{ Design Based Research } for better and more efficient educational impact

One of the symposiums I attended at last week’s 2015 AERA conference was on DBR or Design Based Research. According to Wang and Hannafin (2005), DBR is:

a systematic but flexible methodology aimed to improve educational practices through iterative analysis, design, development, and implementation, based on collaboration among researchers and practitioners in real-world settings, and leading to contextually-sensitive design principles and theories (p. 6)

In my opinion, DBR is just the fancy name for design thinking in the education research realm! This is an important methodology because it bridges the gap between research and practice.


As discussed by the closing speaker, Alan Collins, DBR has four critical aspects:

  1. Iterative refinements based on real-world trials
  2. Partnerships between researchers and participants
  3. Wide variety of measures/observations: outcomes, climates, system effects
  4. Working to improve both theory and practice

As a huge proponent of design thinking and its use in everyday life, I of course am drawn to these sort of methods. One of the more interesting debates during the symposium was about the myriad of methods and ways in which DBR is used. One attendee questioned, Does the fact that there is no linear path to DBR devalue it as a method? In a highly systematic research world, the ill-defined nature of DBR makes people uncomfortable. However, anyone who works in schools knows that there is no one way to educate and that the contextual factors of any given situation will lead to wild fluctuations in our approaches and methods to teaching. I think that the fact that there are so many ways to do this is promising and exciting. It redefines what it means to develop educational practice and intervention in a meaningful and efficient way. All too often, research is silo-ed from practice and the products of research and completely infeasible in the classroom setting. DBR saves researchers the waste of time and money early on.

I view DBR as a continuum in the space between high-controlled laboratory research and un-empirical practice in the classroom. In my own work at Teachers College, I am designing computer software through DBR methods that fall towards the research side of this system. We have three rounds of iteration and are constantly bringing our prototype product into schools to user-test and get valuable feedback from students and teachers. While our ultimate goal is a proof-of-concept scale up of a discovery-based learning task, we demand that this task is actually usable by students in real contexts.

Additionally, in many ways, the work that rethinkED has done at RCDS falls on the other side of the continuum. Working with teachers to identify problems and using design thinking and relevant literature to develop solutions, we too have merged theory and practice in a meaningful way.

Hearing about the exciting work done in this area, I am hopeful that the research world can increase its relevance for educational practice and I am excited about the potential for teams like rethinkED to contribute to this new and useful methodology…*



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