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23 MARCH 2013

Creativity is key to successful completion of design researcher PhDs

The practicalities of the design–based Ph.D (or Ph.D's generally in the creative arts) often fails to recognise the wider needs of the researcher who would typically have bachelors and masters degrees in their field and where the structure of their degree programme(s) would have been practice–based i.e. they have considerable prior history of creative practice; they enjoy creative practice; and they may well miss the fulfilment of creative practice if none was undertaken during a three to five year full time Ph.D.

Practice–based learning at undergraduate and masters level requires a significant taught input by competent practitioners. It is all too common for academics to loose or fail to develop capability in practice as they move through an academic career that is based on teaching and research. The typical route by which full–time academics with a practitioner background acquire a Ph.D is through part–time study. In order to maintain competence as a practitioner for the benefit of students, there is a case to encourage the use of practice in staff Ph.D's.

An unexpected outcome from the author's experience of Ph.D supervision in creative disciplines has been the scenario where professional practice was necessary for the progress of the research. 'Tools' are a popular and relevant outcome from design–based Ph.D's and situations arise where the tool itself must be designed in order to facilitate its validation. It is therefore necessary to consider the use of researcher–practice where practice is not a direct means of the data collection but a process by which research outcomes can progress to validation."

(Mark Evans, p.75, 2009)

Evans, M. (2009). "Creative professional practice in methods and methodology: case study examples from Ph.D's in industrial design". EKSIG 2009: Experiential Knowledge, Method & Methodology, Experiential Knowledge Special Interest Group.


2009 • academic career • capability in practice • competence as a practitioner • competent practitioners • creative arts • creative disciplines • creative motivationcreative practicecreativitydata collection techniquesdesign researcher • design-based PhD • design-based researchdesignersEKSIG • engaging in practice • industrial design • interviewing practitioners • Mark Evans • motivation • needs of the researcher • PhD studentsPhD supervision • practice for data collection • practitioner background • professional practice • research outcomes • researcher-practice • successful completion • teaching and research • tutors that can design • underlying motivation


Simon Perkins
15 NOVEMBER 2009

Learning algebra in a computer algebra environment : design research on the understanding of the concept of parameter

"Design research – also known as developmental research or development research – is a research methodology that aims at developing theories, instructional materials and an empirically grounded understanding of 'how the learning works' (Research Advisory Committee, 1996). The main objective of design research is understanding and not explaining (Bruner, 1996). This objective implies different norms of justification than would be the case in comparative empirical research. One important feature of design research is the adaptation of the learning trajectory throughout the research; based on previous experience, the instructional sequences and teaching experiment conditions are adjusted. Therefore, design research is particularly suitable in situations where a full theoretical framework is not yet available and where hypotheses are still to be developed. The methodology of design research is addressed in many recent publications (e.g. van den Akker, 1999; Brown, 1992; Edelson, 2002; Freudenthal, 1991; Gravemeijer, 1993, 1994, 1998; Gravemeijer & Cobb, 2001; Leijnse, 1995; Treffers, 1993). In spite of varying interpretations of the notion of design research, there is agreement on the identification of two key aspects: the cyclic character of design research and the central position of the design of instructional activities. We now address these two issues.

The cyclic character of design research

Design research has a cyclic character: a design research study consists of research cycles in which thought experiments and teaching experiments alternate. We distinguish macro–cycles that concern the global level of the teaching experiments, and micro–cycles that concern the level of subsequent lessons. Gravemeijer argued that the cycles lead to a cumulative effect of small steps, in which teaching experiments provide 'feed–forward' for the next thought experiments and teaching experiments (Gravemeijer, 1993, 1994).

A macro–cycle of design research consists of three phases: the preliminary design phase, the teaching experiment phase, and the phase of retrospective analysis. In the last–mentioned phase, the reflection captures the development of the insights of the researcher. Following Goffree (1986) and Schön (1983), Gravemeijer called this 'reflection–in–action' (Gravemeijer, 1993, 1994). As a result, new theories, new hypotheses and new instructional activities emerge, that form the feed–forward for the next research cycle that may have a different character, according to new insights and hypotheses. The process of the researcher's thinking should be reported, to ensure the trackability of this development for others (Freudenthal, 1991; Gravemeijer, 1994).

