Archive by Author

Co-Designing in Formative Design Research

I just finished the DMLcommons salon on co-designing our research spaces. I am amazed at the work the teams have done. I also have a long reading list now. Thanks Megan Bang. I hope to use these ideas in my own work and reach out to others so we can co-design a future together.

Rigor Begins with Trust

In her work with Native Communities, Megan Bang, mentioned that new researchers did not begin as ethnographers. Instead they had to visit a community and have lunch with the elders.

From the onset research was not done to a community. It was done for the community with the community.

I want to apply these ideas to my volunteer work with CoderDojoErode. I basically inserted myself into their community. I did not ask. Just set up a server space to see what happens.

What I realized was I was already a part of CoderDojoErode. I have spoken with the club captain and mentors for some time on Twitter. They followed my work and designed their learning spaces without me knowing. The boundaries of communities have expanded.

I do worry about exploiting local communities on the ground. This fear materialized most when I help to launch a fundraising efforts for CoderDojoErode. Successful fundraising takes stories but I am an outsider shaping the stories of others. Many who may not read English. I am also trying to rise funds so the story I tell has an emotional appeal built in. This appeal centered around economic disparities.

In order to protect the children of CoderDojoErode I gave admin rights to all the mentors. They can chane anyword I write. They have veto power over any post I publish.

They own the story. It maybe our community but it its their village.

I did not get involved with CoderDojoErode as a research project. I simply wanted to do good. I realize now I can do better by helping to shape a Formative Design Project.

Distributed Knowledge and Teams

The researchers in the podcast discussed the difference between action research and DBR. They focused on the idea that PAR may not have the same political motives. The speakers also discussed how par is smaller in both scale and scope. They mentioned how DBR requires distributed knowledge and teams

This is where I need help. I have no team and no funding. I do have IRB for my projects. That’s a plus. I am willing to join other squads or I invite young researchers, graduate students, or others with my passion to #teachtheweb to join me.

Three Ongoing Projects

I have three concurrent projects with different threads of formative design weaved through in different ways.


The #WalkMyWorld Project is a social media project in which we share and connect online at Twitter using one hashtag. Groups of learners across the globe are connecting and sharing for 10 weeks using the #WalkMyWorld hashtag.

This is a unique project in the #ccourses spaces. Mainly because it has a global hub but there are on the ground local nodes being run by classroom instructors.

All of our iterations and planning have been done in the open. We were not deliberate from the off-set that it was a DBR project. We just wanted to good and have students learn. We iterate based on these goals.

I was impressed with Chris Hoadley’s work on retrospective analysis in DBR. I am going to push the facilitators to begin the restrospective review of our past iterations.


I have documented my difficulties with #QuestionTheWeb. Basically I was missing the distributed team necessary for the project. I am going to take the idea of getting the community more involved.

I am going to try and relaunch in the fall. By the time I got the curriculum and learning spaces designed and IRB approval SBAC and PARCC testing started. There were no computers available for projects unrelated to testing.

I have started recruiting school districts in Connecticut for on the ground sessions. I will also teach the class in the Open for those who want to join in. If you want to get involved let me know

Mozilla Web Clubs

We have a chance, the distributed expertise, the metrics, and the stories to make the Mozilla Learning Networks the largest worldwide formative research project. I want to fork my own little corner in Connecticut and be deliberate in design.

I am going to start the Elm City Web Club this summer with our GearUP students. I will continue to fork EDU 106 to align it with the Web Literacy Map. I am also reaching out to folks at #Edcampct, #ctedlead, and #ctedchat to try and encourage clubs to start up around Connecticut.

Personally in the Greater New Haven area I am trying to get clubs up and running at different schools and libraries. I keep trying for grants to fund this initiative but I will move forward on the cheap. People matter more.

I want to keep working with the CoderDojoErode but I want to ensure they want to work on co-designing the space together. I am trying to be very intentional of the ethics involved here. I think as long as we stay committed to co-learning and the mission of doing good. It’s all good.

Failing a Little Bit Better But Want to Fail Together

I guess I am an educational psychologist. At least that’s what my fancy diploma says. I consider myself a teacher and literacy researcher. Does that make me a learning scientist?

