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Participatory Academic Communities

Subject: ICT-based educational design. Course title: Design: theories, methods and practices. Level: MA. Course size: 26 students.

Motivation for the activity

Making students matter, and to make them see themselves as both researchers and future designers if they so desire, and that they feel their contributions could actually matter within both contexts.

Central learning outcomes for the activity

  • Enabling students' adaptability, collaborative inquiry and enterprise
  • Enabling students to become 'agents of change'
  • Enabling students to become 'contributing researchers'
  • Ensuring everyone matter equally through 'joint research' in participatory academic communities.

Description of the activity

At the start of the semester I give the students a design challenge to take action within a selected learning context (e.g. playground, classroom or museum) where they investigate, research and design during the semester in order to transform it in accordance with their design vision. A process is structured around the specific groups specific design challenge and vision to ensure that the students hand in iterations of their design and research on a regular basis in order for them to not get completely lost and drown in their first design process.

I have tried to experiment with 'emptying the curriculum', meaning that the students are not met with a fixed curriculum content. Rather, they are asked to construct their own curriculum that fit the particular research projects they are working on. Like every other researcher working on a project or on writing an article would do.

However, that does not mean there is no compulsory reading material. In the beginning I hand out a lot of texts. But these texts are targeted at enabling the students to navigate the overall research fields present in their design challenge such as design thinking, digital literacy, design methods and digital fabrication. All in all, this decision is made to end the reign of the replicating student. If we want research compeers, they should be allowed to seek out the texts and information they find enlightening and relevant in relation to their particular project.

A big part of the course is to set up a context for students that enable them to both participate in academic communities as well as design in real contexts. Accordingly, I put in some effort and work in order for students to be able to contribute to projects that I myself is currently engaged in as a researcher. In spring 2014 my students:

Furthermore, I ask them to seek out a real-practice context, such as a school or kindergarten, in which they can intervene and implement their thinking and design and thus become actual agents of change. 

Outcome of the practice

  • Students become able to set their own course through the semester and navigate their own learning and doing through producing analysis, arguments, reflections and designs as responses to posed challenges
  • Students read more and relate more actively to the texts than they would do to a 'set curriculum'
  • Students become proactive – rather than merely responsive – in relation to their learning process
  • Students become self-reliant as they aim to make an impact as a researcher within a research community
  • Shifting from learning as consuming, processing and replicating information to coming to know in order to do – that is, students move away from viewing learning as steady progression towards set learning goals towards viewing learning as the creation and construction of participation in knowledge networks and communities.