I’ve been meaning to write this article for a while. There are now several books out that provide examples of successful educational design research projects, as well as a textbook on how to Conduct Educational Design Research. What there isn’t, is information on why you may want to NOT do educational design research.
Quick note, in the last few years the term Design-based research has been replaced with Educational Design Research. They are the same thing. Educational design research (EDR) makes a clearer differentiation from design-studies such as architecture.
First, let me tell you a bit about me. I’m a PhD Candidate. I went through the entire process of writing a proposal and having it approved. I began my study, and then I ran into problems. A perfect storm of problems, which I still hope will lead to a PhD, but also has helped me understand why I should not have attempted educational design research for the project I had in mind.
So, I’m writing this to help you consider whether or not you SHOULD do EDR. First, if you are a Masters student, the simple answer is NO. EDR is too time consuming and requires too many cycles of analysis for a masters project. If you want to do EDR as a PhD, you may wish to use your Masters as a way to better explore the context in which you will be doing your PhD. That would better set you up for an EDR project.
As part of the proposal process, there is a requirement to generate an initial design for the educational problem you are trying to solve. This initial design should be based upon three pillars: what we know about context, what we know about theory (literature), and personal experience. These three things come together to allow you to create a design that has some chance of succeeding. If you are missing any of the the pillars, then your initial design is (1) not based upon educational design research methodology, and (2) less likely to succeed.
My project failed at the initial design stage. The problem was that I did not have an adequate understanding of the context. I couldn’t. The project was taking place within the Department of Family Medicine, and I was a complete outsider. I had supporters within the department, but I still needed to have a deeper appreciation for the context. In order to get the appreciation I needed to team up with sponsors and I needed to do a lot of interviews. However, the PhD process does not allow students to do interviews until after the proposal stage. To be successful I would have needed to do an in-depth study of the context, before proposing an initial design. My initial design was based upon the literature and my personal expertise as a technology educator and instructional designer. I understood the theoretical foundations and I had the personal expertise, but I did not have nearly enough appreciation for the context.
Recently, I have talked to several people about the use of EDR. When asked by Master’s students I usually direct them elsewhere – perhaps doing a study to help to better appreciate the context (or the problem) so that they could then do an EDR PhD. When talking to PhD students I emphasize the importance of truly appreciating the context. As a PhD, you can do EDR as an ‘insider’, as someone who is already in the profession and already deeply appreciates the problem being solved. But if you are an ‘outsider’, you are not setting yourself up for success.
I do like EDR as a research methodology, and it is certainly something that I’d like to do more of. However, I would not do it ‘bound’ by the constraints of a PhD project where I’m not already an insider in the community. My approach would be to first do a smaller study, a needs analysis, or context analysis, to better appreciate both the educational problem but also the context in which the problem is to be solved. With this, I could then go to the literature and see what we already know and what theory has to offer. Only after those two would I begin to proposal an initial design, which could then be built and improved upon using EDR.