Come Research With Me! — A Brief Discussion of Design-Based Research and its Usefulness | Toby Elmore | 2 Min Read

The traditional model of educational research calls for a process that likely goes something like this. Somebody with a background in Educational Psychology and a connection to a research institution is needed to initiate the lengthy process of identifying schools with similar interests and needs as them, traversing the IRB (Institutional Review Board) process, and, if approved, getting graduate assistants to administer instruments, clean and process the data, and finally figure out whether or not the data supports the researchers’ hypothesis. 

There is great value to this process, particularly in school districts and states looking to develop longitudinal data to help determine funding and resource appropriation. However, I would argue that the daunting task of pulling together a research project of this scale dissuades even the most curious teacher and administrator seeking clarity on the experiences of their students. While my experience is purely anecdotal, I have taught in multiple private boarding schools for a total of 21 years and have never been part of research that I did not run myself. Who has the time, right?

We owe it to our students to make time to do this work and I argue that Design-Based Research provides a feasible research process for all of us. Simply put, Design-Based Research entails the identification of place-based practical problems generated by those within an institution. Identifying research-based interventions provide opportunities for practitioners to explore the literature or work with individuals (like me!) to consider best practices and begin the research process. Once begun, the process is both iterative and cyclical; practitioners become researchers and work with their learners to best understand what is happening in their classrooms and why, and the research process adjusts and adapts based on the needs of the institution rather than the needs of the researcher. (see Figure 1 below)

Figure 1: Design-Based Research vs. Predictive Research (Clark, 2015)

I will be embarking upon a Design-Based Research experiment during the 2021-2022 school year investigating connections between students’ perceived locus of control, agentic engagement, and academic achievement. While I have an initial hypothesis regarding correlations between internal locus of control, high levels of agentic engagement, and high levels of academic achievement, my work will be driven by the needs of those institutions with whom I have partnered. For example, the perceived locus of control data and the accompanying reflections will be used by each school’s Health and Wellness team and DEI offices to identify students of concern. The agentic engagement data will be used by instructors and department chairs to consider pedagogy and curriculum, leading to fruitful dialog between and among instructors and students surrounding what is being taught, how it is being taught, and why. 

Interested? Want to learn more or have an exploratory conversation regarding how this approach can help you and your colleagues best support your learners. Please reach out to me at [email protected]

Toby Elmore

Toby Elmore is an Upper School History Teacher at The Stevenson School (CA).

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