center is a partnership involving the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KUCRL), the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE).

Selected Publications

Olivet, J., Bassuk, E., and Johnston, S. Training strategies for the family homelessness workforce. (Manuscript in submission).

Johnston, C. S. Community of practice in a global blended learning program. Information Session presented at the 26th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning. Madison, Wisconsin August 4-6 2010.

Olivet, J., Johnston, C.S., and Herman, D. Critical time intervention: From efficacy to web-based learning. Panel presentation presented at the 3rd Annual NIH Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation, March 15-16, 2010.

Olivet, J., Johnston, C.S., and Zerger, S. (2009) Evidence-based practice in community-based social work: A multimedia strategy. Contract HHSN271200800027C. Final Report submitted to the National Institute of Health.

Johnston C. S. Global mental health: Trauma and recovery mastery certificate program: Assessment of the impact of the community of practice on learning [dissertation]. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Graduate School of Education, MA.

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., and Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their applications. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19(2), 135-151.

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., and Abarbanell, L. (2008). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their applications. In S.E. Burgstahler & R.C. Cory (Eds.), Universal Design in Higher Education. From Principles to Practice, 45-60. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

O’Shea P., Mitchell, R., Johnston, C.S., Dede, C. (January-March 2009) Lessons learned about designing augmented realities. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, 1(1), 1-15.

Johnston, C. S. (October 2007). Communities of Practice and Retention of Nontraditional Students in Postsecondary Education: A Review of the Literature and a Framework for Using Communities of Practice in Postsecondary Education Programs. Unpublished qualifying paper in partial fulfillment of the Doctor of Education degree. Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Johnston, C. S. Exhibitions SAFE: Design Takes On Risk 
October 16, 2005–January 2, 2006. Graduate Essays “Post-conflict Reconciliation and Healing: The Potential of the Web and Video Games.”


CAST's Mission
To expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through the research and development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies.

Did You Know...?
CAST's research areas include literacy, online learning, assessment, textbook design, accessibility, classroom practice, and education policy.