Saturday, August 21, 2010

Discipline-based scholarship reading

Sharma, D., McShane, K. (2008) A methodological framework for understanding and describing discipline-based scholarship in higher education through design-based research. Higher Education Research & Development. 27 (3) pp.257-270

This paper details how a physics teacher sought to increase the effectiveness of her teaching practices over a 10+ span of years. For this it is terrific because it displays the evolution of her thinking and allows a longitudinal examination of her methods.

I was drawn to her methodology because of my background. Her first attempts utilised Action Research (Practitioner lense). I think Action Research has much to offer as a framework because it is inclusive; it brings in environment, context, the subjects, the researchers, etc. While this may increase complexity it mirrors the real-world, not a sterile lab, and thus is more practical than some other 'theoretical' positions. As a Designer too I am aware that Gestalt provides an additional reason for not excluding anything in the 'world' of a research topic, and that is the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Like negative space, these created 'holes' are far from empty.

Then when research funding was appropriated a staff member from the Teaching and Learning department provided another Educational methodology, Design-based research (Educational lense). Again, as a Designer I feel some affinity with this method, as it allows Divergent thinking to be included in forming the 'problem' to be addressed. I also agree with Bill Pelz (2004) assertion that it matters little whether he is a fantastic teacher or a excellent educational designer, what really matters is that an environment is created that maximises a students capacity to learn.

The two methodologies complement each other in that they are iterative Design-Implement-Reflect-Change/Design cycles conducted in authentic settings, the biggest difference is that the Design-based research method explicitly utilises theories of learning in the design of an educational environment. I can see positives and negatives in this approach, as intuitively it builds on prior knowledge, but at the same time we may be restricting our thinking to these past theories, and that they indeed may be false leads, as the debate on pedagogical practice are still relatively immature. But again, I guess this methodology will help move the discipline onto a more empirical foundation.

Design-Based Research exhibits the following five characteristics:
  1. The central goal of designing an environment and developing theories of learning are intertwined; (Student centred, constructivist underpinning)
  2. Development and research takes place through continuous cycles of design, enactment, analysis and redesign; (reflection informs action)
  3. Research on design must lead to sharable theories that help communicate relevant implications to practitioners and other educational designers; (Focus on engaging peers in productive discussions of teaching - an academic community of practice)
  4. Research must account for how designs function in authentic settings (documenting success and failure) and focusing too on interactions that refine our understanding of the learning issues involved; (research must attract funding, and be applied to other contexts)
  5. Methods here should document and connect the processes of enactment and outcomes of interest (goals, strategies, evidence/data and improvements need to be collected and formulated, feed-back loops instituted)
cited from the Design-Based Research Collective (2003)

 The discussion part of the paper provided the following five insights from their learning journey;
  1.  An understanding of the research process underpinning educational studies provides a foothold for comparing research in one's own discipline area with scholarly inquiry into their teaching and student learning
  2. Practitioner research offers an initial foothold into inquiry into teaching and learning that is both practical and productive
  3. Design-based research is a methodological framework that can be used to describe and shape scholarly inquiry into teaching and learning
  4. Design-based research provides a framework for researching and documenting student learning in authentic settings and connecting with outcomes of interest
  5. Systematic inquiry into one's own teaching - scholarship of teaching - allows academics to participate in multiple communities of practice
 The authors argue that their findings overlap with the scholarship of teaching advocated by Boyer (1990)
  1. The scholarship of discovery - close to the old idea of research
  2. The scholarship of integration - which involves making connections across the disciplines and placing specialities in larger context
  3. The scholarship of application - which goes beyond the application of research and develops a viral interaction and, so, informs the other
  4. The scholarship of teaching - which educates and entices future scholars by communicating the beauty and enlightenment at the heart of significant knowledge
 Sometimes the old ways are new again. Has applied research bastardised academia?


Boyer, E.L. (1990) Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The Design Based Research Collective (2003) Design-based research: an emerging paradigm for educational inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32 (1) pp 5-8.

Pelz, B. (2004). Three principles of effective online pedagogy. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 8(3).

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