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English Teaching: Practice and Critique May, 2010, Volume 9, Number 1 pp. 87-102 

Using a studio-based pedagogy to engage students in the design of mobile-based 



Middleton Cross Plains Area School District, USA 
University of Wisconsin, USA 

ABSTRACT: The article presents a brief overview of the Neighbourhood 
Game Design Project, a studio-based curriculum intervention aimed at 
engaging students in the design of place-based mobile games and interactive 
stories using geo-locative technologies (for example, GPS enabled cell 
phones). It describes the three curricular components that defined the project, 
then highlights how a studio method was used to guide students ’ design work 
and develop their design literacies. In particular, the article focuses on one of 
the main design activities students engaged in - collaboratively designing an 
Augmented Reality 1 simulation - and explores how the embedded design 
practices align with a socio-cultural view of literacy (Gee, 2004; Jenkins, 
Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2006; Lankshear and Knobel, 2007; 
Robison, 2009). 

KEYWORDS: mobile media, place-based learning, design thinking, studio- 
based pedagogy 


Design and design thinking have been forwarded as central components of what it 
means to be literate in the 21 st Century. This view of literacy does not diminish the 
importance of reading and writing as core literacies, but instead, emphasizes that 
literacy involves the active and dynamic Design of new meanings via the 
reorganisation of available resources (Kress, 2003; New London Group, 1996). From 
a broad perspective, a literacy rooted in design suggests that students should be 
capable of collaboratively and creatively designing solutions to complex, open-ended 
problems. In this light, design literacy implies more than simply engaging students in 
the production of media products. Instead, it also entails cultivating an ethos built 
around participation, collaboration and distributed expertise (Lanskshear & Knobel, 
2007; Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2006), nurturing students’ 
identity(-ies) as designers, and developing their ability to think like designers (Gee, 
2007, Games & Squire, 2008). 

Teaching students to think like designers, however, requires a reworking of traditional 
approaches towards literacy education, and arguably, education as a whole. Not only 
does it require re-conceptualizing what it means to be literate, it also requires new 
forms of teaching and learning, including a shift from the transmission models of 
instruction that dominate many schools, towards more student-centred pedagogies that 

1 AR games, which are played on GPS-equipped cell phones and handheld computers, allow students to 
navigate the real world, while tracking their location on a map that appears on their mobile device. 
When they reach specific, real-world locations, in addition to seeing what is around them, students can 
also use their mobile devices to view photos, videos and other documents that add to or augment 

Copyright © 2010, ISSN 1175 8708 

J. Mathews 

Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

allow students to participate in design communities in a way that positions them as 
producers of knowledge and active designers of their own social futures (New 
London Group, 1996, Kalantzis & Cope, 2005). 

Research related to design education suggests that a studio-based pedagogy is one 
method for cultivating students’ identities as designers, developing their conceptual 
understanding of design and the design process, and fostering their design thinking 
(Kuhn, 1998; Cox, Harrison, & Hoadley, 2009; Schon, 1983, Kafai, 1995). The 
design studio method of teaching stems from architectural education, but has more 
recently been applied to a range of disciplines, including game and software design 
(Kuhn, 1998; Cox, Harrison, & Hoadley, 2009). While there is no single model for 
organising a design studio, Kuhn (1998, p. 65), a proponent of using a studio 
pedagogy to teach design, outlines the core components of the studio method as: (1) 
project-based work on complex and open-ended problems; (2) rapid iteration of 
design solutions; (3) frequent formal and informal critique; (4) consideration of 
heterogeneous issues; (5) the use of precedent and thinking about the whole; (6) the 
creative use of constraints; and (7) the central importance of design media. In this 
context, a major goal is to guide students through the design process, while 
simultaneously teaching them about design. 

