In looking at design-based research (DBR), I struggled with the different between research and practice and wondered where my research fits in. One big difference is in the need to inform all the design decisions with research, another is in the detailed documentation of the enactment of the design, and the evaluation of the enactment.
In practice, design decisions are usually informed by personal experience – good designers have a “gut” feel for how information should be organized. Average designers are good at following patterns set out by other designers or design by following clearly document processes like instructional system design. But where do these processes come from? How are they determined? This is where design-based research plays a role.
In my struggle to make the leap between instructional design and design-based research, I found myself asking: “what is design?” Design is a process. A design is a conceptual pattern. So, how do we capture our designs? In instructional design, we capture our design in the form a document called an instructional design document. There is no specific standard for this document, but similar to architectural blueprints, it does involve a special language that is standard within the community of instructional designers.
Once an educational intervention has been designed, the next step is instructional development. This is where enactment of the design begins. This can also be called the beginning of an instantiation of the design – that is the instructional developer creates a specific instance of the design. An instructional developer uses the instructional design document to create artefacts that support the educational intervention, usually with the specific context of the instruction in mind. These artefacts may be things like slide for the instructor, training manuals for the learners, or any other props the instructor needs to deliver the educational intervention. The instructional developer must make many decisions about the design in order to build the artefacts – this means it is an activity that forms the basis of inquiry. As a design-based researcher, I’m interested in what decisions the instructional developer made, why the instructional developers made the decisions they did, and the impact on the conceptual design.
The next step in enacting the design is the actual delivery of the educational intervention. In a classroom setting, this is when the teacher presents the lesson. Again, there are many decisions that must be made by the teacher, and these take into account the specific context of the particular class. As a design-based researcher, I’m again interested in what decisions the teacher made, why the teachers made the decisions they did, and the impact on the conceptual design.
The final step in enacting the design is the evaluation. This is the phase that most educational interventions focus on – did student learning occur? Did the enactment meet the learning objectives specified in the design? But from a design-based research perspective, I’m also interested in the experience of the instructional developer and the teacher. The evaluation of student learning is important, but it is not the sole focus of the evaluation process. I need to review the entire process and ask: does it work? Is it efficient, effective, and fun? How can it be improved? With this information, I then adjust the design and repeat the enactment process. Not until I have completed several successful instances of the design enactment, am I finished the enactment phase.
Once I finish the enactment phase, I go to the final phase of the design-based research process, theory building also known as reflection. This is where I look at the project in its entirety. I review the successful parts of the design and provide those to practitioners in the form of instructional design theory or design principles.
As an instructional design practitioner, I ask many less questions, and my involvement more often than not ends before the actual evaluation of my designs. I rarely see the enactment of my designs more than once. As a design-based researcher, I get to learn so much more about how people use my designs, and how the designs them selves work. It’s exciting!