As far as the role of theory in design research is concerned, the term 'theory–guided bricolage' is used (Gravemeijer, 1994). The researcher is like a tinkerer, who tries to combine and integrate global and local theories, which may be issued from other domains, to develop a learning trajectory and a local instruction theory for a specific topic. This local instruction theory contributes to the development of the domain–specific instruction theory.

In our study, three full macro–cycles – indicated as G9–I, G9–II and G10–II – and one intermediate cycle were carried out. The first phase of preliminary design includes two related parts, the development of a hypothetical learning trajectory (HLT) and the design of instructional activities. This phase is followed by the teaching experiment and the retrospective analysis. Fig. 2.1 shows the three full research cycles. Cycle 1 started with a conceptual analysis that is described in Chapter 4. Each of the phases is elaborated on in Sections 2.3 – 2.6, whereas specific information on each of the cycles is presented in 2.7.

The role of design

A second characteristic of design research is the importance of the development of a learning trajectory that is made tangible in instructional activities (Gravemeijer, 1994). The design of instructional activities is more than a necessity for carrying out teaching experiments. The design process forces the researcher to make explicit choices, hypotheses and expectations that otherwise might have remained implicit. The development of the design also indicates how the emphasis within the theoretical development may shift and how the researcher's insights and hypotheses develop. We agree with Edelson, who argued that design of student texts is a meaningful part of the research methodology:

(...) design research explicitly exploits the design process as an opportunity to advance the researchers' understanding of teaching, learning, and educational systems. Design research may still incorporate the same types of outcome–based evaluation that characterize traditional theory testing, however, it recognizes design as an important approach to research in its own right. (Edelson, 2002, p.107)

This is particularly the case when the theoretical framework involved is under construction:

(...) it [the research] started with only a partial theory and has proceeded with the explicit goal of elaborating that theory before attempting any summary evaluation. The lessons that are emerging from this effort are being shaped by the concrete, practical work of design. (Edelson, 2002, p. 112)"

(Paulus Drijvers, Maria Hendrikus, 2003)

Fig.1 David Coghlan & Teresa Brannick (2001).



2003action researchalgebra • CAS • computer algebra • cyclicdesign-based research • development research • developmental research • how learning works • instructional materials • instructional sequences • learning trajectorymathematicsmathematics educationmathsmethodology • realistic mathematics education • reflection-in-actionresearchresearch methodologyresearch methods • retrospective analysis • technologytheoretical framework • theory-guided bricolage • tinkerer


Simon Perkins
15 NOVEMBER 2009

Design-Based Research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry

"Educational researchers, policymakers, and practitioners agree that educational research is often divorced from the problems and issues of everyday practice–a split that creates a need for new research approaches that speak directly to problems of practice (National Research Council [NRC], 2002) and that lead to the development of 'usable knowledge' (Lagemann, 2002). Design–based research (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992) is an emerging paradigm for the study of learning in context through the systematic design and study of instructional strategies and tools. We argue that design–based research can help create and extend knowledge about developing, enacting, and sustaining innovative learning environments. Definitions of design experiments abound (see Bell, 2002a). We use the phrase design–based research methods deliberately (after Hoadley, 2002) to avoid invoking mistaken identification with experimental design, with studies of designers, or with trial teaching methods. We propose that good design–based research exhibits the following five characteristics: First, the central goals of designing learning environments and developing theories or 'prototheories' of learning are intertwined. Second, development and research take place through continuous cycles of design, enactment, analysis, and redesign (Cobb, 2001; Collins, 1992). Third, research on designs must lead to sharable theories that help communicate relevant implications to practitioners and other educational designers (cf. Brophy, 2002). Fourth, research must account for how designs function in authentic settings. It must not only document success or failure but also focus on interactions that refine our understanding of the learning issues involved. Fifth, the development of such accounts relies on methods that can document and connect processes of enactment to outcomes of interest."

(The Design–Based Research Collective, 2002)

1). Educational Researcher, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 5–8


2002applied researchconceptualisationdesign-based researchdiscoveryenquiryexperimentationinsightinstruction • instructional strategies • learninglearning environments • learning in context • pedagogy • prototheories • researchresearch approachresearch methodstheory building


Simon Perkins

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