As a secondary-level teacher who teaches in an interdisciplinary language arts and 
social studies classroom, I have a history of using a studio-based pedagogy to guide 
my students’ learning. While I have applied a studio method in the past to engage 
students in documentary filmmaking, photography, and digital storytelling, this article 
presents my experience piloting the Neighbourhood Game Design Project (NGDP), a 
studio-based curriculum intervention aimed at engaging students in the design of 
place-based, mobile games and interactive stories using geo-locative technologies (for 
example, GPS enabled cell phones). The project is part of a larger body of research I 
have been conducting in collaboration with Mark Wagler and Kurt Squire at the Local 
Games Lab 2 , that explores the use of mobile media to support place-based learning 
(Mathews & Squire, 2009). 


Along with Mark Wagler, who served as a co-researcher, teacher and designer in 
residence, I piloted the NGDP with 12 eleventh and twelfth-grade students enrolled in 
my community studies course, entitled People, Places, and Stories. Traditionally, 
students in this course conduct research on local issues and design media texts (for 
example, photo exhibits, documentaries and digital stories) to communicate their 
findings and personal perspectives. The NGDP expanded on these past experiences in 
two important ways. One, it introduced mobile media into the learning ecology in a 
way that explicitly sought to leverage the unique affordances of mobile devices to 
support students’ community investigations, and two, it engaged students in the 
design of mobile-based games and simulations. 

The NGDP included three major curricular components that unfolded over sixty 

2 The Local Games Lab is a research lab affiliated with the University of Wisconsin. 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

1. a place-based inquiry component, where students used mobile media to 
identify and investigate contested places and issues in their city; 

2. a game design component, where students individually and collaborative ly 
designed games using mobile devices; and 

3. an Augmented Reality design component, where the entire class 
collaboratively researched a community issue and then designed a GPS-based 
simulation to teach other students and community members about the issue. 

As mentioned, a key goal that cut across these components was a desire to foster 
students’ design thinking. In part, this included developing their understanding of 
design by engaging them in interpreting and analyzing designs (for example, designed 
spaces/places and games) and engaging them in the design process. Throughout the 
project we attempted to cultivate a learning environment that situated students’ 
understanding of the design process around authentic design problems and practices 
and cultivated a culture of participation. We also attempted to develop strategies that 
nurtured students’ individual and collective identity(-ies) as designers and balanced 
individual autonomy with group interdependence and shared design goals. 

Place-based inquiry component 

During the place-based inquiry workshop, students used the built-in features of 
mobile devices (for example, audio recording, text messaging, GPS, cameras) and 
“off the shelf’ software to investigate their city as a designed place. In order to 
introduce students to this concept and scaffold their initial investigations, we 
developed a simulation that invited them to role-play as consultants hired by the city 
to locate contested places and issues within the downtown area. As they walked 
around town in pairs, looking for, observing and analyzing contested places, the 
students used mobile devices to conduct interviews, take photos, access “just-in-time” 
information, and record notes. While they were given permission to explore the small 
downtown area on their own, without direct supervision, we remained in contact with 
them (and vice versa) as needed via text messages, face-to-face conversations and e- 
mails. While some students primarily used “pen and paper” to document their 
investigation, others relied more heavily on their mobile devices. For example, some 
students used GPS-based mapping applications on their mobile devices to geo-tag, 
organise and map their images and notes. Because this was not a requirement, 
however, students who chose this method did so based on their own interests, prior 
knowledge and motivation. This approach aligned with two key features of the 
project: (1) to develop activities that could be completed using a range of technologies 
- from “low-fi” (for example, paper maps) to “hi-fi” (for example, mobile-based 
mapping software), and (2) to provide students choice in how they decided to gather 
information and represent their thinking. 

After spending several hours in the field, the students returned to City Hall, where 
they compiled their observations onto a large group map and met with the City 
Manager. Students then reported their findings. During their presentations the students 
used their mobile phones to share photos and audio interviews in order to 
communicate their arguments and share their evidence. The goal of these activities 
was multifaceted, and included: (1) exploring how the unique affordances of mobile 
media - particularly those related to their mobility/portability, social interactivity, 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

context sensitivity, and connectivity - might be used to support collaboration, 
communication, data collection, and documentation; (2) sparking students’ interest in 
doing place-based investigations and introduce them to people, places, and issues they 
could refer back to later in the project; (3) providing students with a direct avenue for 
communicating with a city official whose job includes city planning; and (4) 
encouraging students to begin thinking of their neighbourhood, school and city as 
designed places and systems. The City Manager helped frame the students’ thinking 
by discussing some of the design challenges he deals with on a daily basis. He also 
used the students’ examples and questions to promote the idea that a major part of 
design is making choices based on available data, and that very often there is “no 
perfect solution” to a design problem. 

