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Exploring theoretical development of Design Based Research: viewing design as reflective conversations with situations
University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Educational sciences, Educational science. (IT i lärande)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3362-7198
2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In a world of rapid technological change, where learners are becoming increasingly accustomed to new ways of finding information and communicating with each other, teachers are having to face up to the challenges and opportunities involved in learning how to successfully use technology in their teaching practices. The ongoing digitization of society also has epistemological consequences. Nowadays learning is often viewed as constructive, self-regulated, situated and collaborative (de Corte 2010) – and teaching is increasingly referred to as designing for learning(cf. Laurillard 2012; Olofsson & Lindberg Eds., 2012). Considerable investments are made around the world to introduce technology into schools, with the expectation that teachers will put it to good use (cf. Lim et al 2013). However, in order to do this, teachers need to learn how to master and integrate a new knowledge domain, i.e. technological knowledge, into their existing practices, and understand the reciprocal interaction between technology, pedagogy and content knowledge (cf. Mishra & Koehler 2008). Teachers are thus having to face a number of challenges in an already complex profession, where a multitude of factors have to be constantly taken into consideration and situated problem-solving strategies designed . Studying and elaborating how technology can be integrated into practice to help teachers successfully design for learning thus becomes a priority for teachers and it has been argued that it would be of high priority for educational researchers as well (cf. Laurillard 2012; Schleicher 2011). However, existing research on the educational use of digital technologies has been criticized of lacking theoretical grounding, providing limited empirical evidence and using ineffective research methodologies, thus providing limited advice to practitioners and limited evidence of the effects of digital technologies in learning. (cf. Bebell et al., 2010; Orlando 2009). This correlates with the identification of a widening gap between educational research and educational practice that is not just limited to the use of digital technologies (cf. Berliner 2008; Dumont & Istance 2010). It is argued that ‘too much research on learning is disconnected from the realities of educational practice and policy making’, and that ‘too many schools do not exemplify the conclusions’ drawn by such research, thus resulting in a situation in which (scientific) theory and educational practice are less informed by each other (Dumont & Instance 2010, p. 21).

Design based research (DBR) is increasingly being considered as one way of informing research on teachers design with educational technologies and simultaneously contributing in closing the research-practice gap described above. However, the dual goals of DBR, i.e. practical design of working educational interventions and theory building on working design models and principles, makes it a potentially powerful, but also a very ambitious and complex endevour (cf. Anderson & Shattuck 2012; McKenney & Reeves 2012). Given that the researcher in DBR is both designer, implementer and evaluator there is an obvious risks for a conflict of interest, biased perspectives, and that taken for granted assumptions don’t become critically scrutinized. Considering the complexity of assessing if, how and why learning occurs, the generalizability of interventions designed in situated contexts into generic design principles as a viable goal of DBR must also be problematized. Thus, the aim of this conceptual paper is to make a contribution to the theoretical development of the DBR-concept by problematizing certain key-concepts and goals of DBR. This is primarily done by contrasting Simon’s and Schön’s views of design and discussing the potential of using Schön’s view of design as a reflective conversation with the situation as an alternative perspective in DBR research 


As hinted above a methodological approach has been to problematize certain key-concepts and goals used and expressed in previous DBR-research. For example, since teaching is increasingly being referred to as designing for learning, our understanding of the word design becomes important. Two influential thinkers in the field of design are Simon and Schön (Schön 1983, 1987, 1992; Simon 1969/1996, 1973). The works of Simon and his ‘paradigm of rational problem solving’ (cf. Dorst 2006) still heavily influence the fields of design methodology and are evident in design approaches for teaching and learning today (cf. Dorst 2006; Mor & Winters 2007). However, the current critique of educational research hinted at above in many ways echoes the critique that Schön directed against what he referred to as ‘the model of Technical Rationality’ and its consequences for research on design practice some 20-30 years ago. For this paper a review of earlier research on DBR and the main foci and presented outcomes us such research has been made. Moreover, a literature review of the research of Simon and Schön has been conducted and their views of design has been contrasted to account for two different ways of thinking about the process of design and research on this process. Schön’s concept of design as a reflective conversation with the situation has then been critically examined along with its usefulness as a conceptual tool in DBR on teachers design with educational technologies.

