Model Example: An Introduction to Working Examples

This example provides an overview for Working Examples - its history, design process and future plans. Our hope is that this will serve as an overview for the concept of Working Examples, as well as a guide for how to make the most of the site.

Our Seed, Sprout and Bloom sections detail the history of the site's development and our process. In the Updates section, you'll find the storyline of a site that is in a constant state of evolution. There are still features to be added, bugs to be found and improvements to be made (so please share comments, suggestions and questions).

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    Seed is your jumping off point, building the foundation for your project. It helps you define your idea, vision and audience.
    We are in the process of building a site around 'working examples'. Working examples are ideas or proposed solutions that address a problem that you've identified in education/learning. An example can be used to explain your idea, what is new about it, and what makes it work better than others.

    Working Examples can be a way to...  
    • Plant your flag in the field
    • Build on other people's ideas and link ideas and people together
    • Clearly demonstrate what you have done or are trying to do
    • Inspire change in how we share work and work together
    • Support invitational scholarship
    • Discuss best practices and ideas in a public forum
     
    We don’t want Working Examples to be just another website. It should be a service that helps the best ideas emerge and be realized.
     
    Jim Gee explains some of our initial ideas and who we hope to impact.
     
     
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    Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it requires connections to your end users, other experts, even your competition to create things that have a meaningful impact. We’ve noticed that a lot of great work is being done, but it happens in little bubbles and in parallel to similar work others’ are doing. The result is so many missed opportunities for real impact.

    We need a space to share and build on each other’s ideas and design processes and a way to make our thinking public. The best ideas will begin to emerge and help to shape the field of Digital Media and Learning.

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    Here's a little background on Working Examples, how the idea got started, and what we did during the first phase of the project. We'll start with...
     
     

    The idea for Working Examples stems from the work of Sasha Barab, Jim Gee and colleagues on invitational scholarship and worked examples.

    Our work began in 2009, defining working examples and what we were going to design and develop. We had lots of meetings and hosted three design charrettes with other MacArthur grantees, our local design (Maya Design) and development (DeepLocal) teams. A few important ideas emerged from these meetings:

    1. Originally we referred to our idea as “worked examples”, but we decided “working examples” was more fitting. “Working” highlights the design process of these projects and suggests that ideas are always evolving.

    2. Working Examples could be a great way to help researchers and designers collaborate.

    3. Examples are organized around phases - Seed, Sprout, Bloom - to help facilitate sharing ideas and process.

    Two reports summarize these meetings in more detail. A selection of those reports are available here and here. These meetings led to the development of our first design document (created by Maya), which explains more about our initial concepts for Working Examples.

    By March 2011 we had the Beta site up and running.

    After launch, we demoed the site for interested users and organizations, presented at conferences, and held a design jam to get feedback on the site’s functionality. Here's a walk-through of the beta site:

    Our progress updates have a lot more detail about our process for developing and getting people on the beta site.

     

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    We want Working Examples to…
    - form a community for practitioners of digital media and learning (DML) to converse and refine their craft together
    - disseminate best practices for DML
    - push a public conversation about the future of education and learning
    - create an alternative form of scholarly publishing

    We’ll know we’ve achieved our goals when…
     - ideas shared on the site develop in to full examples that influence people and the work we do. For example, maybe they’ll be talked about at conferences, receive funding, or inspire new examples and ideas.
     - people use the site to converse and collaborate on new ideas and to extend what they already do
     - examples are considered credible forms of scholarly work

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    Our stakeholders are industry, makers/designers, learning scientists, policy makers, innovative teachers & educators, funders, and parents interested in digital media and learning.

     

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    During our design charrettes and initial planning meetings we came up with an extensive list of challenges and questions! Here’s a few of the most important/critical challenges we need to think about.
     - We need to have a broad audience on the site. The field can’t exist if it’s only made of MacArthur funded projects.
    - Hubs and portals are hard to create and it’s hard to develop an online community.
    - We want the site to be interdisciplinary, but collaborating across disciplines can be challenging. How can we support this?
    - People are worried about privacy and getting their ideas stolen. How do we deal with privacy issues and convince people it’s worth the risk?
     - How will people know who is using their work – building off of it and extending ideas? The site needs to encourage collaboration and conversations, not taking of ideas.
     - We will continue to get lots of feedback. How do we support a spectrum of feedback (good and bad), synthesize it and decide on what changes to make?
     - Can we design a field’s growth? Can we create a supportive and open culture?
     - Prose has never been the best way to describe worked examples. We need to provide methods for rich demonstrations to help describe the “mechanics of how an example works”.
     - For academics, how does theory fit into an example?
     - How will we scale working examples?
     - How many examples do we need to seed to get things moving?

