Learning Through Design Project: Digital Litercies

In Spring 2013, Dr. Erica Halverson and T.J. Kalaitzidis piloted a collaborative design-based curriculum in their Digital Media and Literacies course. This course was structured with a one-hour graduate section, a one-hour undergraduate section, and two-hour combined workshop section all happening back-to-back. They chose to use the ARIS platform (arisgames.org) and allow the class to design mobile, place-based activities that reflected local learning of topics important to the students.

“We didn’t have them take tests, we had them take on the role and discourse of designers”


The goals of the course were to:

  • analyze and evaluate how digital mediums have changed notions of learning and literacy
  • understand affordances and constraints of digital mediums for representation, and apply those understandings in creating digital artifacts
  • be able to make appropriate design decisions and critically reflect upon the creative process and product
  • learn to work in deep collaboration with colleagues to achieve and advance productive ends

MLI was excited to get involved because the course itself was about exploring affordances and constraints of different media, and drew heavily from theories of participatory cultures (Jenkins et al., 2007) and communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), which align with the conceptual frames that support our goals. The course offered a unique space to test and evaluate technology-enhanced learning methods.

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Read the full report

Key Lessons

  • reconcile student design visions with the affordances of the tool early in the process
  • prototype with non-digital media
  • provide technical training when needed for just-in-time learning
  • perform small warm-up design activities
  • leverage the many communities students have access to: each other, local technical support, the ARIS online communities, etc.


  • Erica Halverson: Faculty Member
  • T. J. Kalaitzidis: Teaching Assistant, co-researcher
  • David J. Gagnon: Activity Design, Guest Facilitator, Research Design
  • Breanne Litts: Activity Design, Guest Facilitator, Research Lead
  • John Martin: Activity Design, Guest Facilitator, Research Design
  • Phil Dougherty: Guest Facilitator
  • Shelby Copeland: Videography
  • Al Barnicle: Activity Design
  • Marcus Moreno: Student Technical Trainer