DIP: Potential for everyday learning in a virtual community: A design-based investigation

PIs: Janis Dickinson, Rhiannon Crain
Cornell University
Award Details

This project team aims to explore how to foster learning in socially-networked communities, particularly learning that results in behavior change. Understanding how to foster such learning could have a wide variety of societal impacts, e.g., better fostering science, engineering, mathematical, or design thinking in school or college or on the job, fostering healthy behaviors, helping teens develop pro-social behaviors, and helping people learn to make environmentally-friendly choices as they live their lives. In previous work, this team has developed YardMap, an infrastructure for citizen science that brings together retired adults who are interested in planting and managing their yards in environmentally-friendly ways. YardMap enables social interactions and shared creation of virtual worlds in which participants can try out different ways of managing their yards and see what the downstream effects will be. They also track and display their changing practices and actual yards in ways that are visible to others. YardMap is used by many thousands of participants. In this project, the team is taking YardMap to the next level, using what is known about how people learn and come to change their behaviors to design and refine ways to more directly support individuals in critiquing and improving their behaviors and designs for the common good. What can be learned from the new YardMap will be useful in other fields that focus on helping people change their behaviors in productive ways.

The PIs seek to explore how people learn and how to foster learning in socially-networked citizen science communities. Their research addresses how learning happens, how to foster learning, how to design to increase social activity, and how increased interaction with others elevates interest, generates knowledge, and leads to behavior change. Their technological innovation, an infrastructure for citizen science that fosters behavior change, builds on YardMap, an existing infrastructure for citizen science around environmental issues that allows collective data collection and analysis and supports interactive graphing and mapping. Participants design and refine ways of managing their yards in ways that take into account environmental concerns. YardMap enables social interaction and co-creation of a set of virtual worlds for trying out new ideas; learners who are part of the community interact with others in the community, create and refine virtual worlds together, interact with things in the virtual world, manipulate those worlds and collect and analyze data about outcomes, and discuss visual objects that represent real things and practices. As well, individuals track and display their changing practices and actual yards in ways that are visible to others. YardMap can be thought of as a maker movement community focused on yard maintenance; like other maker communities, it encourages participants to create, share and discuss new inventions and practices in a social-networked community setting. Using both what is known about learning in communities and what is known about social drivers of interaction, the team is is extending YardMap to focus on fostering learning and investigating the relationships between learning and behavior change and the influences each has on the other. Much will be learned about how to use social interactions in positive ways to help individuals become more comfortable with behaviors they need to or should take on for health, civic, or educational reasons. What is learned and the technological infrastructure that is created will be directly applicable to other situations where individual behavior changes are needed for change to happen in a social system (e.g., environmental action, changing the culture of an organization, changing norms in a community, perhaps even creating learning communities in formal on-line courses).

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