Figure 1: Students investigating contested issues and places in their community. 

Figure 2: Students discussing questions and ideas related to the redesign of the city 

with the City Administrator. 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

Mobile game design component 

In the course of this component, students critiqued and redesigned mobile games that 
we created, and designed their own games. A major aim of these activities was to 
develop students’ basic understanding of games as designed systems and begin to 
engage them in the design process. While this component was primarily organised 
around engaging students in the design of their own games, woven throughout this 
process were discussions aimed at developing students’ conceptual understanding of 
games, design, and the design process. Specific to the design process, we focused on 
design constraints, iterative design cycles, and effective critique/feedback. 

Figure 3: Students engaged in a game critique session 

Figure 4: Students beta testing a mobile game during the game design component 

English Teaching Practice and Critique 


J. Mathews 

Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

From a game design perspective, we focused on developing students’ understanding 
of games as dynamic systems of interconnected elements (for example, goals, 
characters, game space) that can be manipulated in order to shape game play. We also 
emphasized the central importance of rules and explored the relationship between 
rules and the different types of play they create (Salen, 2007; Salen and Zimmerman, 
2004). Throughout the project, but especially during this component, we made a 
conscious effort to link students’ prior knowledge and interest in games, with the 
concepts we were studying. 

Augmented reality simulation design component 

During the Augmented Reality game design workshop students used studio time to 
play several, pre-designed AR games and collaboratively and iteratively design their 
own AR simulation aimed at teaching others about a contested issue in the local 
community. As part of the design process, students brainstormed design ideas, learned 
how to use the required technologies (for example, handheld computers, mobile-based 
software tools, the AR game editor and engine), developed prototypes, engaged in 
critique/feedback sessions, and piloted a beta-version of their simulation. 

Figure 5: Students composing and editing game text. 

After first brainstorming, and then discussing potential topics, the students decided 
they wanted to learn more about a recent proposal to redesign the local nature 
conservancy. A key feature of the proposal called for paving one of the main paths 
that cut through the conservancy - an option that many of the students disagreed with. 
In addition to feeling a sense of ownership over the path, in part because it runs 
adjacent to the school, many students believed that the city was moving forward with 
the paving despite strong public opinion against it. They also felt that other students 
would be interested in the topic and that an AR simulation would provide an 
experience that would raise students’ awareness about the issue and contribute to the 
debate. In the end, the students’ intuition and timing was excellent. To begin with, 
their belief that other students would be interested in this issue proved insightful and 
accurate. In addition, because the path was near the school, it made it easier to 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

integrate field research into the school day. Finally, the public debate became quite 
heated while the project was in progress, which resulted in a flurry of newspaper 
articles and opinion pieces, blog postings, and robust city council meetings that 
students mined in order to create their final design. 

Figure 6: Students designing a mock-up of the final AR simulation 

To pave or not to pave: An Augmented Reality simulation 

Students used what they learned from their initial place-based inquiry in combination 
with their emerging understanding of design and the design process to collaboratively 
produce an Augmented Reality simulation that can be played on Windows-based 
mobile devices 3 . The simulation requires players to physically walk along the path in 
order to learn more about the debate surrounding the redesign of the conservancy. As 
part of this experience, players encounter virtual characters who share different, and 
often competing perspectives on the issue. For example, players meet a scientist who 
shares some scientific data and then presents his own professional opinion, as well as 
bikers, runners and other recreational users, who each share their own personal stories 
and opinions. These virtual characters, who appear via a combination of video, audio, 
written text and photographic images, all represent authentic arguments and 
perspectives that were expressed by individuals in the community. In some cases, they 
are even based on real people, whom the students interviewed or read about as part of 
their research. In addition to meeting virtual characters, the players also use the 
mobile devices to gather additional data, including historical images, water quality 
measurements and bird migration figures that further help them frame the debate. 
They are also directed to make observations and interact with real people they meet 
along the path (for example, walkers, bikers, birders). 

