Explorers of Educational Design

From contextual observations to design ideas


 Pixton_Comic_The_design_context_af_Pernille_Troelsen (1)

Renewed vision
Target Group Analysis
Analyzing the context of our design
What is our design scenario?
Focus areas

Renewed Vision

our original ideas

which lead us to this vision

Our fieldwork has revealed, that we need to change our focus from an individual child interacting with an artefact, and instead look into how the interaction between children unfolds. The interaction between a child and an artefact is less important in our design vision, than the interactions between children when using artefacts. It is in the interplay among the children, the creative space where their curiosity and their motivation for learning peaks. We know from our reality/profession, working as teachers, that many children lose that space as they grow older.

How do we, as educational designers make a design that can retain that motivation and curiosity as the children grow. Our primary learning focus is on STEM courses in K12 education. We do not want to lock our design upon a single maker technology, since STEM is a very open area when talking about maker technologies.

Target Group Analysis


With an anthropological approach to our fieldwork we observe groups of children to gather information about their values and purposes.  When gathering knowledge about children one has to keep focus on the context in which the children interact and the activities they engage in.

While the children define the context, the manner in which they interact with the context also defines them. (Gulløv, E. 2003) This is why our point of reference in our observations of children are completed in schools, after school clubs (SFO) and at their leisure time. The children we observe are all within the age range of 5-10 years. As we vary the contexts of our observations from the formal setting of a classroom to the coincidental engagement in juggling activities in a park, we hope to acquire a broad perspective of children’s lives and perceptions.

The children are “Hanging Out” on the swings, or “Messing Around” in the sandpit or even “Geeking Out” in the greenhouse. Although these genres of participation was initially formed to describe how children and young people’s social and cultural participation shape new media engagement, interest and expertise (Ito et al, 2007), we felt that the genres are valid in our description of our target group and in determining how these children’s participation shape their lives.

Common to all the contexts is that children at this age play, they play with each other and with artefacts (whatever comes in handy). On the playground they play hide and seek, hopscotch, climb trees or skip ropes. Most of these games have some sort of rules that are obvious and well known to all the participants.  – But under the trees in some bushes another game evolves, it is a role play, with a little family and a witch, some hero called Laval, who’s actually a lion (hero-figure from LEGO Chima). The role play extend to the sandpit, where some boys play farmers, and all of a sudden the two role plays are intertwined and I, the observer is lost for a moment. 

This example shows how flexible children in play can be, there are no boundaries in their world, no limits to what is possible and everyone, who want to contribute to the play, can join in. For once it seams there are no rules, but as soon as someone joins the setting in a manner that spoils the coherence and the development of the play, it falls apart.

Understanding the intentions behind the game, and the actions played out, is only possible if one understands the historical coherence, and cultural norms and relations that underlines the context of the game (Schou, L.R. 2013). If for some reason one individual does not know the historical background of the game, or the cultural setting in which it is played out, or if the individual has difficulties engaging in the relations and interactions within the game, a barrier will arise and something new will happen.
The process of development is thereby a process of socialization. Described as newcomer’s introduction to a miniature society and a culture. Even though development is a personal matter, the process of development is a social affair, a process of socialization where the participants have to discuss and negotiate meaning and conditions for participation (Schou, L.R. 2013).

Interactions between the children is significant, not only in role play, but in all aspects of play, this is why we make it one of our focus areas in our further study and design process.


Analyzing the context of our design


According to Bengtsen and Qvortrup the “nerve” or “core” of didactics, can be characterized as being the specific intention of any given situation. Whenever learning in all its forms are going on, it is happening because of an initial intend. Someone wanted something to happen a certain way, and therefore they used specific artefacts, actions, dynamics and so on.

This intention can be described with the model presented below. Where the four circles should be seen as interconnected and contributing to the overall intention of any didactical situation.

Didactical intend.png

Using this model on our design idea when contemplating how the potential design should interact with the given setting, will help us qualify our design choices, and also make us aware of pitfalls, flaws and strengths. It is important to note, that this is not a specific didactical approach, but more a general didactical mindset.

Defining the context of our design is not an easy task. We have deliberately chosen not to be too context specific. We have observed both in a formal school context but also in informal settings such as an SFO (after school club) and kids interacting in the park. All of these observations have served the purpose of us finding our real contextual focus.

So our contextual focus can be defined as situations when children engage in playful and/or group oriented interactions in the presence of artefacts – regardless of physical contexts.

No matter what, especially, young children are engaging in, they are doing it with a large focus on togetherness. And it is this togetherness that will become our ethnographic focus in our upcoming fieldwork. Also this togetherness is something we need to be aware of in our design. By using the model above togetherness could be perceived as part of the causality or our means to an end that is children learning. You could also define our intention (intend) as being children learning and our method as interactions.


What is our design scenario?


The togetherness can be described as the undefinable spaces children create when engaging with each other, and this is for many children a fundamental building stone in their lifelong development. It is in these spaces (of togetherness) children learn most societal norms and rules fx how to interact with others and how to explore the world in their own time.