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    We want to create a site that can be used by everyone in the field to share ideas and process and build innovative ideas together. There are other online communities or social media outlets that exist to highlight finished work, manage projects, connect people together or broadcast news from the field. However, Working Examples is trying to fill a different need - connecting people during their work in order to affect each other's work. It is a truly unique kind of platform that asks a lot of users and hopes to create a new way of collaborating and communicating with one another.

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    The Working Examples community was built for you, so let us know what you think of the community, what you need, how we can help you or any ideas you might have for making our community even better.

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    The team and people that have helped shaped this project is huge. We've made a concerted effort to access knowledge from every field that the creation, use and management of this site touches. It keeps us on our toes and creates a better experience for the people who we're trying to serve.

    Our Core Team:
    James Paul Gee - principal investigator and 'working examples' ideator
    Drew Davidson - principal investigator
    Anna Roberts - director
    Jolene Zywica - community manager, communications, super user
    Eric Keylor - development, QA lead, super user
    Lauren Smith - design intern
    Sean McChesney - QA intern

    Consultants:
    Phase I
    Maya Design - innovation and design consultant
    Deep Local - development consultant

    Phase 2
    Local Projects - design consultant
    Celerity Innovation - development consultant

    Other Experts and Smart People Whose Opinions Shaped This Project
    Phase 1
    Scott Stevens, Mike Christel, Dan Hickey, Jesse Schell, Dan Schwartz, Mimi Ito, David Birchfield, Joe Kahne, Judy Buchanan, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Christina Cantrill, Chris Klug, Alice Wilder

    Phase 2:
    Haakon Faste - design discovery, collaborative creativity, open innovation
    Adam Royalty - using design process to rewrite the Seed/Sprout/Bloom questions
    Alan Gershenfeld - business and industry strategy
    Devan Goldstein - web usability and interaction
    Jesse Hamlin - public relations in the EdTech world
    David Lassman - management and product release best practices
    Danica Damljanovic - natural language processing
    Steve Audia - our in-house tech guru
    Eric Tucker, Dave Faulkner, Dixie Ching, Caro Williams, Peter Wardrip, Anh Nguyen, Todd Keruskin, Scott Stevens, Mike Christel, Cory Garfin, Alice Wilder, Sheryl Grant, Rafi Santo, Dan Hickey - user input and feedback

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    Sprout is the story of your project, its process and evolution. It illustrates how the work's getting done.

    In early 2012 we received a second grant from MacArthur and a grant from Gates to continue with phase 2 of our project. We hired a full time team to create a strong vision for the community, redevelop the site based on community feedback, provide community support, and develop a sustainability strategy. Our roadmap from 2012 shows our goals and the progress we made.

    While our overarching idea and goals for Working Examples are the same as they were in phase 1 (seed), our idea continues to evolve.

    We started by creating a more focused vision for WEx (and we started calling Working Examples WEx!). We asked ourselves: what is it that we’re really trying to do? Who is the site for? And How does what we offer match up with the community needs? Our visioning document shows our process for thinking through these questions.

    A couple of key ideas from this…

    -WEx connects people at the intersection of technology, media and learning. Sometimes we refer to this more broadly as “ed tech”, but it no longer just refers to the digital media and learning field that is often associated with MacArthur.

    -WEx is a space to EXPLORE, COLLABORATE, and make an IMPACT. We like to think of it as a sandbox for adults – a place for people to explore and collaborate in order to build something extraordinary.

    -Our target audience is researchers, educators, designers/makers, and funders/organizations. WEx should support collaboration and conversations between these groups.

    Next, we conducted user assessments with a sample of our target audience. We wanted to know what they thought of the current site and what they needed to be motivated to use the site.