3 The AR software and authoring tools they used (that is, the game engine and editor) were developed 
by Eric Klopfer and his colleagues at the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program. The software can 
be accessed via their website, which is 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

As part of the design process, students produced all of the game content (for example, 
game text, photos, videos, audio clips, HTML files, and so on) and organised it into a 
coherent narrative. To guide their design, the students (with our help) negotiated some 
additional design goals: (1) balance the physical space, game text, the number of 
virtual characters, and the amount of text in a way that allowed the simulation to flow 
well; (2) engage the players with the physical environment (that is, they did not 
simply want the player to walk around looking at the screen); and (3) present the issue 
in a balanced manner. This last goal resulted in a minor debate, because there was 
some disagreement over whether or not the simulation should be activist or persuasive 
in nature, particularly given that it was being designed for use in a school setting. This 
emergent design challenge provided an opportunity to discuss issues related to 
representation, the goals of schooling, forms of activism, and documentary media, and 
so on. 

Designing the AR simulation, including learning more about the conservancy and 
conducting research into the multiple perspectives surrounding the redesign, required 
students to work across multiple modes of representation and use a range of literacies. 
In addition to authoring the game and the embedded media, the students also 
produced planning/design documents; created, distributed, and analyzed surveys; 
composed and read emails; wrote in their journals; conducted interviews; and did 
Internet and field research. In order to write the game text they also read newspaper 
articles, weblogs, and city council minutes, then pulled the key ideas from these texts 
and rewrote them as dialog events (that is, the text that the virtual characters said 
when players encountered them in the conservancy). As part of this process, students 
used a range of digital technologies, both those specific to the medium (for example, 
the handheld computers and AR authoring tools) and those required for collaboration, 
communication, and media production (for example, email, text messaging, Google 
Documents, photo and video editing tools). Perhaps most importantly, through all of 
this, the students engaged in and developed the literacy practices required to interact 
and leam in a participatory design community. 


A normal class period during the project (90-minute block) included a combination of 
the following: 

1. Large-group (face-to-face) check-in at the start of class. This usually occurred 
at the school, but on occasion took place in a community setting. This time 
was used for large-group presentations and discussions related to the concepts 
we were studying and as an avenue for sharing individual and group progress; 

2. Individual and small group research where students either left the school 
building to conduct field work that was relevant to their design(s) (for 
example, conducting interviews, taking photos, making observations, testing 
prototypes) or worked in the studio space. During field excursions, students 
used mobile devices (both their own and ones supplied by the project) to 
receive additional quests, collaborate, gather and share data, and report on 
their progress; 

3. Large and small-group critique and debriefing sessions where students shared 
works in progress and participated in formal critiques. 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

As mentioned previously, these curricular activities were implemented using a 
studio-based pedagogy. It is important to note that, despite our emphasis on 
mobility and the use of mobile devices, a central design space and consistent 
design rituals (for example, journaling, group discussion, critiques) were core to 
the studio/learning experience. Table 1 highlights some of the key components of 
the studio method as we applied it in this context. 

Physical studio 

The flexible and modular design of the studio space allowed for fluid 
movement between large- and small-group work configurations. 
Additionally, the technological resources students needed (for example, 
laptops, digital cameras, and mobile devices) were easily accessible, so they 
could be used to access “just in time” information or complete emergent 
design tasks. Because students were often dispersed across physical space 
(for example, during their community-based fieldwork), face-to-face 
meetings provided opportunities to maintain group cohesion, disseminate 
information, and answer questions. 

Opening circles 

These large-group openings served as project meetings where we shared our 
progress, asked and answered questions, discussed challenges and 
successes, and so on. 

