two weeks’ ago i had a very pleasant lunch at Picco’s in Boston, with my friend and mentor George Brackett.
three of my eight modules during my Masters were under George’s supervision, and it’s safe to say he made an indelible mark on my life and way of thinking. the late 1990s were an exciting time to be studying technology in education, and we were being mentored by the very best.
much has happened in my career since then, and God has taken my team and i in directions we could never have dreamt of. our work has grown organically, but a corollary has been that we’ve explored so many areas that lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to articulate our work clearly to those less familiar with it.
after much reflection and dialoguing among ourselves, through a process that has taken about one-and-a-half years, we have found that an effective way is to describe our work in terms of a foundational theory, a curriculum design framework, and enabling infrastructures.
if one thinks about these three parameters as defining a space of enaction, it is within this space that all the good work of the teachers with whom we have been working with over the years - since the early 2000s - has been taking place. In other words, the points within this space are particular examples of lesson units and learning activities, but in and of themselves the points in the space do not define the work of my team.
we have come to understand that our work is to define the operational parameters within which the magic of the work of the teachers can take place.
thinking about learning interventions in terms of these three parameters helps us to understand why some have succeeded while others have not. for example, one of the early projects i was involved with as an early post-doc in the mid-2000s was a citizenship education videogame. This game was bespoke and developed solely by a team of locally-hired developers, at great cost. Despite the heavy investment, the game did not gain traction. Using the three-dimensional framing, one can understand that while the game was strongly founded in theory (in this case, Bakhtin’s work on dialogism and heteroglossia), it was not accompanied by a framework through which teachers could think about curriculum design.
by way of contrast, teachers often have great ideas for learning interventions, framed through their own lenses of curriculum design, but have sometimes struggled to explain why their ideas work, for lack of a strong theoretical orientation in the learning sciences.
a third example might be interventions which have not found traction because they have not been supported by infrastructure which is open-source, scalable, and cost-effective.
by God’s grace, the work of my team since 2009 has been to steadily develop each of the three dimensions of enabling infrastructures, a curriculum framework, and a theory of learning, in turn. i would be the first to admit that this emerged through grace, and not because of any original design intent on our part. it is only after nearly twenty years since my Masters, that i have come to see how the pieces fit.
thus, in 2009, i conceptualised the Six Learnings curriculum design framework, which is intended to help teachers have a better understanding of the affordances for learning of immersive environments and game-based worlds. we have latterly applied the framework to non-digital learning environments.
the Six Learnings could not have been conceptualised in a vacuum, and - as already indicated in the preceding paragraph - it has its origins in the enabling infrastructure of the open-source version of Second Life - OpenSim.
in 2015, my team articulated Disciplinary Intuitions as the foundational theory of learning for the Six Learnings; this enabled our stakeholders to understand not only that the Six Learnings was being adopted by teachers as a curriculum design framework, but why it was working, as well. over the years, Disciplinary Intuitions and the Six Learnings framework has been scaled and translated from upper primary to college-level cohorts, across a variety of academic disciplines.
it was also in 2015 that my team demonstrated the viability of our system of leveraging open-source hardware such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi as an enabling infrastructure for inquiry-based learning in STEM - a system which we call ‘Maker Motes’.
most recently, early in 2017 we published an edited anthology of internationally-sourced chapters on various aspects of maker culture, as we continue our attempts at understanding and defining the space.
so that’s where we are today, and it’s been a thrilling adventure. we share our thoughts in case they help you to understand your own work - and the work of others - better.