PURPOSE

This chapter focuses on the living laboratory framework, a tool that can help us answer the aforementioned questions. Following a brief literature review of the living laboratory perspective and design research in education, this chapter is intended to demonstrate, through two examples of educational sociotechnical systems, how the living laboratory approach is contextualized in educational design research. The main characteristics and processes of the living laboratory are identified and examined. The goal of this chapter is to help readers develop understanding of the significance of the living laboratory framework in educational settings and how it can be adapted in various design-research contexts involving various levels of complexity.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES

The living laboratory is a research framework suggesting that cognition and collaboration come about through situated actions that arise during the course of events occurring in a particular context (McNeese et al., 2005). Based on Suchman’s (1987) perspective, McNeese and his colleagues (2005) contended that cognition is constructed by social processes and situational contingencies, and that design and research should be conducted in the qualitative and naturalistic setting of social and cultural context. The living laboratory perspective is in complete agreement with the perspective of situated cognition in education advanced by Brown et al. (1989), who argued that situation is indivisible from cognition, and that contexts play an active role in shaping human cognition. The situated cognition perspective emphasizes the importance of learning through participating in a situated activity and in a practice of social communities and the construction of identities in relation to those communities (Barab & Duffy, 2000; Wenger, 1998). Along the same line, Brown (1992) called on educational researchers to conduct design research in the naturalist setting of classrooms and the rich context of school culture, rather than in strictly controlled laboratories dominated by traditional experiments.

As an alternative research approach in education, design research is an emerging paradigm for investigating learning in situ through systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools (Brown, 1992). It is an approach to both design of instructional contexts and construction of data-driven theory, in which researchers play the dual roles of both designer and researcher (Brown, 1992; Brown & Campione, 1996; Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003). In design research, educational researchers seek to understand learning phenomena in a complex socio-cultural system in an ill-defined context of day-to-day schools, where situations of learning are not fixed or immutable, but rather open to redesign by the collaborative efforts of educators and researchers (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). The perspective of design research is in line with that of the living laboratory, which embraces the sociotechnical systems, including the social aspect of people and society, and technical aspect of organizational structure and processes. In the context of education, the social aspect involves culture at various levels, various stakeholders (e.g., students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers), curricula, community, and society, whereas the technical aspect in education may be interpreted as organization of school systems, classroom culture, learning environments, and the processes to develop OLEs, learning technologies, and tools for educational reengineering. The design research approach intersects with the living laboratory approach, which integrates design, research, scaled-world simulations, and observational methods to address problems, challenges, and constraints that arise in the context of work. Both approaches emphasize the cyclic process of practice-theory and input-output within a holistic system, during which different components interact and inform each other: technology, data, user, and group-centered elements (McNeese et al., 2005).

Situated in the context of education, the living laboratory involves multiple stakeholders (e.g., researchers, students, teachers, parents, and administrators) and various components (e.g., technology, data, and resources) related to OELs. In the design-research process, educational researchers are charged with multiple responsibilities: (1) designing student-centered learning environments (e.g., problem-based, project-based, inquiry-based learning environments) to support students real-world problem-solving, critical thinking, and self-directed learning skills; (2) conducting design research to address educational needs, challenges, and problems; (3) evaluating the impact of the innovative design through iterative process of collecting and analyzing data, and (4) using the results to inform future research, modify, and improve a new sociotechnical system or learning technology.

Through two examples of design research, this chapter is an attempt to demonstrate how the living laboratory framework is applicable to educational design research. The first example is about the development of a web-based cognitive support system, and

MIDWAY BREATHER

  • • What are the main characteristics of the living laboratory in the context of education? Or how is the living laboratory framework contextualized in educational research?
  • • How is the cyclic process of design research actualized in the context of education?
  • • What inquiry methods and tools are used in the living laboratory of design research in education?
  • • What are the roles of researchers in the educational living laboratory?
  • • Who are the stakeholders in developing and shaping the sociotechnical systems in OLEs? the second example is about an ethnographic study of students-as-designers for an authentic game design project. The two examples are presented and discussed regarding (1) the cyclic process of practice and theory, (2) inquiry methods and research tools employed for design research, (3) learner contribution to the system development, and (4) researchers’ roles and their relationship with other stakeholders.
 
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