In spite of the intuitive and theoretical appeal of situated cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Greeno, 1997; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Roschelle & Clancey, 1992; Roth & Bowen, 1995) and distributed cognition (Pea, 1993; Resnick, Levine, & Teasley, 1991; Salomon, 1993), there has been few attempts to develop methodologies for making sense of how learner understandings are constructed and are grounded in contextual particulars. In fact, research in general tends to look at the products, not the processes of learning (Wittrock & Baker, 1991; Young, Kulikowich, & Barab, 1997). The difficulties with capturing the process of learning are only exacerbated when one adopts a situated perspective on what it means to know and learn. This is because from this perspective, knowledge, more aptly phrased “knowing about” is no longer conceived of as a static structure residing in the individual’s head. Instead, knowing about refers to a dynamic activity that is distributed across knower and that which is known (Barab, Cherkes-Julkowski et al., 1999).
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). The difficulty in finding methods for capturing this unit of analysis lies in the fact that it is distributed spatially and temporally across these reciprocal components (Barab, Fajen, Kulikowich, & Young, 1996; Young et al, 1997). In spite of the challenges in capturing such a dynamic and distributed unit of analysis, it is imperative that educators continue to explore innovative methodological approaches that capture learning as it emerges within rich environments so as to inform instructional practice and design.
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 (Barab, Hay, Barnett, & Squire, 1998). We have found this method particularly useful in carrying out design research (Brown, 1992), in which we are designing entire courses, examining the impact of various interventions on the learning process, and feeding this information back into the next iteration of the course. Our methodology is designed to capture occurrences distributed across time and space that influence/constitute a learner’s understanding, providing information on how environmental particulars contribute to evolving understandings. We believe that a learner’s ultimate understanding of any object, issue, concept, process, or practice can be attributed to, and is distributed across, the network that these occurrences form. It is in this sense that we see cognition as distributed, embodied, and situated, and it is with the goal of capturing knowing-in-the-making that we advance our Constructing Networks of Activity methodology.
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.