Expected Outcomes

The paper argues that the rich affordances of digital technologies and teachers’ and students’ situated designs with such technologies in complex and changing educational contexts make viewing design as rational problem-solving problematic. Instead, it is suggested that adopting Schön’s view of design as a reflective conversation with the situation in DBR-approaches has the potential of informing both research on the use of digital educational technologies and teachers’ situated use of such technologies. The paper presents suggestions as to how Schön’s ideas for research on teachers’ situated practices could contribute to theory development in DBR. Finally, some of the possibilities and challenges of the reflective design-based research approach suggested in this paper are discussed. Arguably such an approach could have the potential of increasing knowledge about principles and methods used by teachers to guide their framing, reflection-in-action and knowing-in-action. An increased knowledge of such framing principles, or principles for reflection-in-action, could be useful in teachers’ reflective conversations in different unique situations, thus increasing the potential for generalizability in DBR research. The formulation of such principles could also form the basis of a meta-language for talking about design. The DBR format would ensure that teachers and researchers are involved in the development of such a meta-language, thus making it understandable and potentially useful for both parties. However, it should be noted that despite the suggested possibilities of reflective DBR, a research approach as the one suggested in this paper must also be regarded as extremely challenging. In addition to the inherent challenges in DBR described in the paper, the challenges of trying to study and elaborate understanding of teachers’ knowing-in-action and reflection-in-action also need to be taken into consideration. Due to their tacit and esoteric nature, this would be no easy task.


Anderson, T., & Shattuck, J. (2012). Design-Based Research A Decade of Progress in Education Research? Educational Researcher, 41(1), 16–25. Bebell, D., O’Dwyer, L.M., Russell, M. & Hoffman, T. (2010) Concerns, considerations and new ideas for data collection and research in educational technology studies. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(1), 29-52 Berliner, D.C. (2008) Research policy and practice: The great disconnect. In Lapan, S.D., & Quartaroli, M.T. (Eds.) Research essentials: An introduction to designs and practices (pp.295-325). Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass. de Corte, E. (2010). Historical developments in the understanding of learning. In Dumont, H., Istance, D., & Benavides, F. (Eds.) The nature of learning: Using research to inspire practice (pp. 35-67). OECD Publishing Dorst, K. (2006) Design Problems and Design Paradoxes. Design Issues, 22(3), 4-17. Dumont, H., & Istance, D. (2010) Analysing and designing learning environments for the 21st century. In Dumont, H., Istance, D., & Benavides, F. (Eds.) The nature of learning: Using research to inspire practice (pp. 19-34). OECD Publishing Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. London: RoutledgeFalmer Lim, C.-P., Zhao, Y., Tondeur, J., Chai, C.-S., & Tsai, C.-C. (2013). Bridging the Gap: Technology Trends and Use of Technology in Schools. Educational Technology & Society, 16 (2), 59–68. McKenney, S. & Reeves, T. C. (2012) Conducting Educational Design Research. London: Routledge Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. (2008). Introducing technological pedagogical content knowledge. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York. Mor, Y. & Winters, N. (2007) Design approaches in technology-enhanced learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 15(1), 61-75. Olofsson, A., & Lindberg, J. (Eds.) (2012). Informed Design of Educational Technologies in Higher Education: Enhanced Learning and Teaching. Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI Global. Orlando, J. (2009). Understanding changes in teachers’ ICT practices: A longitudinal perspective. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 18(1), 33–44. Schön, D. (1983) The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. Schön, D. (1987) Educating the reflective practitioner: Towards a new design for teaching in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Schön, D. (1992) The theory of inquiry: Dewey’s legacy to education. Curriculum inquiry 22(2), 119–139. Schleicher, A. (2011) Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the World, OECD Publishing. Simon, H. A. (1969/1996). The sciences of the artificial (3rd ed). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Simon, H. A. (1973) The Structure of Ill-structured Problems. Artificial Intelligence 4, 181–201.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
Educational design, Design-based research, Schön, reflective practice, teacher practice
National Category
Educational Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-20760OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-20760DiVA: diva2:1056382
ECER 2014, The Past, the Present and the Future of Educational Research, 2-5 september 2014, Porto, Portugal
ICT in learning. Research project at the University of Gavle
Available from: 2016-12-14 Created: 2015-12-02 Last updated: 2017-01-03Bibliographically approved

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