Design for Learning Through a Complexity Perspective: A Board Game Redesign Approach to Enabling Learning Possibilities

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This doctoral study followed a conception of learning as a complex phenomenon and aimed to examine possible ways of supporting it. Drawing on insights from complexity research, particularly the notion of enabling constraints (Davis & Simmt, 2003), I explored the settings for supporting learners’ agency in pursuing their ideas and interests, while stimulating new possibilities of collective understanding and action. A design-based research was used to evaluate the potential of board game redesign in providing the settings for complexity-informed design conditions. The following questions guided this research: How would board game redesign provide the settings for enabling constraints? How would learners’ co-design practices evolve through the game redesign process? and How would learners’ decisions, ideas and interests frame their designs and open the space for using math and science in creating game systems? Using the framework of enabling constraints, the first phase analyzed the commonalities and variations in students’ collaborative practices in redesigning the board game Inversé for mathematics learning, in an elementary classroom. This analysis highlighted the importance of structured constraints at the starting point in supporting a common language. It also indicated the interconnection of the constraining and enabling aspects of the developed commonalities throughout the process. Learners’ emerging ideas and reaching higher conceptual possibilities were enabled as they developed shared goals and understandings through the project structure and cycles of unfolding co-design. The learning design in the second phase explicitly used complexity-informed conditions. It involved engaging middle school students with math and science through redesigning the cooperative board game Pandemic. Drawing on the notions of divergence and convergence of ideas and self-imposed constraints from design and creativity research (Biskjaer & Halskov, 2014; Stokes, 2009), the analytic frame in this phase focused on the processes of the evolution of learners’ practices and understanding. The findings elaborated on how the board game redesign approach not only set some structures but also enabled students to negotiate their interests and choices and collectively make decisions. Learners’ interests and decisions acted as self-imposed constraints that framed their work and could simultaneously expand their design space and engagement with math and science topics.
Complexity research, Complexity research in education, learning sciences, board game, board game design, board game redesign, design-based learning, mathematics learning, science learning, design-based research, mathematics education, complex systems, enabling constraints
Bastani, R. (2022). Design for learning through a complexity perspective: a board game redesign approach to enabling learning possibilities (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from