Articles

Articles

Over my career I have had the support of amazing mentors and strong collaborators, allowing for the creation of over 100 manuscripts that advance storied truths about significant ideas. I have attempted to share all the local stories in ways that illuminate the particulars of the work, but do so in a manner that provides others with lots of hooks and general claims so they can easily see the relevance to their own work. I encourage you to read through the various stories, claims, and arguments to determine the relevance to your own work, and leave comments to help others make connections and to aid me in advancing my thinking.

Design-Based Research: Putting a Stake in the Ground

The emerging field of the learning sciences one that is interdisciplinary, drawing on multiple theoretical perspectives and research paradigms so as to build understandings of the nature and conditions of learning, cognition, and development. Learning sciences researchers investigate cognition in context, at times emphasizing one more than the other but with the broad goal of developing evidence-based claims derived from both laboratory-based and naturalistic investigations that result in knowledge about how people learn.

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Developing an Empirical Account of a Community of Practice: Characterizing the Essential Tensions

This paper examines the potential of a learning-as-a-part-of-a-community approach, focusing on the participatory process of learning in a community-based, teacher education program, A Community of Teachers (CoT).

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Theoretical Assumptions and Methods for Researching Cognition Situated in Intentional Learning Environments

Situative and distributed theories of cognition increasingly are being proposed as alternatives to the traditional individualist notion offered by cognitive psychology. From this perspective, “knowledge,” perhaps more aptly termed “knowing about,” is no longer conceived of as a static structure residing in the individual’s head; instead, knowing is a process distributed across the knower, the environment in which knowing occurs, and the activity in which the learner is participating.

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Constructivism in Practice: A Comparison and Contrast of Apprenticeship and Constructionist Learning Environments

This article compares and contrasts 2 summer camps. Future Camp 97 is based on assumptions consistent with constructionism and Scientists Apprentice Camp 97 consistent with legitimate peripheral participation. These 2 learning environments create an opportunity to do an empirical, as opposed to a strictly theoretical, comparison of what has been frequently lumped under the term constructivism.

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Constructing Virtual Worlds: Tracing the Historical Development of Learner Practices

In this manuscript we explore learning/instruction within a technology-rich, collaborative, participatory learning environment by tracking the emergence of shared understanding and products through an examination of student and teacher practices. Our interest was not simply in the interactions among students or between students and teachers, but included student-resource interactions with an emphasis on student-technology interactions.

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Critical Design Ethnography: Designing For Change

In this paper we describe an eighteen month collaboration between a university design-based, research group and an after-school organization for children. In this collaboration, we engaged in a process of transforming local context from one minimally focused on learning to one in which content learning and personal development were central.

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Designing System Dualities: Characterizing a Web-Supported Professional Development Community

In this article we focus on the challenges we have encountered in attempting to support the development of an online community of practice for grade 5-12 mathematics and science teachers. Specifically, this project involves the design and evaluation of an electronic knowledge network, the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), a web-based professional development system designed to support a community of practice (CoP) of in-service and preservice mathematics and science teachers who are creating, reflecting upon, sharing, and improving inquiry-based pedagogical practices.

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Using Activity Theory to Conceptualize Online Community and Using Online Community to Conceptualize Activity Theory

In this paper we describe the evolving structure of the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), a socio-technical interaction network designed to support a web-based community of in-service and pre-service mathematics and science teachers sharing, improving, and creating inquiry based pedagogical practices. Specifically, we apply activity theory as an analytical lens for characterizing the process of designing and supporting the implementation of this online community.

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Constructing Networks of Activity: An In-Situ Research Methodology

In this article we advance a methodology for capturing and tracing the emergence, evolution, and diffusion of a practice, concept, resource, or student-constructed artifact. The Constructing Networks of Action-Relevant Episodes (CN-ARE) methodology allows researchers to identify relevant data from a complex, evolving environment, and then to organize it into a web of meaning that can illuminate the historical development of the phenomenon of interest (e.g., conception of an eclipse, applications of a mathematical formula, an evolvoing student-constructed Website).

