There is a lot of literature out there now, and some great examples, and even a textbook, of how to do Educational Design Research (EDR), otherwise known as Design-Based Research (DBR) as a PhD Study. In this series of blog posts, I’m going to talk to you about why you should not be doing EDR. My intention is not to persuade you against using the methodology, but rather, to help you uncover the pitfalls you might be facing, so that if you do choose to do an EDR study as a PhD project, then you are better prepared to both defend your decision and to succeed.
In this series of articles, I encourage you to engage in the discussion, either through your own blog or in the discussions of these posts. I do not intend to provide the only answer to any of the questions that arise throughout these posts. I welcome challenge and discussion, so that together we can develop deeper insight into this methodology. Please, if you blog, post a link to your blog in the discussion thread. I would love to hear your feedback, your ideas, and your justifications for using EDR. These discussions will help myself and others better understand EDR methodology. I will also create a Facebook group for these discussion (Educational Design Research Discussion), as I find that some people prefer that medium. You can join it by clicking here.
On the topic of Epistemological Mismatch, I will first recommend that you read an article that I wrote on the Epistemological Foundations of Educational Design Research. I wrote this back in 2011, before there was a textbook on EDR. I analyzed all the papers I could find in order to develop a deeper appreciation for what EDR was all about. Please let me know if you cannot access the link below. I’m happy to email a copy of the article to you.
Hogue, R. J. (2013, October). Epistemological Foundations of Educational Design Research. In World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (Vol. 2013, No. 1, pp. 1915-1922).
What I have seen is that people first see the ‘process’ of EDR, specifically the Reeves’ model (see image) and think that EDR is the right methodology. At first glance, the process can look appealing and look like a good match for an evaluation study or a case study, however, the process isn’t what makes a study an EDR study. When there is an epistemological mismatch and I ask the student about their research question, they usually respond with wanting to developing an understanding of how students learn something. The focus of the research is on student learning rather than on design of an educational intervention. In many cases, these students are looking at knowledge from a constructivist worldview rather than a pragmatic one. The focus of their research is on exploring or describing how learning occurs. EDR is intended to solve a ‘design’ problem, and understanding learning is not a design problem. Students in this situation have an epistemological mismatch – they are looking at what constitutes as knowledge from completely different perspectives.
Reeves’ Design-Based Research approach for educational technology research. Adapted from (Reeves, 2006, p. 59).
EDR hinges around the word ‘Design’, which is where non-pragmatic educational researchers struggle – especially if they are not familiar with any of the design sciences. Design is also where there is a large overlap between what is ‘research’ and what is ‘practice’. I have often had to defend ‘design’ as a form of inquiry in-and-of-itself. I have been asked “where is the research?” and “where is the new knowledge?”
From an EDR perspective, what is important here is that by actually building something, you are learning about the thing you are building. I love this Sophocles quote as I feel it summarizes EDR well, “one must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try”. New knowledge is being generated through the act of building the thing. So, each time we build something (or design something), we are creating new knowledge. This is a very pragmatic view of what constitutes new knowledge – and is not something that is easily understood if your worldview is not pragmatic. I have had many friends and even committee members struggle to find the “new knowledge” in my proposed dissertation project, because in part, they do not see the ‘design’ and ‘creation’ of an educational resource as research – rather, they see it as practice. They are looking to answer the questions about ‘how learning occurs’ rather than ‘how can we build an effective learning intervention’. The questions are very different – this can be a huge hurdle. If your university does not support the pragmatic view of ‘design’ as research, you may find yourself constantly having to justify what you are doing as research.
To help determine if what you are wanting to do is EDR, you need to go back to your research question. Are you trying to ‘understand learning’ or are you trying to ‘learn through creating’? If your question is to ‘understand learning’, then you should not be doing EDR. EDR is not intended to answer that type of question.
Now that you’ve read my post on epistemological mismatch, I’d like you to reflect on the following questions. Please feel free to leave a comment on this post or post in your own blog (please leave a comment with a link so I can read it). Thanks.
- What is your research question? Is it is a ‘design question’?
- Do enough academics at your institution appreciate ‘design’ as research?
- How will you defend your study to researchers who don’t see ‘design’ as research?
- How will you differentiate research from practice?