Applying Systems Thinking to Learner-Centered User Design for Game and Cyber School Learning Contexts

  • Jason Alphonso EngermanEmail author
  • Victoria Rose Raish
  • Alison Carr-Chellman
Living reference work entry


A lot of research currently addresses change thinking in educational systems, particularly change issues centered on learner cultures and systemic disruption. As a part of a major reference work on systems thinking and change, this chapter focuses on user design as an imperative instructional theory allowing designers, demonstrating how two research studies were conceptualized and interpreted using systems thinking. For designers, user design theory helps us to utilize learning ecosystems to map the meaning-making journeys and then to distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives (DSRP) in complex learning environs so that we can refine and design environments for the relationships between complex experiences of knowledge sharing and interactions. As we explore critical literature in this chapter, we offer two examples as the basic material for prioritizing indigenous domains within user-centered design, demonstrating how we overcame common systemic boundaries and obstacles that typically plague student-centered learning models. One study addresses boys and gaming as indigenous ecosystems of an ecology of play within a student user design, and the second study investigates cyber charter schools’ science labs as ways to empower traditionally disengaged learners.


User design Qualitative research Learning ecosystems Digital media Online learning Learner-centered approaches 


  1. Altheide, D. L., & Schneider, C. J. (2013). Qualitative media analysis (2nd ed.) Washington, DC: SAGE.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anthony-Stevens, V. (2017). When high-stakes accountability measures impact promising practices: An Indigenous-serving Charter School. In G. Q. Conchas, M. Gottfried, B. M. Hinga, & L. Oseguera (Eds.), Policy goes to school: Case studies on the possibilities and limitations of educational innovations (pp. 69–82). New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anthony-Stevens, V., Stevens, P., & Nicholas, S. (2017). Raiding and alliances: Indigenous educational sovereignty as social justice. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 6(1), 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baek, E. O., Cagilitay, K., Boling, E., & Frick, T. (2008). User-centered design and development. In Handbook of research on educational communications and technology (pp. 660–668).Google Scholar
  5. Barbour, M. K., & Reeves, T. C. (2009). The reality of virtual schools: A review of the literature. Computers & Education, 52(2), 402–416. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barron, B. (2004). Learning ecologies for technological fluency in a technology-rich community. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 31, 1–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barron, B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecology perspective. Human Development, 49(4), 193–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. ISSN 1478-0887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bronfenbrenner, E. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Busteed, B. (2013). The school cliff: Student engagement drops with each school year. Gallup. com-The Gallup Blog.Google Scholar
  11. Cabrera, D. A. (2006). Systems thinking. Doctoral dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  12. Cabrera, D., Cabrera, L., & Powers, E. (2015). A unifying theory of systems thinking with psychosocial applications. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 32(5), 534–545. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cabrera, D., Colosi, L., & Lobdell, C. (2008). Systems thinking.Evaluation and Program Planning, 31(3), 299–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carr, A. A. (1997). User-design in the creation of human learning systems. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(3), 5–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carr-Chellman, A. (2011, Jan). TedxPSU. Gaming to re-engage boys in learning. Retrieved from
  16. Carr-Chellman, A. A. (2007). User-design. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  17. Carr-Chellman, A. A. (1995). Power, expertism, and the practice of instructional design: Empowering the users. In G. J. Anglin (Ed.), Instructional technologu: Past, present and future. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.Google Scholar
  18. Carr-Chellman, A. A., & Savoy, M. R. (2004). Using the User-design research for building school communities. School Community Journal, 13(2), 99.Google Scholar
  19. Carr-Chellman, A., & Savoy, M. (2004). User-design research. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational communication and technology: A project of the association for educational communications and technology (2nd ed., pp. 701–716). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  20. Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York, NY: HarperCollins.Google Scholar
  21. Engerman, J. A. (2016). Call of duty for adolescent boys: An ethnographic phenomenology of the experiences within a gaming culture (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.Google Scholar
  22. Engerman, J. A., MacAllan, M., & Carr-Chellman, A. (2014). Boys and their Toys: Video game learning & the common core. In A. Ochsner, J. Dietmeier, C. Williams, & C. Steinkuehler (Eds.), Proceedings of games, learning and society conference 10.0 (GLS 10.0) (pp. 504–510). Madison, WI: Games, Learning and Society.Google Scholar
  23. Engerman, J. A., MacAllan, M., & Carr-Chellman, A. A. (2019). Beyond the common core: A qualitative study on boys and the video games play towards a 21st century skills. Education and Information Technologies. Google Scholar
  24. Engerman, J. A., Mun, Y., Yan, S., & Carr-Chellman, A. (2015). Video games to engage boys and meet common core. In Proceedings of international society for technology in education. Philadelphia, PA: International Society for Technology in Education.Google Scholar
  25. Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki, Norway: Orienta-Konsultit.Google Scholar
  26. Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Erikson, E. (1954). The dream specimen of psychoanalysis. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 2, 5–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Evergreen Education Group. (2015). Keeping pace with K-12 digital learning: An annual review of policy and practice (12th ed.). Durango, CO: Evergreen Education Group. Retrieved from