This question has perplexed me since watching Bill Puenell and reading about the grammar of Design Based Research. Bill set up the article as a dichotomy between educational psychologists and learning scientists.

This debate, while alluded to in the article, traces back to the cognitivists and situativists. The article set up an almost either or situation (as a side note manyof the words on the Wikipedia Article on Situated Cognition are still mine ours).

Can I be a Deweyian Pragmatist about this? Can I draw from both traditions based on my line of inquiry and more probably from the funding sources I chase?

Then I joined Chris Hoadley, Rafi Santo, and Dixie Ching to discuss Design Based Research in the field.

I really liked Chris description of DBIR and the routes to iteration. My big question came about as post-reflective data analysis. This impacts #walkmyworld. We have been doing this project for two years and we iterate. We are not explicity DBR, maybe. We collected all of out planning documents, archived the emails, hosted reflective video conferences. The data is there.

What Chris taught me was to not just look between iterations but across all the iterations. I have some background with DBR. I trained with Dave Reinking on his ideas of Formative Design. I need to hash out the difference between Formative Design and DBR but I am seeing Formative Design synonomous with DBIR.

Then Rafi and Dixie shared their work from the Hive Research Lab. There methodology for tracking growth and development across different domains is mind blowing. I am going to steal it. One of my first joys was discovering Rafi’s work with Hive. I knew him from Twitter and XMCA listserv but had no idea he was involved in Hive. I have a long term dream of elevating New Haven to a Hive City


My History with DBR


At the same time we were using Formative Design to develop Internet Reciprocal Teaching the tension between educational pyschologist and learning scientists boild over in my every day. Don Leu, my advisor, studied under Jean Chall. You can’t get more edpsychy than Dr. Chall’s work in reading.

This created a tension in the project that was a microcosm on the field. Plus many iterations in the porject had nothing to do with design or learning but with political power. As an IES grant there were strict rules as to what counts as research. We handled this by building in Formative Design in Year Two and empirical testing in year three.

Yet we were in local contexts. You can’t control the noise. You have to embrace it.

My Future with DBR

I am currently engaged in a DBR project. Well I might have given up. Not really. Just put the iterations on hold.

The project, #QuestionTheWeb was designed to create a learning space to build the critical evaluation of websites and argumentative writing.

Long term I want to create something like this. Short term I just needed to develop the reading activities and pilot test biased think-alouds.

Once again real life impeded design. By the time I got the learning environment built and the Institutional Review Board approval I bumped into Smarter Balanced Testing. Every computer in most Connecticut tools is no longer available for learning they have to be used for testing.

So here is where I need your help. If anyone wants to give me feedback, do some cognitive labs, on the the Think Alouds I am open to it.

Our Future with DBR

I learned that DBR can’t be done alone. This isn’t unique to me. I am a researcher at a teaching university. This means no doctoral students, no centers, no senior faculty to bounce ideas off of or study under. Everything I do I am often alone.

Then there is the whole 4/4 load. (I am lucky here as I have release time for Gear Up and this semester I was given 9 credits for research). The University gives me the space to work. What I need now is the community. We did start a STEM center (who hasn’t), and our new Provost wants to elevate research. Our new Dean is also focused on external funding. Capacity is developing on campus but I want to look outside.

I think the future of DBR has to be distributed. We open scholars need to network and develop our projects outside of the usual channels. We need to play and hack together.

I believe the problems we face and investigate are to big for one person and to complex for one discipline. You need developers, instructional designers, ethnographers, learning scientists, and someone to do the all the paperwork.

We need to design the future together.

How do you build the #MozAcademy?

Marc Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, asked for us in the #teachtheweb community to think about Mozilla Learning. He described the efforts to take #teachtheweb and scale it across the all of the Foundation’s efforts. He wants to build the global classroom. Marc has spearheaded Mozilla’s efforts to not only help bring the next billion users online but to also ensure users of the Web have the necessary skills and competencies to read, write, and participate in our networked society.

We have made the most effort is focusing on the know-how. Under the leadership of Doug Belshaw, we pushed Version 1.5 of the Web Literacy Map.

Michelle Thorne, Laura Hillinger, Amira Dhalla, and Merideth Summs. have taught me so much about designing learning activities for informal and distributed learning spaces.

