What? Is a term used to describe something which is the product of human activity – it is what is left behind as a trace or consequence, product or evidence of that activity. Artefacts can be integral to an activity – a shoe-maker produces shoes – the shoes are artefacts of both the shoe-making process and the shoe maker. Some artefacts may be crucial to understanding an activity – such as the planning documents a teacher creates to support her teaching – or incidental such as the service records a mechanic produces for his clients. However careful study of even these records – integral or incidental – can tell us about the person and how he or she works.
In the context of Learning by Design artefacts include teacher plans or Learning Elements, samples of student work, photographs, films or audio recordings of teachers and students working or providing each other with feedback, assessment records and reports, or any school or system documents that impact on the activities of the students, teachers or principal.
Why? Careful analysis of various artefacts can help us to understand the activity which produced those artefacts, the process of making them and their makers. However, a great number and variety of human activities produce few if any direct artefacts. (Which artefacts are produced when a teacher is teaching?) This means it is necessary to create artefacts which document important or significant but otherwise transitory-ephemeral activities. We can do this by photographing, filming, audio-recording or making written observations of various activities – these records become durable artefacts which can be reviewed, discussed and analysed. The decision to document an activity – to make a durable artefact of that which would otherwise be transitory – is also a way of valuing that activity, seeing it as worth documenting-recording-analysing-discussing. ‘We only see what we look at.’ John Berger (1972), Ways of Seeing, Penguin Books, London.
When the people responsible for an activity are engaged in the process of documenting-recording-analysing-discussing that activity, via the artefacts collected or created, it leads to a better understanding of that activity and its consequences and may engender changes in how that activity is performed and whether or when it is employed (e.g. teaching practices).
How? In the context of Learning by Design teachers are encouraged to collect, create, analyse and discuss artefacts documenting their planning and practices and the consequences of these practices for themselves and their students. This means collecting samples of student work, photographs, films or audio recordings of teachers and students which capture evidence of Before (baseline-data), During (process-data), and After (outcomes-data); assessment records and reports, or any school or system documents that impact on the activities of the students or teachers. Artefacts become evidence of what-happened-how and can demonstrate the consequences of our interventions. When this process is followed over an extended period of time teachers begin to see evidence – through the artefacts – of shifts in their thinking and practice and have insights into how and why things happen.
Collecting, creating, analysing and discussing artefacts is central to the development of the teacher-as-researcher and teacher-as reflective-practitioner.