DML: Designing for Adaptability: Open, Incomplete, Alive?


How can researchers and designers plan for collaborative systems that expect significant local input? How can we design learning systems and activities that are open, incomplete, and adaptable? This panel will present four examples of research-and-design projects that have shown the need for continuing, as-you-go adaptation, communication, and negotiation among stakeholders. Traditional roles such as Researcher, Designer, Implementer, and User become fluid, overlap, and combine. Systems get re-purposed, capabilities re-appropriated, and new goals and possibilities emerge.

In each example, software and media enter new local ecologies, and stakeholders find temporary and changing mutual accommodations among their interests and perspectives. Designers can no longer rely on stable, predictable needs and functions. Researchers need to shift from documenting causal effects to identifying and cataloguing patterns and possibilities. After sharing these examples, we want to dialogue with the DML community about implications and future directions.

Jay Lemke will introduce the panel and report on a project that is 
transplanting Quest Atlantis, a learning gameworld, to a play-comes-first after-school setting. Local adaptation has included changing priorities, widening the user age-range, modifying affordances, and linking in-game activity to other forms of play and learning. Affective dimensions are particularly important.

Rachel Cody-Pfister will discuss the creation of an after-school World of Warcraft activity combining gaming with book discussions. The activity emerged from collaborations between teenagers and researchers and integrated the constraints and goals of a community center, the teenagers, researchers, and media. This case highlights the importance of adaptability and (re)appropriation.

Robert Lecusay will present a case study of a multi-institutional research collaborative organized to develop and test an after-school physics tele-mentoring activity (PTA). This case identifies tensions and contradictions emerging from differences in goals and expectations of participating institutions, and examines how these were consequential for the development of the activity system. Sustained inter-institutional communication is needed to accommodate emergent and unanticipated transformations in the local implementation of learning activities.

Ivan Rosero will report on the second iteration of a learning activity (OWA), which has had success in engaging and motivating kids at a low-income community center. OWA’s socio-material ecology is a situated response to the kids’ terms of engagement and simultaneously an expression of multiple institutional interests and starting-points for further institutional commitments through which OWA can grow and reproduce. These “internal” and “external” aspects of the project can be seen as an open network of actors and artifacts through which OWA comes to life.