Physical design 

The design board served as a central location where students posted and 
collectively organised their individual work into a coherent whole. We also 
used the design board to share resources and ideas with each other and keep 
track of design tasks that needed to be completed. The design board also 
served as a site for emergent design conversations (Cox, Harrison, & 
Hoadley, 2009) 

Design task cards 

In order to help manage the workflow, we kept track of tasks that needed to 
be completed via Design Task Cards. As new design needs emerged we 
developed cards and posted them to the design board. For example, when 
students authoring the final version of an AR game via the game editor 
realised they needed a new photograph or video clip, someone wrote up a 
design task ticket and posted it to the Design Order Board. Other students, 
in turn, grabbed the ticket, completed the design task, and delivered the 
final product to the editors. This system helped us balance the need for 
differentiated scaffolding and the desire to provide students with 
opportunities to generate their own learning trajectories. Within this system, 
students who preferred a specific task could select a card, while those who 
wanted to follow a particular interest or needed less structure could more 
autonomously organise and manage their own learning. The mobile devices 
helped with this process in that students could easily share images, audio 
recordings and so on, via the phones. In addition, they allowed 
communication back and forth between the designers in the studio and the 
students doing fieldwork. 



While all of the students were expected to develop an understanding of the 
core concepts we were studying (for example, contested places, iterative 
design, and so on), not all of them were expected to develop the same 
knowledge or progress at the same rate. Instead, we cultivated islands of 
expertise (Crowley & Jacobs, 2002) where individual students developed 
expertise around a particular concept or skill as the need arose. This helped 
cultivate a collaborative learning environment, where students not only 
helped teach each other, but also became dependent on one another for the 
success of their individual and collective designs (Squire, DeVane, & 
Durga, 2008). It also opened up space for students to follow their own 
interests and design their own learning trajectories. 

Design journals 

In addition to text messages, emails, and face-to-face conversations, we 
used design journals as an avenue for maintaining an ongoing dialog with 
students. Design journals proved important in that they allowed us to gauge 
students’ conceptual understanding, check-in on their progress, and answer 
emergent questions. They also provided a space for students to reflect on 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

their progress and set design goals. 

Critique sessions 

The critique sessions were attached to redesign activities that reinforced the 
concept and practice of iterative design cycles. Because they made 
transparent students’ understanding of design and the design process, 
critique sessions also provided an opportunity to assess students’ 
understanding of the underlying concepts we were studying. These sessions 
also helped cultivate collaboration between students and provided an 
opportunity to discuss and practise different types of critique. 

practices and 

While the studio was not meant to mirror a professional design studio, the 
students’ work revolved around authentic tasks - for example, they 
investigated authentic issues in their community, engaged in authentic 
design activities and Discourses (Gee, 2004), and designed media that was, 
and will continue to be, shared beyond the classroom. Perhaps more 
importantly, the students themselves perceived the project as an authentic 
experience because: (1) they felt their investigations and design work were 
relevant to the community, (2) there was a “real audience”, (3) they felt it 
prepared them for both future learning endeavors and more closely 
resembled a work environment than a school environment, and (4) they got 
to leave the school building and take on different identities (for example, 
consultant, photographers) as they interacted with the community. 



We made efforts to facilitate and encourage students to make connections to 
people and resources outside of the classroom. In some cases, we brought 
people into the classroom, and at other times students located their own 
resources, via online and face-to-face networks. The ability to cultivate 
these networks is consistent with Gee’s (2004) argument that there are 
“three types of design that reap large rewards in the New Capitalism: the 
ability to design new identities, affinity spaces, and networks” (p. 97). 

Design eharettes 

Short design eharettes were utilised throughout the project as a way to 
explore a particular concept (for example, iterative design, design 
constraints). They were also used to break up the flow of the class and 
provide avenues for teambuilding. 

Table 1: Key components of the NGDP design studio 

Figure 7: Student adding content to the design board 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

Figure 8: Students alpha testing the final AR simulation in the field 


As our first implementation of the NGDP, this pilot allowed us to experience in situ 
some of the unique challenges and opportunities that might (and in our case did) 
emerge when a studio-based pedagogy is used to engage students in the design of 
mobile-based media. The following discussion points, which are based on 
observations, analysis of students’ designed artifacts, and post interviews, highlight 
some of the initial themes that emerged during the implementation. They are intended 
as discussion points to guide the design of our next iteration of the project and should 
be viewed as preliminary observations, rather than formal research results. 

