Using Design-Based Research Methods to Reform Teaching and Learning

By Baroutsis, Aspa; Woods, Annette | Practical Literacy, October 2018 | Go to article overview

Using Design-Based Research Methods to Reform Teaching and Learning


Baroutsis, Aspa, Woods, Annette, Practical Literacy


What are design-based research methods?

Design-based research methods are becoming popular as a way to study and theorise practice within education. Engaging in design-based research methods involves more than just trying a new method of teaching or designing an intervention with your class. The point of engaging in design-based methods of research is to develop theories about learning and teaching, and to think about teaching practice beyond a 'what works' kind of way (Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003).

It is common in this type of research for teachers and researchers to work together to explore the possibilities for developing new learning and teaching environments and approaches (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). The approach uses theories of learning and teaching, applying them to local school and classroom contexts, to construct new knowledge, thereby increasing teachers' capacity for innovation (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). As such, design-based research methods are an interesting way to study and understand contexts where there is a certain amount of what Dominguez (2017) has described as 'messiness'. So, design-based researchers--who may be teachers, educators, school leaders or university researchers--take 'an active, grounded role in disseminating theories and expertise by becoming designers and implementers of educational innovations' (Dominguez, 2017, p. 3).

Design-based researchers are engaged in a cyclic or iterative research process where they analyse and identify a problem or issue, design and implement a solution, evaluate or assess its impact and success, and continue to modify along the way. All of these stages are informed by reading and by developing new understandings. These are consistently checked against established theories of learning and teaching that are relevant to the identified problem. The main point is to 'investigate the possibilities for educational improvement by bringing about new forms of learning in order to study them' (Cobb et al., 2003, p. 10).

How are design-based research methods implemented?

Figure 1 outlines how design-based research projects can be structured in primary classrooms. Five phases are identified: analysis and identification, design and implementation, assessment or evaluation, modification, and reporting (Dominguez, 2017).

This approach highlights the links between designing quality learning activities and environments, and developing theories about how children learn best. The analysis and identification phase involves the classroom teacher identifying a relevant problem in real-world contexts that is specific to their class and appropriate for the children they teach. The design and implementation of quality learning and teaching solutions to the identified problem involves enhancing instructional practices that are informed by research literature and teacher experience. Where partnerships between teachers and researchers are in place, this is the point where literature is shared and collaborative planning sessions held to consider ideas and solutions that could work. Solutions are tried and tested through iterative cycles. The evaluation of strategies and outcomes is continuous, and should consistently lead teachers to modify the intervention, approach or plan along the way. Finally, in order to ensure that the reach of the design experiment is beyond one class or group of students, the findings should be documented and reported to other teachers and colleagues both within and outside the local education context. Design-based research methods can, and should, lead to teachers formulating theories and practical ideas for resolving issues and problems with their own pedagogy and curriculum. In this way shared solutions may result.

Some examples of design-based research projects

Many of the projects that are reported in this special issue were 'classroom experiments' (Cobb et al. …

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