Educational Technology

Designing for Democracy in Education

This reading critique was written by Monet Spells for Educational Technology (CS 6460, Fall 2014) at Georgia Tech. I could not find a public copy of the article to link to online, so I linked to the authors’ respective websites.

Designing for Democracy in Education: Participatory Design and the Learning Sciences
by Betsy DiSalvo and Carl DiSalvo

This paper establishes the importance of participatory design in the learning sciences by outlining the challenges, current uses, and potential impact. Participatory design creates opportunities to uncover self-motivations, identities, and interests in the participating parties. It constructs meaningful engagements by encouraging participants to co-create learning environments that meet the needs for the whole community engaged in the learning practice. This concept is fundamentally different from traditional classroom environments, in which teachers develop a curriculum without learning their students’ interests and self-motivations.

The concept of democratic participatory design research is interesting in it’s divergence from standard research methods. The traditional learning sciences approach is to formulate research and learning goals around the researcher’s passions, interests, and directives. Participatory design challenges that idea and instead tasks the community with establishing a dialogue and setting the agenda. As the authors confirm, participatory design is beneficial to researchers, though I’d be interested to understand how the learning sciences community welcomes research of this method. For example, if another researcher conducted the same participatory design study, their results would be fundamentally different depending on the community and contributors involved in their study. Is participatory design too nebulous a research process or is it identifying the need for new research methodologies?

The authors claim that in order for community based research to be successful there must be a long-term commitment. During this commitment period, there must be goal setting and co-designing opportunities with the community to establish a trusting relationship. I am curious how the authors are defining long term in this scenario. Is it implied that in order to do effective participatory design work, there must be a substantial relationship between the educators and the students that is developed over a long period of time? Is the definition of “long-term” arbitrary and solely dependent on the nature of the relationship (e.g., test-prep tutors, mentors, teachers)? How does this claim include programs such as Teach For America where adults commit to a few years of service in a community? Do systems like Teach For America provide an effective structure for beneficial education and opportunities for participatory design?

Business Case for UX

Early stage start-ups grow small metric numbers into bigger numbers and, by definition, developing and “start up” a product to be successful. This is a fascinating concept and allows for seemingly small decisions and changes to directly correlate to metric changes without the complex factors of large corporation success. The story of AirBnB, a community marketplace facilitating home rentals, is an example of small strokes creating big waves, as the company utilized user experience concepts to double their weekly revenue and increase customer engagement by over 30%.

Learner-Centered Design

The authors of this article are simultaneously optimistic and critical of the next shift in HCI and technological development. They encourage a shift away from user-centered design, where users exist in the center of tools, tasks, and interfaces, and towards a learner-centered design, where learners exist in the center and their special needs are addressed. In the end, they question the distinction between users and learners, asking if there is a substantive distinction to be made. I believe there is a fluid line between users and learners, as context, intent, and environment are crucial in developing software for both groups.

Pianos Not Stereos

This article focused on personal and epistemological connections as two valuable constructional-design principles for computational construction kits. Construction kits and activities can engage students on a personal level by connecting with the familiar, such as a student’s interests and experiences, for a personal connection. Alternatively, construction kits can tap into important domains of knowledge to encourage new ways of thinking, for an epistemological connection. In the most effective kits and activities, students are simultaneously engaging in both connections.

Learning and Transfer + How Children Learn

These chapters cover the different processes of student transfer and the biological ways in which babies and toddlers learn. I particularly enjoyed the covert connections drawn between child learning and expert thinking. For example, children cluster information into meaningful units to remember it, similar to the way experts organize their knowledge about a subject (as established in Chapter 2, How Experts Differ from Novices).