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Using Activity Theory to Understand the Contradictions Characterizing a Technology-Rich Introductory Astronomy Course

In this report of our research, we use the central tenets of Activity Theory to understand and illuminate how our course supports the emergence of activity systems that transform objects through which students, as subjects in these systems, develop deep and meaningful understandings. Specifically, we focus on the relations of subject (student) and object (3-D models and astronomy understandings) and how, in our course, object transformations leading to scientific understandings are mediated by tools (both technological and human), the overall classroom microculture (emergent norms), division of labor (group dynamics and student/instructor roles), and rules (informal, formal, and technical). Through analysis of the data we interpreted and then focused on two contradictions as illuminative of classroom activities.

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Empowerment Design Work: Building Participant Structures that Transform

In this manuscript we describe our “empowerment design” work. Essentially, empowerment design is designing with heart. It is a complex work that involves bringing together multiple and even opposing agendas, acknowledging different voices, and even working through unintended consequences and confusing struggles that have no one clear answer. Here, we describe an empowerment design initiative that overtly attempts to transform a culture and empower those it serves by way of a technology-rich educational innovation called Quest Atlantis.

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Design-Based Research: A Methodological Toolkit for Engineering Change

Design-based research (DBR) is used to study learning in environments that are designed and systematically changed by the researcher. DBR is not a fixed “cookbook” method; it is a collection of approaches that involve a commitment to studying activity in naturalistic settings, many of which are designed and systematically changed by the researcher, with the goal of advancing theory at the same time directly impacting practice. The goal of DBR (sometimes also referred to as design experiments) is to use the close study of learning as it unfolds within a naturalistic context that contains theoretically inspired innovations, usually that have passed through multiple iterations, to then develop new theories, artifacts, and practices that can be generalized to other schools and classrooms.

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Online Learning: From Information Dissemination to Fostering Collaboration

In this article the trajectory of an online course in which graduate students collaboratively investigated and shared their personal experiences with respect to adult development is described. For this study, naturalistic inquiry was used to gain a holistic view of this semester-long course and to identify the specific emergent issues that characterized course dynamics.

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Activity Theory as a Lens for Charactering the Participatory Unit.

In this chapter we describe Activity Theory and demonstrate its usefulness as a theoretical and methodological lens for characterizing, analyzing, and designing for the participatory unit. Activity Theory is a psychological and multidisciplinary theory with a naturalistic emphasis. When accounting for activity, activity theorists are not simply concerned with “doing” as a disembodied action, but are interested in “doing in order to transform something,” with the focus on the contextualized activity of the system as a whole.

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Virtual worlds, conceptual understanding, and me: Designing for consequential engagement.

This paper aims to advance the idea of consequential engagement, positioning it as a necessary complement to the more common practices of supporting procedural or conceptual engagement. More than a theoretical argument, this notion is grounded in examples from the authors’ work in enlisting game-based methodologies and technologies for supporting such engagement. Through the presentation of two example designs, […]

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Transformational Play: Why Educators Should Care about Games

Transformational play as a theory has emerged through our design and research on games for learning. Specifically, transformational play involves positioning students as empowered actors who must understand and enlist academic content in order to effectively transform problematic scenarios.

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Situationally Embodied Curriculum: Formalisms and Contexts

This study describes an example of design-based research in which we make theoretical improvements in our understanding, in part based on empirical work, and use these to revise our curriculum and, simultaneously, our evolving theory of the relations between contexts and disciplinary formalisms.

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Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing narratives: Games as 21st Century Curriculum

Education is about revealing possibility and exciting passions, empowering learners with the disciplinary expertise to meaningfully act on problematic contexts in which applying disciplinary knowledge is important. Toward this end, we have been using gaming methodologies and technologies to design curricular dramas that position students as active change agents who use knowledge to inquire into particular circumstances and, through their actions, transform the problematic situation into a known.

