Projects

I have been provided many opportunities to engage in exciting projects, sometimes focused on research questions, sometimes on exploring design decisions, and others on building and testing theory. This work has only been possible as a result of generous grants and support from the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Institute of Education Sciences, Public Broadcasting Services, US-AID, and even corporate sponsors of the work. In each of these projects my goal is to leverage these investments to build transformative designs, curate out storied truths about lessons learned, and advance theoretical assumptions that could guide the work of others.

Empowerment Design Ethnography

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.

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Impact-Based Research

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.

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Design-Based Implementation Research

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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Activity Theory as Methodological Lens

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

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Capturing Cognition in Situ

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).

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Learner Engagement System: Intel Thrive

We have been building a learning platform to drive two Intel-funded projects: one focused on powering up the promise of digital learning for teachers, and the second focused on unlocking future possibilities through digital learning for woman and girls in Africa. Driving the platform build is the assumption that learning is anchored by research-grounded best practices found in effective impact-focused, inquiry-based, game-infused and community-enabled blended learning environments … designed to create engaged and purposeful learners who work individually and collaboratively on projects that are personally relevant and socially significant with the goal of helping ALL individuals thrive in a rapidly changing, digitally connected world. (See PDF for screenshots across those projects)

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Atlantis Remixed

Emerging from a decade of research with Quest Atlantis, the ARX Project now combines strategies used in commercial games with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. The Atlantis Remixed Project allows students to travel to virtual places to play educational adventures, talk with other users and mentors, build virtual personae, and eventually create their own games.

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Inquiry Learning Forum

The Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF) was an online community of K-12 educators and university students working together to share, improve, reflect, and create learner- centered classrooms. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the project was online for almost decade and supported thousands or pre-service and in-service teachers in developing a richer capacity to implement inquiry-based learning methods.

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Quest2Teach

Quest2Teach is a series of game-infused curricula and social- professional network designed specifically for teacher education to help bridge between educational theory and its application into the field. Pre-service teachers (university students) and in- service teachers evolve their professional identity in a variety of narrative-based 3D role-playing scenarios, each with a particular theoretical focus, and embedded within a larger experience-based curricula and professional network.

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Quest Atlantis

Quest Atlantis (QA) is a learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-12, in educational tasks. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. It allowed users to travel to virtual places to perform educational activities (known as Quests), talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae.

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Virtual Reality Solar System Course

This was a project I did with my colleague Kenneth Hay around an introductory astronomy course for undergraduate students in which we moved from the large-lecture format to one in which students are immersed within a technologically-rich, constructionist learning environment. Specifically, we had undergraduate students using virtual reality to construct models of the solar system, and in the process, build rich understandings of various astronomical phenomena.

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Transformational Play

Transformational play as a theory has emerged through our design and research on games for learning. The idea of transformational play highlights relations among the three interconnected elements of person, content, and context. Specifically, transformational play (see Teacher article or Researcher article) involves positioning students as empowered actors who must understand and enlist academic content in order to effectively transform problematic scenarios. … More than sugar-coating content to coerce disempowered students into caring about disciplinary knowledge, games can establish worlds where children are transformed into empowered scientists, doctors, reporters, and mathematicians who have to understand disciplinary content to accomplish desired ends.

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Consequential Engagement

Traditional structures of schooling tend to reduce students’ engagement with content to an act of remembering and repeating, rather than designing and applying. This is true even with disciplinary content that is, at its core, intended to be used as a tool. For example, tools for statistical data analysis are intended to be used for […]

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Playable Stories

Games have the potential to establish immersive worlds in which the player is both reader and author. The play spaces that we have designed foster this sense of agency but explicitly layer in educational tasks, reflective moments, social interactions, and pedagogical scaffolds to support meaningful learning about significant issues. Such work combines literary techniques, game […]

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Thrive: Underlying Pedagogy

Thrive is an approach to learning supported by a platform, curriculum and community designed to help youth realize their potential and thrive in a complex, rapidly changing, digitally connected world. We are at an exciting time in which innovative technologies, learning sciences research, and the changing educational ecosystems make possible the realization of transformative research-based learning innovations.

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Small “g”, Big “G” Games

The Center for Games and Impact at ASU and E-Line Media partnership has built a Game Infused Theory of Change, an impact-based approach, and a human and technological infrastructure to address the challenge of developing effective impact-friendly business models for game-based services with the ultimate goal of being able to achieve sustainable and scalable impact.

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Communities of Practice

Predicated on the belief that practices and meanings are only fully contextualized within the context of their authentic use, many educators are looking towards communities as learning environments. In adopting a learning framework from which to explain the learning potential of participating within a community of practice, we draw on the work of the anthropologist Etienne Wenger. In Wenger’s framework he proposes a social theory of learning that integrates practice, meaning, identity, and community as necessary components of learning and of knowing.

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Situated Cognition

A clearer understanding of human cognition would be achieved if studies were based on the concept that cognition is distributed among individuals, that knowledge is socially constructed through collaborative efforts to achieve shared objectives in cultural surroundings, and that information is processed between individuals and the tools and artifacts pro- vided by culture.

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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.