Blog Post

[MLIRG] Design: A new way to study leadership


At our last meeting, we met at our usual spot with guest facilitator Rich Halverson. Check out our reflections on our discussion about design, and then share your thoughts with us by commenting below!

November 14, 2012
FacilitatorDr. Rich Halverson
Topic: Design

Reading Outline:

A new way to study leadership

Rich Halverson’s article, drawing from Norman’s concept of artifacts, examines how the designed artifacts of school leaders shape interpersonal organization in schools. In attempting to take up a learning sciences perspective toward school leadership, Rich answers a basic question: “what am I going to study?” In response to this question, Rich noted two potential answers:


tracking the decisions that leaders make

Unfortunately, these are extremely difficult to study, because they are too contextual. In order to effectively study decisions, one would have to find someone in the midst of decisionmaking.


documents, programs, procedures, policies meeting agendas, etc.

This is something we can study. Artifacts function as the residual of decisionmaking, which means they are asynchronous in the process and can be studied after-the-fact. Additionally, artifacts have features that designers build in to influence use and affordances - how the user community picks up the features.
Using artifacts as the unit of analysis allows one can look at the artifacts that leaders put in play and observe the degree to which the features afford the intentions of the leader. From this perspective, artifacts can be used to look into the minds of leaders, in a sense, as it relates to their role of making culture.

Using artifacts to create systems of practice

Rich argues that taking this more sociocultural perspective on artifacts allows us to study leadership in new ways. Why? Well, all of the work in any given organization is supported by a network of artifacts. Everything that happens within an organization of people is defined by an artifact of some type. For instance, tasks are defined by the artifacts one interacts with; one’s job description determines the tasks one does on the job. Leaders are responsible for assembling this network of artifacts in a way that facilitates desired interpersonal organization. That means that the larger an organization is, the more artifacts it needs, because there are decidedly more interactions that take place.

Artifacts as a demonstration of power

Given that artifacts play such a substantial role in the way communities function, it’s important to recognize that the producers of artifacts (e.g. leaders) hold a certain amount of power. Rich explains, if you want to understand how leaders use their power, look at the artifacts they use to organize their group. This is true, because artifacts create the condition for interact and interactions build social capital; assuming that social capital is built on trust, which requires interactions.

ARIS and artifacts

Recentering this discussion around mobile and ARIS, we identified two different levels of scale to apply this framework.


On the large-scale level, when looking at the user community around a given tool, it is important for the leaders of such a community to produce the artifacts necessary to maintain a strong user community. The instantiation of the ARIS Google group is one example of how an artifact shapes the types of interactions that take place within the community. As a result of this group, much of the user support is crowdsourced in a unique, yet intentional way. In addition, many project and research collaborations are born through the interactions on the group.


As a designer of mobile experiences, the game or activity itself could function as an artifact, which means that the locations become the features of the artifact. More specifically, an ARIS game about oneself or one’s story can function as an autobiographical artifact and the choices and locations in the game are conscious decisions that disclose identity.

Lingering questions:

If you buy the powerful role of artifacts, the million-dollar question for leading a community is:

What artifacts do you need to put in place to: a) keep ideas flowing b) keep ideas fresh, and c) get the work done?

Additionally, given that this is a more methodological discussion than we’ve had thus far, I think it’s important to further explore the questions: how can this framework (i.e. artifacts, features, and affordances) inform how we research mobile learning spaces? What does this framework give us that others are lacking? What are its constraints?

Up next... We’re talking all things mobile learning with Dr. Kurt Squire!

We’re took last week off for Thanksgiving. But don’t worry we’ll be back with a bang next week, Kurt has a tendency to blow minds.

Don't forget to drop us a line and let us know your thoughts!

Until next time,
Mobile Learning Incubator
Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison



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