Launching a New Phase of Research for Agency by Design: Exploring Documentation and Assessment Strategies for the Maker-Centered Classroom

The Agency by Design team announces a new phase of research: exploring documentation and assessment strategies to support maker empowerment across all learning environments.

From 2012 to 2015, the Agency by Design research team explored the promises, practices, and pedagogies of maker-centered learning. As a result of this multi-year study, the AbD team—supported by our teacher partners in Oakland, CA and across the United States—developed a framework for maker-centered learning accompanied by a host of pictures of practice, thinking routines, and other educator resources.

In addition to the core research findings associated with this first phase of work, we have also come to understand what important questions still remain to be addressed in this rich opportunity space. Specifically, we now see developing qualitative assessment strategies as the next frontier of research for maker-centered learning. In fact, we don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that if maker-centered learning is to be more than a passing trend, it is imperative to establish a means to gauge the real benefits of such learning experiences. To address this need, the Agency by Design research team has embarked upon a second phase of research geared towards developing innovative maker-centered documentation and assessment tools.

Though many will be quick to develop pre-/post- assessment measures that gauge student performance in the STEM subjects, as we have learned from our conversations with maker-centered educators and thought leaders throughout the United States, beyond acquiring knowledge and skills in the STEM subjects, educators at the epicenter of maker-centered learning view the dispositional concept of maker empowerment as a primary—if not essential—student outcome. This being the case, our research team has become deeply aware of the importance of developing strategies that gauge this core principle.

The challenge of documenting and assessing maker empowerment is a tricky one. Not unlike many other desirable educational outcomes and “21st Century Skills,” maker empowerment may be understood as an abstract concept with few tangible indicators. Nonetheless, as AbD’s work has shown, having a sensitivity to design is foundational to supporting maker empowerment. We believe that the three elements of the Agency by Design instructional framework—looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity—are concrete capacities that support the development of a sensitivity to design, which therefore may be documented, made visible, and assessed.

With these ideas in mind, our second phase of research will be guided by the following questions:

  1. How can learners make visible their ability to look closely, explore complexity, and find opportunity?
  2. How can teachers qualitatively measure students’ performance within the realm of these three core maker capacities?
  3. How can we collaborate with students and teachers to design a suite of practical documentation and assessment tools best suited to the development of maker empowerment?
AbD researchers tinker with various documentation and assessment strategies.

Once again supported by the Abundance Foundation, this next phase of research will be centered around a collaboration with a professional learning community in Oakland, CA. It is our hope that by collaborating with this diverse group of educators working in a variety of teaching and learning environments, we may be able to develop, test, remix, retest, and refine a suite of contemporary assessment strategies designed to document, enrich, and support maker empowerment across all learning environments.

As we embark upon this exciting next phase of research, we are curious to hear from our colleagues in the broader maker-centered learning community. How do you document and assess learning in your own maker-centered classrooms? What tools and strategies have you used to support student agency and character building through maker-centered learning? What do you need documentation and assessment tools to do for you—and what opportunities and challenges have you encountered in this work?

This blog was published on September 1, 2016.
Authored by
Edward Clapp

Edward Clapp is a Principal Investigator on the Agency by Design project.