Gutiérrez, Kris D. & Jurow, A. Susan (2016): Social design experiments: Toward equity by design, Journal of the Learning Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/10508406.2016.1204548

Under consult of design research traditions in iterating educational inventions that ground theory in practice within particular contexts, Gutiérrez and Jurow put forward social design experimentation (SDE) as an additional but needed methodological commitment to non-dominant learner communities (immigrant learners, dual language learners, under-resourced learners, etc.). Where traditional design-based research (DBR) aims to craft novel observations, understandings, and technologies in the contexts of transforming existing institutions, SDE seeks social transformation and equity by reorganizing educational systems so that learners may actively engineer their own fates. The goal for SDE is the empowerment of a learner to consciously and intentionally situate action within his or her own sense of identity. Doing so–critically analyzing and comprehending the orientations behind one’s own practices–defines potential new agency for any individual. The development of this sort of opportunity is the goal of SDE and a means by which equity may be found by all learners as their varied knowledge, expertise, and experiences are celebrated–upending more traditional and institutional power structures by creating new, diverse communities of practice.

Gutiérrez and Jurow offer examples of social design works to illustrate how the foregrounding of equity as a design consideration is not just socially ideal but also pragmatic. Fairness is generally a valuable pursuit and access to equity is a byproduct of one’s consciously situating his or her identity among larger historical and institutionalized practices so as to problematize these structures. The difficulty, for researchers and students alike, may very well be the complexity and variety of new learning practices and identities that result from SDE. The cultivation of communities for teacher and learner alike is an active, taxing process of reorientation around other individuals. That said, careful implementation of SDE may certainly expand DBR beyond the scope of learning contexts. Also, the authors’ discussion of syncretic texts–reconciling historical and cultural oppositions within a new communicative gesture–seems apt for consideration when developing content for open educational resources.


Fishman, B. J., Davis, E. A., & Chan, C. K. K. (2014). A learning sciences perspective on teacher learning research. In R. K. Sawyer, (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 707-725). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Fishman, Davis, and Chan focus on the importance of teacher learning to the cultivation of cognitive, sociocultural, and systems-oriented learning innovation. The suggestions seems a valid one, that the beliefs and knowledge of faculty change and grow under professional teacher development. Naturally, communities of practice and knowledge building as means of further situating and contextualizing their learning in more local, practical contexts. Ultimately, they recommend that teacher learning is crucial to learning in general. As someone who oversees faculty development with academic technology, I don’t disagree.

Nathan, M. J., & Sawyer, R. K. (2014). Foundations of the learning sciences. In R. K. Sawyer, (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 21-43). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Nathan and Sawyer base the foundations of Learning Sciences (LS) in a joint preoccupation with research and practice. The “ideal progress” for LS projects, they recommend, is the iterative design and redesign of interventions based on real-world implementation and evaluation. Doing so should produce broader theories and more reliable models for explaining human learning. The authors proceed to contextualize LS in the traditions of scientific, constructivist, sociocultural, pragmatic, elemental, and systemic approaches to research and analysis. Conclusively, the schools of thought that fund LS come together to regard learning as most effective when learners find the agency to ground novel experiences or ideas in practical, collaborative, and reflective applications.

Sawyer, K. (2014). Introduction: The new science of learning. In R. K. Sawyer, (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 1-18). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Sawyer introduces Learning Sciences (LS) as an interdisciplinary field that acknowledges the ways in which learning takes place in a variety of settings and contexts that may or may not be connected with traditional classrooms. Under this gaze, the cognitive and social factors at play in one’s learning may be better understood and applied to the redesign of more conventional learning environments. Sawyer documents the origin and history of the field and situates the chapters of the Cambridge Handbook in support of a still emergent field of study at the intersection of education as art and education as a science.