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Relating Narrative, Inquiry, and Inscriptions: Supporting Consequential Play

Quest Atlantis , to embed fourth grade students in an aquatic habitat simulation. Specifically targeted towards engaging students in a rich inquiry investigation, we layered a socio-scientific narrative and an interactive rule set into a multi-user virtual environment gaming engine to establish a virtual world through which students learned about science inquiry, water quality concepts, and the challenges in balancing scientific and socio-economic factors.

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Our Designs and the Social Agendas they Carry

Although the work of learning scientists and instructional designers has brought about countless curricula, designs, and theoretical claims, the community has been less active in communicating the explicit and implicit critical social agendas that result (or could result) from their work.

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Uganda’s road to peace may run through the river of forgiveness: Designing playable fictions to teach complex values

While gaming technologies are typically leveraged for entertainment purposes, our experience and aspiration is to use them to encourage engagement with global, politically-sensitive issues. This chapter focuses on our game design concerning the struggle of Uganda, a design that allows players to experience the atrocities and inhumane conditions and, by illuminating such values as peace and justice, helps them more generally to appreciate the moral complexity of a humane intervention.

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Eat Your Vegetables and Do Your Homework: A Design-Based Investigation of Enjoyment and Meaning in Learning

Design-based research is a collection of innovative methodological approaches that involve the building of theoretically-inspired designs to systematically generate and test theory in naturalistic settings. Design-based research is especially powerful with respect to supporting and systematically examining innovation.

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Games without Guns: Quest Atlantis, Making Learning Fun

This manuscript describes the Quest Atlantis (QA) project, a learning and teaching project that uses a multi-user, virtual environment to immerse children, ages 9-12, in educational tasks. QA combines strategies used in commercial gaming environments with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation.

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Doing Science at the Elbows of Experts: Issues Related to the Science Apprenticeship Camp

The purpose of this manuscript was to synthesize literature related to apprenticeship learning, the sociology of science, and K-12 science education to develop a set of characteristics for designing/evaluating participatory science learning experiences. Following this discussion, we further clarify and illuminate the value of these characteristics for science educators by using them as evaluative criteria for characterizing the experiences of 24 middle school learners who embarked on a two-week long camp with “real” scientists engaged in “real” research.

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Virtual Solar System Project: Developing Scientific Understanding Through Model Building

The goal of this manuscript is to describe the evolution of our introductory astronomy course for undergraduate students in which students use virtual reality to model the solar system and, in the process, develop rich understandings of astronomical phenomenon. The progression of our thinking and the course curriculum has been grounded in a series of “design experiments,” in which we develop entire courses, do research, and cycle what we are learning into the next iteration of the course.

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Designing Effective Interdisciplinary Anchors

In this article, we share experiences and insights with respect to the development and implementation of integrated units. The authors have participated in the movement towards interdisciplinarity in a number of capacities, including classroom teaching, in-service teacher education, curriculum development, and the application of electronic technologies to educational psychology research.

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Supporting Authenticity Through Participatory Learning

The purpose of this study was to share our experiences using emerging technologies to create an authentic learning context where pre-service teachers at a university and practicing K-12 teachers collaborate in the conduct of real-world tasks (as opposed to “textbook” exercises). In this paper, we demonstrate and evaluate the design of professional development that involved a partnership between two universities and eight surrounding K-12 schools. This partnership provides the foundation for supporting a learning community of pre-service and practicing teachers that situates both in collaborative practices that are authentic and valuable to all involved.

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Designing and Building an On-line Community: The Struggle to Support Sociability in the Inquiry Learning Forum

In this paper we describe the socio-technical structures of the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), a web- based professional development tool designed to support a community of in-service and pre-service mathematics and science teachers creating, sharing, and improving inquiry-based pedagogical practices. The hallmark of this environment is that teachers with a broad range of experience and expertise can come together in an online environment to observe, discuss, and reflect upon pedagogical theory and practice anchored to actual teaching vignettes.