Design studio pedagogy 

As mentioned previously, the studio setting, in combination with the complex, 
distributed nature of the design tasks led to the development of particular areas of 
expertise (related to both content, design and technology use) within the group. These 
centres of expertise (Squire, DeVane, & Durga, 2008), which were built around 
students’ interests and prior experiences, helped cultivate a collaborative learning 
environment, and provided opportunities for students to use and develop pre-existing 
literacies within a new context. 

• Students were motivated by the fact that others used/played their designs. 
Designing for an authentic audience deepened the design experience, 
increased students’ engagement levels, and motivated them to care about the 
quality of their work. While they expressed this sentiment in their post 
interviews, it was also evident in their conversations and behaviours leading 
up to the initial pilot of their AR simulation. 

• As expected, a major balancing act throughout the project was maintaining a 
steady workflow that allowed students to work semi-autonomously, while 
providing enough support to those who needed additional guidance and 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

feedback. For example, some of the students initially struggled to 
conceptualise, organise and manage their own projects. Because most of the 
students adapted quickly to the environment, we were able to spend additional 
time working with those who needed additional support. 

• Because the studio method presented a learning ecology that differed from 
their typical school experience, many students initially found it difficult to 
acclimatise to the studio setting. This is not surprising considering that 
inhabiting the studio (at least as we envisioned it) required new behaviours, 
practices, identities, and so on. Engaging students in dialogue about these 
changes served as an avenue for discussing the design of the class on a meta- 
level, and as a way for us to explicitly state our expectations. Importantly, as 
the project progressed, students demonstrated more autonomous learning 
behaviours, worked more collaboratively, took more responsibility for the 
success of the learning environment, and both exhibited and reported higher 
levels of self-efficacy. 

Mobile media 

• Using mobile media as tools for inquiry and developing mobile games 
provided opportunities for students to engage in a range of new media 
practices. It also provided opportunities for students to use mobile media as 
investigative tools and develop the literacies required to use geo-locative 
technologies for learning, gaming and storytelling. 

• Inviting students to use mobile media allowed us to more easily engage them 
in meaningful dialogue about the use of these devices, both in and outside of 
school. These conversations ranged from concerns over the increased ability 
of mobile service providers to collect personal data to school policies 
regarding cell phone use. 

• Using mobile media supported our goal of getting students out of the physical 
classroom in order to engage in place-based learning activities. In doing so, 
students engaged in new literacy practices, took on new identities, and thought 
more broadly about how mobile technologies might be used to alter the way 
people interact with each other and their local community. 


• Consistent with previous research related to students designing games (Cox, 
Harrison, & Hoadley, 2009; Games & Squire, 2008; Kafai, 1995; Kuhn, 1998; 
Shelton, 2009), we found that studying and developing mobile games and 
simulations recruited students’ experience and expertise as gamers and 
increased their motivation to engage in the design process. This was important 
in that it increased the likelihood that they would sustain their involvement in 
the project and “fight through” some of the less interesting tasks associated 
with designing media. For many of the students this included doing more 
reading (of written language texts) and more writing than usual. With that 
said, students were more motivated to write and edit game text, than to write 
planning documents, such as outlines and proposals. 

• Design and inquiry were both recurring and consistent themes throughout the 
project. In fact, we often reflected on the design studio itself (and the 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 

embedded curriculum) as a designed environment that was open to critique 
and iterative refinement. For example, we openly talked about the design 
choices we made as facilitators when designing the studio experience and 
associated learning activities. In turn, the students critiqued these designs and 
made suggestions for future iterations. By inviting students to critique our 
designs (including the learning environment as a whole), we hoped to model 
the design process, engage students in design discourses, cultivate a culture of 
experimentation and critique, and responsively alter and improve the design of 
the studio and curriculum to better meet their needs. Many students referenced 
this goal in their journals and exit interviews and said that these ongoing 
discussions made them feel like they had some control over creating the 
learning environment and determining the learning activities. 

