The learning sciences and instructional design community have participated in the development of countless artifacts, curricula, tools, and other technological spaces, as well as principles for designing them and more general theoretical claims based on observation of participants engaging with these designs. Although well-designed projects, software applications, or even technological spaces can support deep understandings and new practices, less common in this design work is a critical social agenda.
We’ve developed an Impact- Based Research (IBR) methodology; an agile approach for building, researching, and implementing products and services that align stakeholders, a theory of change, and ecosystem capacity into products and services that are continually optimized to achieve project outcomes through sustained real-world implementations and shared best practices.
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.
In spite of the wealth of theoretical contributions in terms of conceptualizing learning as participation, there have been less empirical and methodological contributions to aid researchers attempting to characterize a participatory unit of activity. This re-conceptualization of knowledge as a contextualized act, while attractive in theory, becomes problematic when attempting to describe one’s functioning in a particular context. Activity theory has much potential as a theoretical and methodological tool for capturing and informing more complex and transitive units of analysis
To capture the process of learning in situ, my colleagues and I have been developing an innovative method for tracking the emergence, evolution, and diffusion of practices, concepts, and artifacts that occur across extended time frames. It is this intersection of individual, context, and activity over time that constitutes the unit of analysis when one adopts a situated perspective (Greeno, 1998).