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Online Learning: From Information Dissemination to Fostering Collaboration

In this article the trajectory of an online course in which graduate students collaboratively investigated and shared their personal experiences with respect to adult development is described. For this study, naturalistic inquiry was used to gain a holistic view of this semester-long course and to identify the specific emergent issues that characterized course dynamics.

More info

Learning for a Reason: Supporting forms of engagement by designing tasks and orchestrating environments

This article discusses the ways that tasks and classroom cultures can be supported through the design of online immersive games. The authors focus on a mathematics unit in which students become statisticians who must understand the contextual implications of using particular math- ematical tools in analyzing different data sets and reflect on what their tool choice reveals about practical situations. […]

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“Ecologizing” Instruction Through Integrated Units

A common belief held by educators, researchers, and policy makers is that knowledge can be described in terms of specific objectives and imparted with little recourse to the communities of practice who value it (such as mathematicians, scientists, and journalists who use the resources and practices as part of their everyday activities) or to those situations in which it is valued and learned.

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An Ecological Model of Impact Innovation: Building Interpretive Space for Anticipatory Action and the Potential to Thrive

All too often, those of us involved in building innovations for impact fall hostage to a type of technological determinism in which designed product(s) are treated as responsible for achieving outcomes on individuals—rather than with individuals positioned as impact agents. However, many of the innovations we design, and the goals they were designed to enable, […]

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Pedagogical Dramas and Transformational Play: Narratively Rich Games for Learning

Although every era is met with the introduction of powerful technologies for entertainment and learning, videogames represent a new contribution binding the two and bearing the potential to create sustained engagement in a curricular drama where the player’s knowledgeable actions shape an unfolding fiction within a designed world. Although traditionally, stories involve an author, a […]

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Game-based curriculum and transformational play: Designing to meaningfully position person, content, and context

Grounded in our work on designing game-based curriculum, this paper begins with a theoretical articulation of transformational play. Students who play transformationally become protagonists who use the knowledge, skills, and concepts of the educational content to first make sense of a situation and then make choices that actually transform the play space and themselves- they […]

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Virtual worlds, conceptual understanding, and me: Designing for consequential engagement.

This paper aims to advance the idea of consequential engagement, positioning it as a necessary complement to the more common practices of supporting procedural or conceptual engagement. More than a theoretical argument, this notion is grounded in examples from the authors’ work in enlisting game-based methodologies and technologies for supporting such engagement. Through the presentation of two example designs, […]

More info

Transformational Play: Using games to position person, content, and context

Videogames are a powerful medium that curriculum designers can use to create narratively rich worlds for achieving educational goals. In these worlds, youth can become scientists, doctors, writers, and mathematicians who critically engage complex disciplinary content to transform a virtual world.

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Situationally Embodied Curriculum: Formalisms and Contexts

This study describes an example of design-based research in which we make theoretical improvements in our understanding, in part based on empirical work, and use these to revise our curriculum and, simultaneously, our evolving theory of the relations between contexts and disciplinary formalisms.

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Curriculum-Based Ecosystems: Supporting Knowing from an Ecological Perspective

The goal of this article is to advance an ecological theory of knowing, one that prioritizes engaged participation over knowledge acquisition. To this end, the authors begin by describing the environment in terms of affordance networks: functionally bound potentials extended in time that can be acted upon to realize particular goals.

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Smart People or Smart Contexts? Cognition, Ability and Talent in an Age of Situated Approaches to Knowing and Learning

Intelligence, expertise, ability and talent, as these terms have traditionally been used in education and psychology, are socially agreed upon labels that minimize the dynamic, evolving, and contextual nature of individual-environment relations. These hypothesized constructs can instead be described as functional.

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From Practice Fields to Communities of Practice

The goal of this chapter is to explore the pedagogical implications of communities of practice, contrasting practices fields with the notion of communities of practice that have been advanced in anthropological circles. We propose characteristics of communities of practice that extend beyond those features typically found in psychologically based designs for learning.

