Kairos 22.1


Research design

The research is located within qualitative inquiry (Denzin & Lincoln, 2012; Lincoln et al., 2011) in which design and learning are approached experimentally as—and through—practice-based investigations (Mainsah & Morrison, 2013). Qualitative methods are employed widely in the social and education sciences to provide thick descriptions, rich contextualization, and where possible, participative representations and recountings of events and processes. The research was designed around the learning journey so as to provide a formal structure through which to orient individual, location-based, and collective learning (Wheatley & Frieze, 2011). Multiple modes of data and documentation gathering were included as an explicit part of developing a research design that drew on design techniques and research methods, and their interplay in helping develop situated and reflective understanding of learning beyond the studio. The research design allows the acquisition—and access to a diversity—of perspectives on a shared and complex process over time and has enabled articulation of these through a mix of media and mediations.

Design techniques for this webtext

The project took up and drew on a range of design techniques that are commonly used in studio and practice-based creative construction. In the planning stage of the webtext’s interface, the authors designed the interface by sketching out the visual design overview. This preceded reiterations of versions and functionalities with our technical and design partner in Cape Town, Brand Foundry.

In co-developing this webtext as a spatial and journey-based interface, we worked to realize a reader experience that is evocative of the students' learning journey as it unfolded in varying places and spaces. By way of a research-through-design process, we worked collaboratively with Brand Foundry using our early design sketches, user experience mapping, and presentation platforms such as Prezi and PowerPoint. Through discussion and negotiation between the authors and the design and development team, the current webtext evolved in such a way as to allow for both a more linear read of the material as well as a clickable journey interface. This has challenged the traditional presentation of research into a space that reveals the movement of the nomadic learning approaches under investigation. To achieve this, a balance was sought between the presentation of academic thoroughness in research along with multimodal use of photographic imagery, video, screen layout, and graphic icons.

Documentary photography and film allow for situated and contextual views of events and participation. Images of landscapes and of students traveling and learning together were harvested from student and educator files and drawn together in a project image folder from which the authors made a final selection.

Entitled "The Fish and The Desert," the documentary film made during the nomadic learning journey focused in many ways on the performative aspects of our pedagogical approach to design-through-research and research-through-design. The film was subtitled "Designerly strategies for scaling up climate change approaches in South Africa and Norway." The film was developed to provide a moving image documentation of the project through the eyes of an independent academic producer and documentary film director. Clips for the webtext were selected by the lead author, and composite text was discussed with participant educators and students involved in the research project.

Research methods

Through a variety of connected research methods in qualitative inquiry, we have been able to design, develop, implement, document, observe, and investigate relations in a nomadic pedagogy between students and educators and especially between students in collaborative learning.

This webtext presents research undertaken during and after the journey. Our stance as authors of this webtext is one of participatory action research (Reason & Bradbury, 2008) as we position ourselves to be change agents within the pedagogical environment of our design programs. As advocators of an empowerment agenda to do with design for sustainability, and through the development of relationships within the traveling group of 36 people (Barab et al., 2004), we present the research as participant observers having worked collegially both within the event being analyzed and through the research process presented here.

The project, which is the topic of analysis in this research, came about as a timely intervention to bring about dispositional shifts for our design students that could aid their stance in becoming ethical design agents of change, capable of a deeper concern for both the social and environmental spheres (Irwin, 2012).

This webtext presents a variety of connected research methods in qualitative inquiry research undertaken during and after the journey. Our data was elicited via the 25-minute documentary film made during the journey, written reflections directly after the event, and subsequent inter-subjective interviews (Avelsson, 2011) drawn from a core sampling of five participating students. Using a variety of modalities and methods, multivocality has been generated through the reflections of both educators and students, which has allowed a dialoguing (Tracy, 2010) toward a deeper analysis through discussion of the core concepts outlined. The interview sample reflects diversity in terms of gender, culture, race, and temperament, and is representative of three design disciplines, namely Industrial, Graphic, and Surface Design. In selection of the sample, this was deemed important as it is this diversity that we found to be most generative of collaborative, creative, and other synergies during the project. The questions posed respond to the emergent challenges and moments where participants self-organized to find their place in the project as it moved through various phases, spaces, and locations. Participants interviewed for the documentary film and for this webtext have given consent for the use of this material for research purposes.

This research is equally urgent in its efforts to evocatively disseminate the findings of this experimental pedagogy, in all its contextual anomaly and variety so that others may find resonance in its compelling and coherent showing. This is sympathetic to calls for design education that consider the ontological question of “being-for-uncertainty” (Barnett, 2014, p. 232) in response to a fast changing world, design "learning by doing" through living enquiry (Fendler, 2013), and the application of ideas through “thoughtful reflective practice to achieve social change” (Mott et al., 2015, p. 1263).