Untold story: Design as Scholarship in the Learning Sciences

Vanessa Svihla & Richard Reeve are putting together a book on this topic and are soliciting contributions. Some details below. Email vsvihla at unm.edu & reever at queensu.ca soon for further info. Closing date for chapter proposals is 30 July 2014.

UPDATE 2016: the book is now published; highly recommended – Svihla, V., & Reeve, R. (2016). Design as scholarship: case studies from the learning sciences. New York: Routledge.

Details (original call for chapters)

Learning scientists commonly report the design of an activity, object, or environment intended to produce some sort of learning or experience. The venues in which we publish typically do not encourage us to detail our designing as it occurred; this results in final form presentation of our work, which in turn leads to a picture of designing as deceptively straightforward. Worse, we argue, it provides little guidance about the reality of how researchers go about designing for learning. Those in the field are left to imagine how the process might have occurred and in turn are led to believe designing is simplistically phasic. In addition, the siren call for design principles is symptomatic of the felt-need for more certainty in our designs. Even in our tradition of conducting design-based research, designing is given short shrift, with much focus put to the designed product and how it instantiates a theory of learning. Design principles are treated both as a means to instantiate theory into design solutions and as an output of our work as a way to generalize findings. The former appears to stand in for client needs when design process is not reported; the latter can be difficult to use outside of the original context and can misfire or malfunction when applied piecemeal or superficially, without sufficient concern for how these principles may function in relationship to the local instructional context. Designing, particularly when client needs are also sought, can take on a distinctly emergent, even opportunistic form, and is typically iterative and even agile. Treating designing as unproblematic limits transferability of our work, and holds us back. Being honest about our designing has the potential to aid us — and others — in surfacing great ideas for learning. By, in effect, holding back on what we suggest are authentic aspects of designing, we may be limiting the new and improved ideas that could benefit the future of education.

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