We have observed these spaces in our three observational contexts; at the park where kids were given an opportunity to try out various circus/juggling artefacts, in the SFO when the children were playing freely, and in school where they were given a more formal task to work with. When entering this space/these spaces the children show an increased motivation to explore the context they are in. There might be invisible rules among the children, but those rules do not determine who can or cannot enter the context, there are no gender rules, only unity about the content.

By looking into this space of togetherness, we are looking into what John Carroll calls a scenario, he defines scenarios as stories; “They are stories about people and their activities.” (Carroll, 1999) By using this mindset, our scenario is togetherness and the and it’s relation to artefacts.

Carroll has pointed out 5 reasons for using scenario based design, as presented in the figure below.


By looking at our observations like stories, they evoke more reflections for our further design, and by answering questions like; “What is the story when children are fx learning juggling skills in the park compared to the story of children using an iPad game in a school or SFO setting? We might have the possibility of designing an artefact with multiple functions and purposes depending on the setting in which it is being used.

And by bearing in mind that “Design analysis is always indeterminate, because design changes the world within which people act and experience”. (Carroll 1999), we think that we can qualify our design. We are aware of the potential doubt we quite possibly will come to experience due to this indetermination of the analysis, and that we are in for a bit of a muddled affair in the further process of the design project. But we are also certain that this will make us look clearer at the core of our design ideas and their relation to didactics. The analysis of our conducted fieldwork, have shown us that we have a very open ended design, which we have agreed to keep open ended, because we believe that a more closed design will limit the learning potentials.


Focus areas:


Looking to the future, at which direction our design vision will take us in the next steps of the process, we are looking at both the openings and the pitfalls, that we might encounter.


Making the design build upon naturally occurring collaboration and not “forced” group work

  • Engagement

    • In every learning situation, engagement is the foundation for useful learning experiences. When children are engaged in their projects, more openings appear and they learn things, they may not have thought of before they began.

  • Motivation

    • Similar to engagement, when children are motivated, more diverse interactions happen, both among the group and in between the single child and the given artefact they are working with. Motivation often also furthers deeper explorations into a given subject.

  • Benefits

    • Beside the effects above, building our design upon naturally occurring collaboration, the voluntary group work the design assignment get more accurate.

To support creativity in learning

  • Playfulness

    • Play is a fundamental factor for the age group, where we conducted our fieldwork. How do we keep them playing while they grow? Not in the same way as they do now, but in a way suited for their age group and the desired learning outcome.

  • Curiosity

    • Humans are born curious, and children are a lot more curious than grownups. How can we in our design support the curiosity in them as they grow and make the design work in different settings.

  • Playful learning

    • Encompassing both free- and guided play activities, provides children with the opportunity to actively engage, explore, and discover the world around them and integrate their learning bases on principles defined by development psychology and learning science research (Zosh et al , 2013) .

  • Open instead of closed assignments

    • Open assignments is often getting more work put into it, because the participants is having more space to put in relevant stuff, from their own context. When done with an assignments, the participants should be able to remix the assignment into new assignments.

The design needs to support both the geek, the maker and those in between

  • Hanging out, messing around, geeking out

    • Ito et al, have done a ethnographical research on various situations where people are interacting with different subjects. Saying that there are 3 different ecologies we can enter. Hanging out, where the social part is highest, messing around where the participants are trying to find the borders of the artefacts or assignment. Geeking out, is when flow happens and the participants add to the assignment or try it in new ways voluntarily.

  • Not gender fixed

    • The STEM world has a very high percent of male workers and innovators, we want our design to also support female participants, in order to avoid them feeling awkward working with STEM related assignments


Making an edutainment tool

  • Edutainment is most often not learning

    • The entertainment factor is a big thing in edutainment tools, it should be fun and playful, which are great things, but the main focus needs to be on other things.

  • Motivation might die quicker

    • Edutainment is often called chocolate covered broccoli, because at first it’s all fun and happiness, but soon it becomes a boring burden.

  • No replay and remix Opportunities

    • Often we have seen edutainment tools, being very closed and narrow pathed, showing one way to the goal for the participant. Not allowing to rethink the tool in other contexts

  • Designing for only one purpose/use

    • The future need children who can think in multiple directions and see possibilities and ideas in their context. If we design for one purpose we just add to the consumer mentality of society in general.


Zosh et al [2013] – The Ultimate Block Party, Bridging the Science of Learning and the Importance of Play. Chapter 7 in Honey, M. & Kanter, D.E. – Design | Make | Play – Routledge

Ito et al [2010]. Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out : kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gulløv, E. & Højlund, S. [2003] – ”Feltarbejde blandt børn”, Carpe

Bengtsen, S. S. E. & Qvortrup, A. – Qvortrup, A. & Wiberg, M. ( red.) [2013] – ”Læringsteori & Didaktik”, Hans Reitzels forlag

Caroll, J. M. [1999] – ”Five reasons for scenario-based design”, Proceedings of the 32nd Hawaii International Conference on System Science

Schou, L.R. – Qvortrup, A. & Wiberg, M. ( red.) [2013] – ”Læringsteori & Didaktik”, Hans Reitzels forlag

1 Comment

  1. Jeg synes jeres projekt er super spændende, og glæder mig til at følge med fremover.. I har nogle af de samme ting på plakaten som os, men griber det an på en helt anden måde, og med et andet udgangspunkt, og det er super fedt synes jeg!

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