Introduction Educational Design Research


Chapter 1. Introducing educational design research

Jan van den Akker, Koeno Gravemeijer,

Susan McKenney and Nienke Nieveen

Origins of this book

Design research has been gaining momentum in recent years, particularly in the field of educational studies. This is shown in the topics about this on prominent journal articles, book chapters, books, special issue of journals dedicated specifically to the topic, and the more general need to revisit research approaches, including design research. All of these give influence toward the definition of the approach that now start to solidify, but also to differentiate. The need of methodological guidelines and promising examples also begin to surface. Besides it, there is the educational research community to seriously reflect on setting standards that improve the quality of this approach. This book offers such a reflection. Most of its chapters are revised, updated, and elaborated versions of presentations given at a seminar held in Amsterdam, organized by NWO/ PROO.

Motives for design research

1. The desire to increase the relevance of research for educational policy and practice.

Educational research has long been criticized for its weak link with practice. This is especially criticized by those who view educational research as a vehicle to inform improvement. In order to increase more practical relevance of design research, researchers and practitioners construct increasingly work- able and effective interventions.  As a result the success of this work gives influence on improving policy.

2. Scientific ambitions.

Along- side directly practical applications and policy implications, design research aims at developing empirically grounded theories through combined study of both the process of learning and the means that support that process.  As the thrust to better understand learning and instruction in context grows, research must move from simulated or highly favorable settings toward more naturally occurring test beds.

3. The aspiration of increasing the robustness of design practice.

Many educational designers energetically approach the construction of innovative solutions to emerging educational problems, yet their understanding often times remains implicit in the decisions made and the resulting design. From this perspective, there is a need to extract more explicit learning that can advance subsequent design efforts.

About design research

This book use Design research as a common label for a family of related research approaches. However, there are also many other labels to be found in literature, such as: Design studies, Design experiments; Development/Developmental research; Formative research, Formative evaluation; Engineering research.

Design research may be characterized as:

–    Interventionist: the research aims at designing an intervention in the real world;

–    Iterative: the research incorporates a cyclic approach of design, evaluation, and revision;

–    Process oriented: a black box model of input–output measurement is avoided, the focus is on understanding and improving interventions;

–    Utility oriented: the merit of a design is measured, in part, by its practicality for users in real contexts;

–  Theory oriented: the design is (at least partly) based upon theoretical propositions,  and  field  testing  of  the  design  contributes  to  theory building.

Barab and Squire (2004) defined educational design research as: a series of approaches, with the intent of producing new theories, artifacts, and practices that account for and potentially impact learning and teaching in naturalistic settings.” Design researchers do not emphasize isolated variables, but they do focus on specific objects and processes in specific contexts, and try to study those as integral and meaningful phenomena.

Inside this book

This book was created to appeal to the rapidly growing international audience of educational researchers who situate their studies in practice.  The publication contains four main parts, plus supplemental materials available on the publisher’s website which provide an informative and instructive platform for considering the domain of design research in education. Those components are:

  1. A mixture of substantive information for those who interested in learning about the essence of design research. This includes:  its origins, applications for this approach, and discussion of benefits and risks associated with studies of this nature.
  2. Features domain-specific perspectives on design research.  Examples are given in terms of how this approach can serve the design of learning environments, educational technology, and curriculum.
  3. The issue of quality assurance. Three researchers express their thoughts on how to guard academic rigor while conducting design studies.
  4. Policy implications are offered in broad terms, and specifically in terms of understanding and evaluating design research work.
  5. The book’s supple- mental website contains additional information, its primary goal is to provide in-depth examples of high-quality design research.

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