Concrete Examples
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Excerpt from my Final Document, "Using Emergent Design to Implement Computer-Enabled Learning Environments in K-12 Public Schools"( Copyright 2002 by Carol Caldwell-Edmonds, all rights reserved)

From Chapter 7: Discussion (of case studies conducted in public school classrooms)

“The general study of design for change, including organizational change, should be as important a part of the education of an educator as the study of such topics as child development and cognitive psychology” (Cavallo 2000, 26).  Cavallo’s emergent design process uses expert theories as guides but relies on the participants in the learning environment to use their own expertise and interests to design the environment.

                Because the “Destination Mars” project involved an intentional application of emergent design at all levels of implementation, assessing the project in detail revealed several important effects of the design strategy.  One such effect was allowing “hidden expertise” to emerge.  Deb[1] noticed that students were able to demonstrate abilities that were not apparent in other classroom activities, such as spatial acuity, logical thinking, and musical and artistic abilities.  The RCX can be programmed to play musical tones, and several students devoted time to learning how to compose in the RoboLab environment[2].  One robot was programmed to play the theme from the movie, Titanic, and students included the music in their presentation to parents.   Artistic ability was apparent both in the design of robots and in the design of the large layout created to simulate a Martian landscape.

                Deb also observed how students who were less willing to take risks in other activities asserted themselves in this project.  She encouraged all students to respect each other’s ideas, but she noted that for some, the desire to have their idea tested prompted them to change their approach toward risk taking and interacting with peers on their own. 

                When the project began, Deb knew she would use the robots in her class’s space-science unit.  After her students watched the middle school competition teams demonstrate their robots, layout, and missions, the class began to brainstorm together to decide how they would use the robots.  The decentralized, collaborative planning led by Deb, Sandra, and me modeled the process used to design the content of student missions.  After several weeks of experience designing their own missions, students demonstrated a new comfort level when directing their own learning.  A video recording of a work session documented student ownership and control of the project.  On the tape, a group of students continued to work out their mission on their own after I had left the room to help another student at the computer.   One student continued videotaping while her teammates tested the robot and discussed what to change to improve its performance.   I discovered that segment of tape weeks later while reviewing the videos—it was unplanned, student-made documentation of self-directed learning.  Students were focused on the content of the project.  They had learned not only to program and use Lego robots, but also to initiate their own investigations and document their work. 

[Emergent] design is for the situation when one can not know in advance what one needs and when one needs it.  If it is the case that the key learning is now learning how to learn, then the most powerful moments and situations for individuals and groups are not predictable.  Indeed, they never were!  So, rather than design for the average case, delivering a standard curriculum in a standard manner to all in the hope that it reaches most, the goal is to design so that the situation, time, and resources optimize the environment for deep and powerful learning for all, accounting for individual and group styles and cultures.  (Cavallo 2000, 92)

[1]Information in this discussion is based on video recordings of student work and an interview with Deb conducted after the presentations to parents in April 2001. 

[2]I showed students how to access the music icons, but they figured out how to position the pitches, note-by-note, beat-by-beat, into their program on their own.