The Badge Alliance, work that I do not follow as closely, developed a system that will bring these two efforts together and allow us to recognize the accomplishments of webmakers regardless of age or location.

Watching the newly formed design team work has been nothing short of amazing. They hold each other to such a standard of excellence, work at a break neck pace, and quickly figured out how to play inter-office games on GitHub

Overall, in the three years that I have been involved, Mozilla have scaled up the efforts to #teachtheweb. Never before have I seen or felt the sense of urgency that Mozilla has created around this effort, especially in the last two quarters. Must have been something in the water in Portland. The growth of the #teachtheweb movement has been huge. The year over year results of every metric presented at the March board meeting are astronomical. To keep this movement going because the know-who matters just as much to the #MozAcademy as the know-how.

What was once envisioned as a loosely federated group of like minded people remixing and hacking together teaching kits has become a shiny soup to nuts pre-packaged curriculum.

Let’s not forget the importance of kn0w-who.

The LMS Creep

While I am proud of what we built I also a little scared. I worry that in our commitment to protecting the open web we may close off possibilities for learning. We may not = recognize how central  know-who is to #MozAcademy

The metrics presented at the board do not tell a story of engagement and connection. They are the stories of siloed events across the globe. #MozAcademy has to bring these stories together. We just do not talk, read, and write in social ways. A major push in the coming development needs to be not just increasing the frequency of engagement but also the quality of engagement.

For all those numbers there was very little interaction across the old webmaker properties. The #teachtheweb hashtag was active among fifty or so users. The discourse community, while still new, does not attract many activities.

Mozilla Learning seeks to bridge the need. To fill in the back stories of the impressing growth, and most importantly to turn active users into active community members.

I am seeing words such as modules, defined pathways, need for assessment. These are not necessarily bad but they are design constraints that can negatively impact a learning space.

I don’t hate the click counters of the world. Watching Adam Lofting and his team work has been inspiring. I have written frequently that analytics is the most important writing tool not taught in school. When ever I speak at business education groups about technology I make the point that no business student is college or career ready without an understanding of analytics.

Yet when it comes to #MozAcademy the pedagogical goal rather than some KPI must come first. The data must serve the learning, not the other way around. Let’s use data to see how our pedagogical goal is either enhanced or inhibited by the goals we make.

Martin Hawksey reminds us of Norman’s law of e-learning in that all tools used for learning become an LMS once a threshold of users is reached.

I disagree. I think we can build an openly networked #MozAcademy without becoming a stale MOOC. In fact in many ways Mozilla was a MOOC before that was even a thing. Does it make tracking things harder. Sure. Do decisions take longer? Yes. Are designs different. Yep. It is also better.

Leadership and Learning

If the #MozAcademy is going to succeed we need to focus on the Academy as a tool to recognize, hone, and utilize leadership.

Marc wrote:

I am sick of the tired meme in education that, “students know more than their teachers.” I am starting to question the idea of teachers as simply “co-learners.” If you find yourself in situations where you consistently know more than the teacher it time to find a nee teacher.

I might be biased about the role of leadership in learning. I grew up in Boy Scouts. The idea that we lead folks to new understanding is baked into my worldview.

People will matter in the #MozAcademy. One year ago I knew nothing of CSS. Today I can mess up webpages in ways I never thought possible. This is due mainly to anyonynmous folks on the web but when I get really stuck Atul Varma and Stefan Bohacek

We need to provide webmakers the tool to cast a wide net for help.

Community is the content of the Academy. That is the only way a curriculum on leadership and agency can be built. We need leaders who can curate community to get at learning that matters.

Towards a Better Way

Marc asked about the kind of learning we seek in the Academy.

Maybe its the English teacher in me trying to eliminate needless modifiers but I wonder if we what we are trying to get at is “learning.” Nothing special or creative, just plain old cognitive apprenticeships….I mean distributed apprenticeship,…I mean apprenticeship.

Yogurt, just plain, Yogurt.

I worry about the #MozAcademy being swallowed by the MOOC monster. We need to bake the social into Mozilla Learning.

I suggest stealing the model that the Digital Media Learning Hub is developing. They build a class on stories. It is a forkable push and syndication model rather than a pre-packaged learning pathway.