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Narratizing Disciplines and Disciplinizing narratives: Games as 21st Century Curriculum

Education is about revealing possibility and exciting passions, empowering learners with the disciplinary expertise to meaningfully act on problematic contexts in which applying disciplinary knowledge is important. Toward this end, we have been using gaming methodologies and technologies to design curricular dramas that position students as active change agents who use knowledge to inquire into particular circumstances and, through their actions, transform the problematic situation into a known.

More info

Developing an Empirical Account of a Community of Practice: Characterizing the Essential Tensions

This paper examines the potential of a learning-as-a-part-of-a-community approach, focusing on the participatory process of learning in a community-based, teacher education program, A Community of Teachers (CoT).

More info

Principles of Self Organization: Learning as Participation in Autocatakinetic Systems

Modern science has been built on a Cartesian or Newtonian (mechanical) paradigm giving rise to an artifactual view of mind and suggesting that particles (the learner) are continuously working to destroy order (are recalcitrant), which is maintained (a didactic model) by an external arranger (the teacher).

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Relating Narrative, Inquiry, and Inscriptions: Supporting Consequential Play

Quest Atlantis , to embed fourth grade students in an aquatic habitat simulation. Specifically targeted towards engaging students in a rich inquiry investigation, we layered a socio-scientific narrative and an interactive rule set into a multi-user virtual environment gaming engine to establish a virtual world through which students learned about science inquiry, water quality concepts, and the challenges in balancing scientific and socio-economic factors.

More info

An Introduction to the Special Issue: Designing for Virtual Communities in the Service of Learning

Currently, numerous educators and policymakers are advocating for a move away from teacher-centered models of instruction and toward more learner-centered and community-based models. However, at present the word community is at risk of losing its meaning. We have little appreciation and few criteria for distinguishing between a community of learners and a group of students learning collaboratively.

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Designing System Dualities: Characterizing an Online Professional Development Community

In this manuscript we focus on the challenges we have encountered in attempting to support the development of an online community of practice for grade 5-12 mathematics and science teachers. Specifically, this project involves the design and evaluation of an electronic knowledge network, the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), a web-based professional development system designed to support a CoP of in-service and pre-service mathematics and science teachers who are creating, reflecting upon, sharing, and improving inquiry-based pedagogical practices.

More info

Using Design to Advance Learning Theory, or Using Learning Theory to Advance Design

In this article I discuss my experience being in both a learning sciences and an instructional systems technology department. I consider ‘myself both an instructional designer and a learning scientist. I am indebted to both the previous work of instructional designers and of learning scientists in that both have contributed much to my thinking and my work. More dialogue between these two fields would allow us to develop generative frameworks for understanding learning and developing artifacts and systems with greater power for transforming learning.

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Learning for a Reason: Supporting forms of engagement by designing tasks and orchestrating environments

This article discusses the ways that tasks and classroom cultures can be supported through the design of online immersive games. The authors focus on a mathematics unit in which students become statisticians who must understand the contextual implications of using particular math- ematical tools in analyzing different data sets and reflect on what their tool choice reveals about practical situations. […]

More info

Pedagogical Dramas and Transformational Play: Narratively Rich Games for Learning

Although every era is met with the introduction of powerful technologies for entertainment and learning, videogames represent a new contribution binding the two and bearing the potential to create sustained engagement in a curricular drama where the player’s knowledgeable actions shape an unfolding fiction within a designed world. Although traditionally, stories involve an author, a […]

More info

Game-based curriculum and transformational play: Designing to meaningfully position person, content, and context

Grounded in our work on designing game-based curriculum, this paper begins with a theoretical articulation of transformational play. Students who play transformationally become protagonists who use the knowledge, skills, and concepts of the educational content to first make sense of a situation and then make choices that actually transform the play space and themselves- they […]

More info

About Sasha A. Barab PhD

Sasha Barab is a Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, where he co-founded and serves as the Executive Director of the Center for Games and Impact.

Dr. Barab is an internationally recognized Learning Scientist who holds the Pinnacle West Chair of Education, and who has researched, designed, and published extensively on the challenges and opportunities of using games for impact.