• The students entered the project with limited formal design experiences. As a 
result, most of them were new to using design vocabulary and basic design 
strategies (such as mock-ups, rapid prototyping, and iterative design cycles) to 
plan and evaluate their designs. However, engaging students in “professional- 
like” design practices helped develop their situated understanding of the 
academic varieties of language that designers use. This also provided them 
with design experiences that fostered an embodied understanding of design 
and the design process (Gee, 2004). For many of the students, this was their 
first experience designing something as an entire class. As such, the design 
studio also served as an initial model for engaging in a design community. 

• The AR design experience provided a space for students to investigate local 
issues and share their own perspectives. By making a game about an issue that 
was important to them and included their voices, the students felt like they 
were able to “push back” against the city. It also gave them an opportunity to 
perform new identities and interact with their community in new ways. At the 
same time, by engaging in the design process, students also realised that the 
issue was much more complex than they had originally thought. In the end, 
many of them softened their position, developed more nuanced arguments, and 
were more able to see the issue from multiple perspectives. 

• Thinking about design and engaging in the design process encouraged students 
to begin thinking more consciously about the world around them as an 
integrated system of designed spaces and places, and gave them new lenses for 
making transparent the social processes that shape these designs - both in 
relation to how they are designed and how they are used or inhabited by 
people. Looking at design across multiple contexts helped with this 

• Because their design work focused on multimodal design, students developed 
a better understanding of the affordances of particular modes of representation 
and their appropriateness within specific contexts. For example, students had 
to consider the difference between video designed for use on a mobile device 
versus a television. While part of this implies a technical understanding of the 
differences, it also requires consideration of the different contexts in which 
people consume video via these two distinctly different mediums. 

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Using a studio-based pedagogy. . . 


The rapid growth in mobile technologies presents many new possibilities for 
interacting with each other and the world around us. Mobile media allow for new 
forms of social interaction and provide new avenues for participating in the design 
and distribution of media content. They also provide new opportunities for teaching 
and learning across physical, digital and social spaces (Rogers & Price, 2009; 
Sharpies, Taylor, & Vavoula, 2005; Squire, 2009). Helping students navigate and 
fully participate in this new media landscape, however, requires more than simply 
allowing mobile devices into schools. Instead, it requires developing learning 
experiences that allow students to use and develop the multiliteracy practices 
associated with mobile media. Unfortunately, while there are many examples of 
young people using mobile media to engage in these types of literacy practices 
outside of school, there are far fewer examples of these devices being used to develop 
and expand students’ literacy practices in school (Norris & Soloway, 2009; Squire, 

Developing rich, mobile-based learning experiences within a school setting is no easy 
task. While we understand that simply introducing mobile media into schools will not 
result in transformational learning experiences, the Neighbourhood Game Design 
Project stems from the following premises: (1) the potential of mobile media to 
support new forms of teaching and learning warrants meaningful consideration, and 
(2) shifts in the social, cultural and technological landscape will place implicit 
pressure on schools to seek new ways to integrate mobile media into the classroom 
(Norris & Soloway, 2009; Sharpies, 2002). The challenge remains, however, for 
members of the educational community to develop meaningful learning experiences 
that use mobile media in a way that does more than simply reify the traditional culture 
of school. 

Examining controversial issues from multiple perspectives and learning how to 
collaboratively design solutions to complex social problems is necessary for 
participation in a pluralistic society (Barton & Levstik, 2004; Hess, 2009). We hope 
that the NGDP provides one model for how mobile media might be used to support 
this vision. In following the lead of the New London Group (1996), our interests lie in 
exploring how mobile media might be used to engage students in new civic and social 
activities and literacy practices that allow them to more actively participate in and 
shape the future of their communities. As such, we believe in a form of mobile 
learning that not only aligns with the rapid changes occurring in the technological 
landscape, but also leverages new research around literacy and literacy pedagogy - a 
form of mobile-based learning that emphasises participatory design, muliliteracies, 
and local, as well as global civic engagement. 


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Manuscript received: March 15, 2010 
Revision received: April 22, 2010 
Accepted: April 30, 2010 

English Teaching Practice and Critique