The instructional design is loosely based on Jim Groom’s #DS106. He, Tim Owens, and Alan Levine, are getting real close to building an RSS interface to use in education. If the three stooges can make it happen I am sure Mozilla can.

Let’s build this City on RSS

Check out connected courses for an earlier iteration and the current dmlcommons. Lets build #MozAcademy on the backbone of others stories. Lets let RSS be the skin pulling it all together.

Mozilla has some of the coolest developers I know working on this project. Lets make the Mozilla Academy look like Planet WebMaker. I could imagine being able to filter feeds by continents, Mozilla Web Clubs, or by topic. This of course requires tagging and humans suck at tagging, but it would be neat.

How do you build the #MozAcademy?

On Assessment

We need to count what matters. The Badges and the metadata that points bac to different webmakers needs to be the metric that matters. Carla and the digital literacies badge alliance have talked about a federated badging system but I think the Academy and Mozilla Web Club badges need to be the gold-standard.

Instead of collecting easy to use, but wildly uninformative likert data lets curate stories. Take the open and reflective question stems from the pre and post questionnaires in the curriculum and turn them into a multimodal writing prompt.

How do you build the #MozAcademy?


On the Tools

Watching the field reports and research coming out of Africa and India enlightens us all. After playing with the webmaker app and prototyping and early versions of Tiles, I began to realize that the webmaker app might make a great UI for the Academy. That can be the doorway to the Open Web.

I understand the legacy webmaker apps, x-ray goggles, thimble, and popcorn have issues. The Goggles update was a much needed refresh. I was glad to hear from Andrew that the transition away from the older tools, especially Thimble,will be gradual. They were are great. I would not be where I am today if it was not for Thimble. I am starting to play in more industry recognized spaces like jfiddle and codepend, but Thimble got me started. Even poor neglected Popcorn is still awesome (hint: resurrect a Zeega like experience for an upcoming prototype…Its Easter resurrection is on the mind).

Products and free tools have always defined Mozilla Learning. I realize that now, and see it as something we should embrace. Redesigning the tools for a mass-audience can differntiate Firefox on OS and build in the serendipitous learning Andrew wants.

After reading about the interplay between brand, product, and Mozilla Learning using the  new suite of webmaker tools might makes sense. I also think it fits with the long term version of Makerfox and the Foundation as a whole.

How do you build the #MozAcademy?

Your whole team needs to be proud of what has been accomplished in the last three years. Looking forward to 2017.

BTW in terms of naming I favor Webmaker Academy. Say it three times. It rolls nicely off the tongue.

Breaking Barriers of #ConnectedLearning- Reflections on Maisha Winn

Barriers do arise in schools. Many students live behind walls, both real and imagined, dictated by the needs that survival necessitates.

creative commons licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Mike Kniec

Words and meaning have power,  and this makes learning a political act. School should never be done to students rather students should do their learning on to the world.

I truly believe we have education backwards. We strive for college and career readiness hoping to grow GDP with a flow of technical workers as means for civic contribution. Instead we should worry first about community and civic readiness. Then, and only then, will college and career follow for those who have been robbed of their agency and culture.

When students leave schools wanting to make communities a better place they engage in literacy practices steeped in academic discourse. When kids see how they can “get theres” by being an agent in the world many realize life requires learning beyond high school.

Community, as a thread, permeates Maisha Winn’s retrospective on her research. In Exploring the Literate Trajectories of Youth Across Time and Space Winn described a series of ethnographic studies that draw heavily on the socio-cultural work of Heath and the literacy as action found in the work of Cole, Gutierrez, Lunsford,  Smagorinsky, Street, and many more. Winn first described out of school spaces for learning and then either found similar spaces or  applied these lessons to more formal learning spaces.

African Diaspora Participatory Literacy Communities

Winn describes African Diaspora Participatory Literacy Communities to encapsulate the poet cafes and bookstores she studies:

ADPLCs, as literacy or literary-centered events outside of school and work communities that combined oral, aural, and written traditions through an exchange of words, sounds, and movements that privileged a Black aesthetic

She then describe many of the tenants of learning found in socio-cultural views of learning. Lately, and I think too often removed (or maybe all inclusiveO from their theoretical base, this framework has been labeled connected learning. It is interesting to see Winn draw on many of the same principles.

