Patterns and Design
Comparing Design Research Approaches
Like the Contextual Design process, the Clements & Samara process involves preliminary representations of work, initial design, prototyping, and user testing. Both processes are iterative. Both processes include the design or redesign of the context in which the software is used.
Unlike the Contextual Design process, the Clements & Samara process was explicitly created for the development of classroom learning materials.
Initial data gathering for Contextual Design consists of an ethnographic examination of the work place. Ethnographers try to gain an understanding of the work that's done and areas where problems arise through observation and in situ interviews. Concrete observations and problems are used as reference points for a cross-functional design team that represent major stakeholders. For example, a team might include a student, a teacher, a curriculum developer, a software developer, a domain expert, and a researcher in learning or pedagogy. Depending on the scope of the design project, the team might include other stakeholders like parents or publishers. The team builds a shared understanding of the existing process and then design or redesign efforts begin.
For Clements & Samara, preliminary data gathering includes definition of curriculum goals and modeling of child's knowledge and learning.
Currently, I know very little about the Clements & Samara process. I like the Contextual Design techniques of in situ interviews and building a common, cross-functional understanding of the work that goes on in classrooms through reference to specific classroom situations. Both these techniques follow the Montessori idea of using concretes to construct understanding. In her writings, Montessori referred to the layout and activities of particular traditional classrooms. Did she conduct observations in traditional classrooms?
There are a couple of areas where Contextual Design might need to be modified to suit design for learning environments. (1) Depending on the learning environment, the work that matters most may be more or less visible. A thorough understanding of the student's work may require Piagetian interviews or some other approach that reveals student work that cannot be readily observed in the classroom. In Montessori classrooms, such interviews could be done in situ. (2) It is not readily evident from classroom observation which subject areas and subareas most need representation in the classroom. Both of these areas are steps in the Clements & Samara process.
A benefit of designing specifically for a Montessori classroom is that I can develop in small, tight iterations. I don't need to develop an entire curriculum at once. I can develop, deploy and test an activity (or small set of activities) at a time, knowing that it fits into a wider curriculum that is well tested and widely used.