    During our visioning process we made upgrades to the beta site (i.e. progress reports and a new homepage) to keep the community happy. We hired a design intern who created our new logo and a video about WEx that now lives on the new homepage.

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    From user assessments we learned about some of the challenges in using the beta site, including:

    -Technical issues

    -Uncertainties about how to use the site

    -Concerns about duplication of effort

    -Sharing process is scary

    In addition, people wanted to be able to use the site for

    -Documenting process

    -Viewing and discovering new ideas/projects and people

    -Communicating and sharing (e.g. commenting, getting/receiving feedback, facilitating relationships, sharing post mortem and lessons learned)

    -Promoting their work

    Based on this feedback and feedback from Phase 1, we decided to do a complete redesign of the WEx site.  We needed a space for people to have conversations and interact around ideas in order to really push ideas forward in innovative ways. We worked with an internal developer and then with two external designers (Local Projects) and developers (Celerity Innovations). This was an integrative approach to design. We talked weekly (if not more) and constantly pushed on each other to come up with new ideas and ways to design and develop our vision for the site.

    We’ve discovered head nodders! --Those of you that immediately get what we’re trying to do when we tell you about WEx. It’s the head nodders that seem most eager to use the site and less concerned about sharing work in progress in a public forum. They see the value in doing this without having to be convinced. We’ve been targeting the head nodders as our key audience for the time being. Overall, we’re focusing on the “Reimaginers of Education” – those of you who are using technology to make exciting changes, in spite of 'the system'.

    In phase 1 we seeded examples. We asked some of our core audience to post examples to build up content on the site. We discovered that seeding content isn’t enough. Conversations and interactions need to be seeded, as well.

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    Local Projects did the design for the new site. Here’s their concept map…

    …and here are a few initial wireframes: Search, Profile, Groups. Groups came from the need to have more interactions and ways of collaborating.

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    While we loved the network visualization, ratings, and use of timelines in the beta site, we chose not to include them in the new site – at least not right now. They all proved to be challenging elements of the site that didn’t work right. We think it’s important to focus on the interactions and then focus on extras like the network visualization and use of ratings ---both of which will be important for making connections and helping the best examples surface.

    Our wireframes have turned in to full blown graphic designs! Here are the create example page, an example, and the homepage:

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    Our goal for the next 2 years is to do community outreach and develop a sustainability plan. We’re going to start a mentoring program with some of our most active users. Hopefully they can help to guide users on to the site, provide support and feedback and seed conversations.

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    Bloom is a celebration of your end-product, a reflection back on your process and a look forward into the future.

    The new site is up and running! We LOVE how it looks and are excited to see what the community thinks.

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    One of our biggest challenges is helping the community feel comfortable using the site, sharing work in progress, and making WEx part of their routines. Sharing work in progress is scary! Not everyone is ready to take the leap. We constantly have to convince people that this is the right direction for the field. Open access spaces like WEx can have a huge impact on our society--For WEx that means better research, better designs, more effective teaching and more engaging learning experiences for kids. Some people just aren't ready for sharing their work publicly yet. As a result we’ve shifted our focus to target those in the community that are ready.

    We still face many of the same challenges we mentioned in “seed”. Particularly, how do we get critical mass? And how do we make WEx sustainable?

    Collaborating across disciplines is hard…we struggled with that just within our team, so getting others to do it has been really challenging. We switched from an internal designer/developer to external designers (Local Projects) and developers (Celerity) in the middle of our redesign. It was chaotic and stressful, but it ended up working out for the best.

    With almost an entirely new team brought on for phase 2 there was a lot of catching up to do. In many cases we had to repeat earlier processes (visioning, design, development). This took us a lot of time, but made for a better space and community in the long run.

     

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    That it's a lot like herding cats. And everything takes a lot longer than you'd think with so many people involved. That said, all of the groundwork that we established in the initial brainstorming meetings really paid off and help us better define the project and keep a long-term focus on the overall goals.

     

    (be ready when the camera rolls)

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    Our focus now is on community outreach and developing a sustainability model.

     We have a WEx mentoring program and a WEx pilot program to make sure that the site addresses the community’s needs and to assist key audiences in using the site in ways that make sense for them. 

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