Winn’s  description of learning matches Gee’s adaptation of Community into Affinity Spaces.

Like other open mics, POSA, is an invitation to both novice and seasoned poets to share their writing in a space that promotes reading, writing, thinking, and activism, as well as collabo- ration among elders and children. V.S. Chochezi and Staajabu, the mother daughter poetry duo also known as Straight Out Scribes (SOS), begin with saying “hello,” in several languages punctuated with a decidedly urbanized “What’s up!”

She draws Gutierrez’s ( 2008 ):

concept of “sociocritical literacy”—that is a “historicizing literacy” that privileges the lived experiences and legacies of participants—provided the much needed space to analyze the activities of both classes against the backdrop of a history of Black poets and writers.

This notion of learning as a sense of community around a shared purpose was traced back to The Black Arts Movement which

unapologetically sought to incorporate a Black aesthetic into visual and performing arts along side the Black Power Movement, which advocated self-determination and self-definition among Black Americans

What is interesting is this Black aesthetic, as of all  American History greatly influences our cultures. You see this in the rise of hip hop culture. I actually stumbled into a similar space for learning in Cambridge, MA.

What made the ADPLC a space where learning thrived was community and a shared purpose.

Poppa Joe and Mamma C

Winn then described a few formal learning places that drew from the same history and values of the out of school places. Once again community came first.

When describing one classroom Winn wrote:

These student poets used the Power Writing circle to build community while reading original compositions aloud in an open mic format, much like the venues I observed in Northern California, and engaging in giving and receiving feedback. In the context of these literacy communities, Poppa Joe and his guest teachers taught by modeling.

Culturally responsive classrooms were also central to the Winn’s thesis. Yet she noted these were often hardest for classrooms. Winn and Latrise P. Johnson explored culturally relevant pedagogy. They describe how it means much more then reading a book with a black kid on the cover.In fact Winn notes that the most successful spaces drew on student lives:

used the material of students’ lived experiences, such as disproportionate contact with law enforcement and police brutality, as resources for rich dialogue and their struggle to translate the dialogue into writing

As Peter Samgorinsky pointed out recently on the XMCA listserv this work reflects recent scholarship by David Kirkland who detailed the many powerful ways black youth challenge dominant narratives.

Winn points out that it is the arts that are the dominant path to having students write their own story on to the world. She noted:

I also learned how theater arts builds community and supports marginalized youth as they build and sustain literate identities.

Learning from Winn

Literacy instruction is identity work. It is political. The question was posed on the XMCA listserv about recreating these experiences in the classroom.

Anna Aguilar noted a memory of a teacher creating a Zine. Smagorinsky stressed the role of coaches. I couldn’t agree more. We need to realign schools so that students are empowered by designing the community. I was intrigued by this idea in the listserv:

 For Ilyenkov, language is not the ideal, but its ‘objectified being’, its material form. The ideal does not exist in language for Ilyenkov, or in other material phenomena, but in forms of human activity.

In many ways writing instruction must be attached to a human activity. Technically it already is an activity but it is one students are forced into and motivated by exploring new identities in memes or engaging in coaching relationships such as in Soccer.

In fact Michael Cole posed these questions after reading Winn’s work:

[How do we] better understand how the special teachers, those who were involved in
local community literacy practices/values/histories, managed to include
them in their public high school classrooms with all of the rules,
regulations, standardized testing, etc. that is involved.

Does such boundary shattering require exceptional people?
or perhaps

What are the boundaries to such boundary shattering??

Community Matters

These efforts do take exceptional people. They also require us to challenge the boundaries, such as limited views of literacy.

Our fascination with accountability reform is at the heart of ripping away what Winn values. Kirkland, as Peter points out, notes how limited assessments of what counts help to dissuade youth as school is done to the them.

Winn wants learning done onto the world. As Michael Glassman (again on the XMCA listerv) noted Papa Joe and Mamma C did more than teach language arts. We must recognize community where ever it exists.

Another barrier arose around accountability based reform and that is the removal of the arts from schools. Content rich instruction and arts that allow students to do the identity work necessary to be civic and community ready.

Can these exceptional teachers exist. Yes. Are they rare. Yes, that is the definition of exceptional. Are they only found in school? No.