  29. Foot, K. A. (2014). Cultural-historical activity theory: Exploring a theory to inform practice and research. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 24(3), 329–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Forester, J. W. (1993). System dynamics, systems thinking, and soft OR. System Dynamics Review, 10(2–3). CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Forrester, J. W. (1994). System dynamics, systems thinking, and soft OR. System Dynamics Review, 10, 245–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy: Revised and updated edition. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  33. Guitierrez, K. D., & Rogoff, B. (2003). Cultural ways of learning: Individual traits or repertoires of practice. Educational Researcher, 32(5), 19–25. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Huerta, L. A., Gonzalez, M.-F., & d-Entremont, C. (2006). Peabody Journal of Education, 81(1), 103–139. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Huizinga, J. (1949). Homo Ludens. A study of the play-element in culture. London, England: Padalin.Google Scholar
  36. Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Jackson, B. T., & Hilliard, A. (2013). Too many boys are failing in American schools: What can we do about it? Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 6(3), 311–316. ERIC number: EJ1073203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kafai, Y. B., Heeter, C., Denner, J., & Sun, J. Y. (Eds.). (2008). Beyond barbie & mortal kombat: New perspectives on gender and gaming. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  39. Klahr, D., Triona, L. M., & Williams, C. (2006). Hands on what? The relative effectiveness of physical versus virtual materials in an engineering design project by middle school children. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 44(1), 183–203. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Klein, C. L. (2006). Virtual charter schools and home schooling. Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kowch, E. (2009). New capabilities for cyber charter school leadership: An emerging imperative for integrating educational technology and educational leadership knowledge. Tech Trends Special Edition, 53(1), 40–49.Google Scholar
  42. Kowch, E. (2013). Conceptualizing the essential qualities of complex adaptive leadership: Networks that organize and learn. International Journal of Complexity in Leadership and Management, 2(3), 162–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lerner, R. M. (1995). The place of learning within the human development system: A developmental contextual perspective. Human Development, 1995(38), 361–366. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science: Selected theoretical papers. (Edited by Dorwin Cartwright.). Oxford, England: Harpers.Google Scholar
  45. Lowenthal, P. R., Wilson, B. G., & Parrish, P. (2009, November). Context matters: A description and typology of the online learning landscape. In Association for education communication and technology conference proceedings. Bloomington, IN: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.Google Scholar
  46. Mincemoyer, H., & Raish, V. (2015). Collaboration practices and attitudes for students in cyber charter schools. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference. Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.Google Scholar
  47. Mitgutsch, K. (2011). Playful learning experiences: Meaningful learning patterns in players’ biographies. International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS), 3(3), 54–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  49. Pyatt, K., & Sims, R. (2011). Virtual and physical experimentation in inquiry-based science labs: Attitudes, performance, and access. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 21(1), 133–147. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Raish, V. (2016). A content analysis of virtual science labs in cyber charter schools. (Doctoral dissertation). D791sg170.Google Scholar
  51. Raish, V., Tang, H., & Carr-Chellman, A. A. (2012). Students’ perceptions of doing virtual science labs in a hybrid charter school. Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Google Scholar
  52. Reigeluth, C. M., & Karnopp, J. R. (2013). Reinventing schools: It’s time to break the mold. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  53. Reigeluth, C. M. (1996). A new paradigm of ISD? Educational Technology, 36(3), 13–20.Google Scholar
  54. Rice, M. (2011). Adolescent boys’ literate identity. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  55. Rossman, G. B., & Rallis, S. F. (2011). Learning in the field: An introduction to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  56. Sarason, S. B. (1996). Revisiting “The culture of the school and the problem of change”. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  57. Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  58. Shaffer, D. W., Squire, R., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video games and the future of learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 105–111. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Soloway, E., Guzdial, M., & Hay, K. (1994, April). Learner-centered design: The challenge for HCI in the 21st century. Interactions, 36–48.Google Scholar
  60. Steinkuehler, C. A. (2005). The new third place: Massively multiplayer online gaming in American youth culture. Tidskrift Journal of Research in Teacher Education, 3(3), 17–32.Google Scholar
  61. Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  62. Waters, L. H., Barbour, M. K., & Menchaca, M. P. (2014). The nature of online charter schools: Evolution and emerging concerns. Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 379–389.Google Scholar
  63. Woolfolk, A. (2011). Educational psychology (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.Google Scholar
  64. Yan, S., Mun, Y., Engerman, J. A., & Carr-Chellman, A. (2017). Boys and video game Play: Re-engaging boys in the classroom. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  65. Yapa, L. (1996). What causes poverty? A postmodern view. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 86(4), 707–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jason Alphonso Engerman
    • 1
    Email author
  • Victoria Rose Raish
    • 2
  • Alison Carr-Chellman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Digital Media TechnologiesEast Stroudsburg UniversityEast StroudsburgUSA
  2. 2.Pattee and Paterno LibrariesThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  3. 3.University of IdahoMoscowUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Eugene Kowch
    • 1
  1. 1.Werklund School of EducationUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

Personalised recommendations