Posted by: bbannan | February 11, 2010

Design Research in Instructional Technology-Kitty

Topic: Design Research in Instructional Technology

After reading Chapters 1 through 3 of Kuniavsky’s Observing the User Experience and Dr. Bannon’s illustrated example of the ILDF, I still wasn’t able to describe design research in my own words. I found several articles, but the words continue to just bounce off of me. Like words floating in a bowl of soup, my mind’s eye contained images of terms from both the textbook and the pdf article – cycles, interdisciplinary, iteration, ambiguous roles, end-user.

I was reading an editorial called “What Does Design Research Offer Mathematics Teacher Education?” by Terry Wood and Betsy Berry, when the words finally began to resonate. In discussing, an experiment model for teaching and teacher preparation in mathematics education, Woods and Berry wrote “the difference lies in a focus on the process of developing teaching rather than the creation of a specific product to enhance teacher development . . . the processes involved can become the product that is sought.”

I realized that as both an engineer and a consumer, my natural tendency has been to associate design and development with a physical item, such as a catheter, blender, washing machine, battery, or car. Wikipedia lists several definitions for the term product. However, I’ve been subconsciously categorizing the products that instructional designers create into the service sector, where products are more commonly projects or processes.

In the Woods and Berry article, the authors liken both mathematics education and design research to trying to “fly the airplane and fix it at the same time.” Expanding on the education-airplane analogy, they say that teachers, teacher educators, researchers, and policy makers are and can be pilots, maintenance crew, designers and test pilots for the airplane throughout the [design research] process. And even during the process, the initial roles and responsibilities may change, evolve and emerge.

So based on my readings, I offer the following thoughts on the design research process:

For the process to work well, a design research team needs to incorporate multiple perspectives.
Recall how the Typhoon project failed because the designers were too like-minded and that how during the LAO project, parents were included as part of the design team. Diversity of thought is critical to success.

More is better.
The design research process is not a once and done event. Once a prototype is developed, gather as much user feedback as possible and tweak the design. Keep iterating, combining, and evolving the design based on user-feedback.



  1. Hey Kitty,

    I think you bring up a great point in your discussion, about design being a cyclical process. I think across disciplines, there is a culture of when a project is finished, it is finished, when instead, it should be “how can we make this better?” I think what we are doing in class right now with our usability and user studies is a great first step in that process, but one that can continue over and over again. Look at a company like Apple, for example, who is continually seeing how they can improve their products for a better user experience. We as instructional designers need to take the same approach: how can we improve our learning interventions we create for a better learner experience?

  2. Hello Kitty!

    While I also agree with Kathleen regarding design being a cyclical process, I am concerned about your “more is better” statement. More on that in a minute, first please allow me to first echo a few of your key points.

    While “continuous process improvement “ should be planned for within any endeavor, reality is that projects are defined by having a genuine terminus. From the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK, 4th Ed.), a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. This serves to support your epiphany that a project could be a process or something other than a tangible product as we commonly think of. I myself am a participant in an effort these days which will produce documentation, if we’re successful. As you have realized, not quite the “product” we commonly envision. In support of this effort, however, I will just as active in producing the deliverables found within the processes of a “typical” project (according to the PMI), including developing a charter and identifying stakeholders. It is with the context of this second process, identifying stakeholders, which I wish to express some caution.

    While “groupthink” has, more often than not, shown to lead to less-than-desirable outcomes (Kuniavski’s Typhoon example you share, but I’ve seen just as many examples where it’s shown to be just what a project needs – focus), just as disastrous results can come from including too many “cooks in the kitchen.” Several tools exist within the practice of project management to identify and evaluate “who’s in the zoo.” Classifying stakeholders according to their potential impact (positive or negative) is a necessary element to ensure (a) no one is left out who is important and (b) no one is included who doesn’t need to be there. Developing a power/interest, power/influence, influence/impact or similar grid can aid us in creating a “stakeholder management plan” which should detail who needs to be communicated with and when and how.

    All this to say, while “diversity of thought may be critical to success,” we can’t please everybody all the time. More importantly, we better please the ones who can crush us.

  3. Kitty,

    I can also SEE the words you mentioned – “cycles, interdisciplinary, iteration, ambiguous roles (at times), end-user.” These words make me think about what life is. Also, my life thus far has been a work in progress – “I fly my plane while I fix it.” There have been malfunctions but fortunately “just-in-time learning” saved the day.

    I believe that just as an open mind can lead to richer experiences in life, considering multiple perspectives can lead to richer experience or encounter for the learner or user

    Additionally, I think that by educating ourselves we are “designing/shaping aspects of our lives.


    Your words about “classifying stakeholders according to their potential impact…” makes me think of politics – also a part of life.

    I agree with you that we as designers and also people better please the stakeholders and the people in ours lives who matter or we may suffer some sort of backlash.

    Thus far it seems that as instructional designers we must be part educator/advocate to help learners, part lawyer to defend our position and design decisions, part politician to remain employed, and part manager to keep everything from falling apart.

    Anybody remember why we chose this disicpline again???

    I want to help the user/learner

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