Visualizing Learning and Media Ecologies

At the Digital Edge, the research group I have been working for the past 20 months, we have been studying the digital media and learning practices of young people. After one year of ethnographic work in a low-income minority majority high-school we have have been analyzing the immense amount of data composed of several in-depth interviews with 18 diverse high-school students and their parents, focus group interviews, and field-work notes from the observation of two after school programs and one action research project (summer camp). As you could imagine, the volume of data is huge and it has become a challenge to deal with the complexity and diversity of it, especially because it is qualitative data. In order to facilitate the understanding of the diverse learning and media ecologies that each participant from our study has, we have started to experiment with info-graphics and visualizations. The idea is that by creating a map of the learning ecology of each participant of our study we will be able to provide a bird’s eye view of the students life and see how learning happens across different contexts. These info-graphics are intended to tell a unique story about a student life and will allow us to contrast different learning ecologies and their highlight distinct qualities.
Because our data is qualitative and comes from in depth interviews, we are not able to have a precise and quantifiable measurement of the time that a student spent in a particular online community or physical space, or about his/her level of engagement in an activity. However, the qualitative data we have can still be used to describe their learning ecologies. Once the data is sorted and arrange it accordingly to different contexts and nodes of learning, we can begin to present it visually. We have been mostly experimented with two ways kinds of graphics. One is using a Venn diagram and the other is using a combination of time-line and bubbles graphic.

The Venn diagram is very useful to illustrates the relationships between the three spheres were learning happens: academic (formal), interests (informal), and peer culture (social). The intersection among the three different spheres reveals the sweet spot where connected learning happens. Inside of each sphere we are also placing different nodes of activities and technologies.

The other diagram we have have been using is also useful for representing the relationships among the different contexts where learning happens but gives more importance to time and to the way that activities are distributed in a student’s daily life. We have been inspired by the “Snapshot of Student’s Life” diagram that Salen et al. used in “Quest to Learn: Developing the School for Digital Kids.” [1]
studen't life-salen

Another important diagram that has influenced our approach to the visualization and mapping of learning ecologies, and to our Connected Learning framework, in general, is the work of Barron (2006) [2]. Her graphic of contexts of fluency development is also useful for understanding how different contexts of learning interact with each other.



[1] Salen, K et al. (2011). Quest to Learn: Developing the School for Digital Kids. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[2] Barron. B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecologies perspective. Human Development, 49, 193-224.

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