Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chris Dede on Scalability

[The partial excerpt below is part of Dede's chap­ter Devel­op­ing a Research Agenda for Edu­ca­tional Games and Sim­u­la­tions in the book Com­puter Games and Instruc­tion, pub­lished in 2011 by Infor­ma­tion Age Publishing and comes courtesy of SharpBrains].

MPICT recently participated (6/22-6/25/11) in NSF's Synergy conference on scaling Advanced Technology Education (ATE) centers. MPICT is a regional ATE center focused on Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) for community colleges.

Chris Dede of Harvard's Graduate School of Education has some relevant thoughts on scalability:

"Scale is not purely a mat­ter of eco­nomic com­mon sense, such as not spend­ing large amounts of resources on stu­dents in each class­room hav­ing access to a game devel­op­ment com­pany to build what they design, or sim­u­la­tions that involve high ratios of instruc­tors to learn­ers. Research has doc­u­mented that in edu­ca­tion, unlike other sec­tors of soci­ety, the scal­ing of suc­cess­ful instruc­tional pro­grams from a few set­tings to wide­spread use across a range of con­texts is very dif­fi­cult even for inno­va­tions that are eco­nom­i­cally and logis­ti­cally prac­ti­cal (Dede, Honan, & Peters, 2005).

In fact, research find­ings typ­i­cally show sub­stan­tial influ­ence of con­tex­tual vari­ables (e.g., the teacher’s con­tent prepa­ra­tion, stu­dents’ self-efficacy, prior aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment) in shap­ing the desir­abil­ity, prac­ti­cal­ity, and effec­tive­ness of edu­ca­tional inter­ven­tions (Barab & Luehmann, 2003; Schnei­der & McDon­ald, 2007). There­fore, achiev­ing scale in edu­ca­tion requires designs that can flex­i­bly adapt to effec­tive use in a wide vari­ety of con­texts across a spec­trum of learn­ers and teach­ers. Clarke and Dede (2009) doc­u­ment the appli­ca­tion of a five-dimensional frame­work for scal­ing up to the imple­men­ta­tion of the River City multi-user vir­tual envi­ron­ment for mid­dle school science:

Depth: eval­u­a­tion and design-based research to under­stand and enhance causes of effectiveness
Sus­tain­abil­ity: “robust design” to enable adapt­ing to inhos­pitable contexts
Spread: mod­i­fy­ing to retain effec­tive­ness while reduc­ing resources and exper­tise required
Shift: mov­ing beyond “brand” to sup­port users as co-evaluators, co-designers, and co-scalers
Evo­lu­tion: learn­ing from users’ adap­ta­tions to rethink the innovation’s design model
This is not to argue that research agen­das should not include stud­ies of unscal­able inter­ven­tions – such research can aid with design and help evolve the­ory – but I believe that the bulk of a research agenda, to pro­duce usable knowl­edge, should focus on inno­va­tions that can scale. As the research review by Tobias et al (this vol­ume) doc­u­ments, edu­ca­tional games and sim­u­la­tions in gen­eral offer desir­able affor­dances for imple­men­ta­tion at scale.

I offer these assump­tions not as “truths,” but as propo­si­tions to be debated in the course of for­mu­lat­ing a research agenda for edu­ca­tional gam­ing and sim­u­la­tion. Oth­ers may wish to mod­ify assump­tions, to add assump­tions to this list, or even to argue that a research agenda should not make any assump­tions about what con­sti­tutes qual­ity. My point is that any attempt to develop a research agenda should make its under­ly­ing beliefs and val­ues explicit, because these are cen­tral to deter­min­ing its con­cep­tual framework."

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