Using Design Research to Support Youth Programs

Rafi Santo and Dixie Ching are figuring out how youth programs in New York can best support young people in learning whatever interests them.

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Rafi Santo, left, and Dixie Ching

Santo, a doctoral candidate in learning sciences at Indiana University, and Ching, a doctoral candidate in educational communication and technology at New York University, are the project leads of the Hive Research Lab, an applied research partner of the Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network. The network is a citywide lab where educators, technologists and youth-development experts from more than 70 organizations, museums, libraries, after-school programs, code clubs and others come together to build innovative, connected learning experiences for young people.

Through Hive Research Lab, Santo and Ching, along with university professors Kylie Peppler and Christopher Hoadley, are engaged in a research-practice partnership (RPP) with the network. They use design-based research methods to investigate and strengthen the network “as a context for innovation in out-of-school learning organizations and as a support for interest-driven learning by young people.” RPPs are an emerging model that involve open and collaborative forms of joint activity between researchers and practitioners.rafi-600

Through the RPP model, “we aim to advance the theory and practice related to creating robust regional learning networks,” Santo said. “Our central areas of investigation concern the development of youth trajectories and pathways within Hive NYC and the functioning of the network as an infrastructure for learning innovation that spans dozens of cutting edge youth-serving organizations.”

So far, Santo and Ching have produced a range of findings that they’ve shared with the network in their efforts to strengthen it.

For example, Ching said that through the lab’s research and ongoing engagement with Hive members, they were able to highlight a common practitioner practice that — if given more attention and priority within the network — could increase the community’s capacity to support interest-driven learning trajectories over the long term.

“We identified ‘brokering’ as a key area where the network can get stronger and develop more impactful ways to develop the practice,” Ching said. She explained that having someone act as a “learning broker” to not only inform kids about programs they might be interested in but to follow up and help them sign up and get involved in the programs makes the network more valuable, creating “network effects” that go beyond what any one organization could provide.

Partially in response to the attention that the lab has brought to the learning broker practice, Hive members planning a citywide youth event called Emoti-Con! in May are going through a design process to figure out how to add features that will allow for more brokering of learning opportunities. For example, the youth planning committee will be including more time for socializing between youth and adult judges and there will be a concentrated effort to have youth learn about and sign up for summer opportunities.

Ching and Santo produce research reports and recommendations and work closely with Hive network partners to produce work more quickly and succinctly than traditional academic researchers usually do. Their blog, HiveResearchLab.org, acts as a central place where more interim and emergent findings, as well as reflections on engaging in collaborative design research with network members, can be shared quickly.

Santo and Ching this week and next are leading Unit 1 of the design-based research strand of DML Commons, a free online course being offered by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. They will feature a conversation with William Penuel, professor of educational psychology and learning sciences at the University of Colorado, in a live webinar about the purpose of design-based research April 7 at 9 a.m. PT.

On April 14 at 11 a.m. PT, they will host a second webinar in which they will share about the Hive Research Lab, and its relationship to design-based research, design-based implementation research, co-design and improvement science. Guest expert Christopher Hoadley, of New York University and the National Science Foundation, one of the founders of the Design-based Research Collective who is credited with coining the term, will share about using design-based research as a method to develop educational software while simultaneously generating novel learning theory.

Photos by HiveLearningNYC