Learning movements for civic innovation

Solving societal problems depends on our ability to develop networks of  innovators who can use policy analysis, civic journalism and design to address social problems like climate change, inequality and education.  I study how Learning movements such as Design for America, Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, and schools can develop civic innovators.


  • Social Innovation Networks (Gerber & Easterday, 2015) -- Design for America (DFA) is a social innovation network of university student-led studios where teams use the design process to solve social problems in their community.  This paper describes the unique opportunities challenges that DFA creates for promoting real-world learning.
  • Models of New Media Civic Competencies (in preparation) -- Civic innovation includes the ability to use new media to engage the community in public problems but there are few models of what abilities learners must develop.  Using civic journalists as a starting point, we describe the knowledge, skills and dispositions that learners must develop to become competently use new media for civic ends.
  • The Immigrant voices project (in preparation) -- How might we teach civic journalism in public schools?  This paper describes the design of the Immigrant Voices project in which we taught public school students in immigrant communities how to create 3-5 minute video documentaries about how immigration policy affects their community.

The Loft: A digital studio for civic innovation networks

How might we best teach civic innovators?  To learn civic innovation, learners must practice solving real-world problems in their community.  But with traditional classroom approaches it is difficult to orchestrate civic innovation teams, which working on different problems, at different speeds, using different skills over extended time-frames.  As a result, instructors either: spend inordinate amount of time supporting projects; provide little support, letting novices flounder; have to acquire extra teaching resources such as a co-instructor at great expense; or use less effective, lectured-based pedagogies.

The Loft (www.loft.io) is a digital studio for orchestrating project-based learning cycle, especially in civic innovation networks.  It scaffolds a project-driven learning cycle in which teams of civic innovators: set goals, develop their problem-solving abilities; plan their approach; facilitate team progress, and receive feedback from peers.  The Loft helps network leaders and classroom teachers orchestrate real-world, project-based, civic innovation learning.


  • Building help-seeking support tools for novice designers (Rees Lewis, Harburg, Gerber, & Easterday, 2015)
  • Computer-supported novice group critique (Easterday, Rees Lewis, Fitzpatrick, & Gerber, 2014)
  • Formative feedback in Digital Studios (Easterday, Rees Lewis, & Gerber, 2013)
  • Understanding group critique (in preparation)
  • Critiki: A scaffolded approach to gathering design feedback from crowds of nonexperts (Greenberg, Gerber & Easterday, 2015)

Cognitive Games for Policy Argumentation

How might we scale development of policy argumentation skills?  Cognitive games embed intelligent computer tutors in game-like environments to teach policy argumentation skills.  Intelligent tutors can achieve learning gains rivaling that of human tutors by observing how students solve problem and giving them feedback on each step of their problem solving process.  Embedding tutors in games allows us to achieve high levels of learning and interest levels that equal to or better than those in conventional games.


  • Using tutors to improve educational games: A cognitive game for policy argument (Easterday, Aleven, Scheines, & Carver, submitted)
  • Cognitive games for Policy Argumentation (Easterday, 2015)
  • Replay penalties in cognitive games (Easterday & Jo, 2014)
  • Policy World (Easterday, 2012)
  • Political agenda (Easterday & Barahumi, 2014)


How might we engage civic innovators in the political process?  In partnership with the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, my team has developed an online deliberation platform for the NextGenIL campaign.   The campaign  brought hundreds of young people together to hold computer-supported caucuses in which they discussed political issues to crowdsource a young peoples' policy agenda delivered to Illinois politicians prior to the election with the message that hundreds of young people are watching. 


  • Using new media to crowdsourcing a young people's policy agenda for Illinois (Bethune, Easterday, & Gerber, 2015; in preparation)

Design Research Methods

How do we develop theory that is useful in practice?  Digital studios, online deliberation platforms and cognitive games are examples of use-inspired, basic research that seeks to develop new solutions to learning problems while also developing theory that can guide future interventions,   My lab has developed new methods for design-based research that combine methods from modern human-centered design, cognitive psychology, and qualitative social-sciences research that allows us to more effectively conduct design research, train new researchers, communicate with other researchers and define the contributions of design research.


  • Design-based research process (Easterday, Rees Lewis, & Gerber 2014; submitted)
  • The products of design research (Easterday, Rees Lewis & Gerber, 2015; submitted)
  • EDGE Game design framework (Aleven, Meyers & Easterday, & Ogan, 2010)