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.
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?