DIP: Digital Studios for Social Innovation Networks

Project: Research project

Project Details


Project Summary Societal problems, such as climate change, poverty, and illiteracy, can only be solved with social innovators--people who understand societal challenges in context, design new technologies, and can work with diverse stakeholders. To become social innovators, learners must gain experience tackling complex, ill-structured design challenges that are not easily solved by a single individual within a fixed time frame. This makes innovation difficult to teach: individual mentoring is effective but expensive; extra-curricular environments provide flexibility but insufficient guidance; and classroom instruction is too rigid and time-bound for solving complex public problems. Social innovators can better be developed via social innovation networks — learner communities collaborating to solve real-world problems. Social innovation networks: a) teach learners to design solutions to real problems, b) are led by learners and supported by faculty and professional experts, c) extend nationally through a network of local hubs and d) have pro-social missions. Unfortunately, such networks are difficult to orchestrate: facilitators must coordinate many project teams with varying levels of expertise and work on different problems to address unpredictable needs of community clients. How might social innovation networks be orchestrated to develop effective innovators? Just as virtual labs can teach science, so can digital studios teach innovation. The Loft (www.loft.io) is a digital studio used by 1229 learners working on ~270 innovation projects across the US. This research will test the design argument that digital studios can help social innovation networks develop innovators with pedagogical affordances that create networked teaching hubs to support learner-driven projects. Building on the exploratory NSF design-based research undergirding the Loft, the proposed mid-stage project will more rigorously test how digital studio design principles impact learning with more summative measures across a wider variety of settings. Analysis of digital studios in innovation networks will include interviews, observation, and surveys and empirically grounded design principles. It will build novel systems based on new insights and evaluate developed tools and methods through software deployments. The team’s researchers, designers, and programmers from Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute, School of Education & Social Policy, and industry have expertise in cyber learning, innovation education, peer production, web development, and scaling educational initiatives. Intellectual merit: As a new cyberlearning genre, digital studios have the potential to radically change who and how people participate in innovation. Rigorous development of core principles for designing successful digital studios for innovation education will contribute cyberlearning research areas, including badging, peer production, learning-by-cases, design-based learning, and online learning communities. Further, principles for online innovation education apply to myriad disciplines: engineering (making technologies), policy (creating government programs), language arts (creating texts and speeches), and even science (creating research studies). And by developing principles for coordinating groups of learners and mentors to teach innovation, digital studios blur the boundaries between informal and formal learning environments, making extracurricular environments more effective and classrooms more real world. This project will lay a theoretical foundation for understa
Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/19


  • National Science Foundation (IIS-1530833)


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