Critiques of design research and responses

In this unit, we will critique the methodology, agency and scalability of design research practices. Over the course of the engagement in design-based research, scholars have identified limitations and challenges of the design research approach. These limitations and challenges can be productive in further developing design-based research in relation to theory and practice. Through these explorations we intend to inspire conversation around the “new directions” of design-based research.


Nick Wilson
Stanford University
Peter Wardrip
University of Pittsburgh


    • Identify and explain three lines of critique of DBR.
    • Explain how these critiques have been addressed in studies.
    • Discuss how current research is responding to these critiques – what are some “new directions” for DBR that are being worked out in the field, and where might DBR go in the future? (What are some directions that, if current criticisms are addressed, DBR might take?)


Kickoff Live Event: May 21, 10:00 AM PDT (12PM CDT/1PM EDT)

Title: You’re Doing it Wrong: Critiques of Design-Based Research in the Field [Webinar]

Description: In this salon, Megan Bang and Philip Bell will discuss the challenges and limitations of design-based research in three key areas: (1) methodological limitations of DBR, (2) issues of agency in DBR projects, and (3) challenges related to the design of scalable interventions. We will reflect on how these critiques have been addressed in theory as well as on the ground, and consider possible “new directions” for DBR that are emerging from the field.

Structure: Before the live webinar, facilitators and participants suggest attendees complete the week 1 pre-reading. During the live webinar, facilitators and invited participants will discuss challenges and critiques of DBR. The DMLCommons community can add notes, questions, and relevant resources for the discussion in the shared Etherpad. After the webinar, we will compile these resources and link them permanently to the unit page for future reference.

Participants: Megan Bang and Philip Bell

Prereading for Live Event:

Live Event: May 28, 10:00 AM PDT (12PM CDT/1PM EDT)

Title: Critiques of Design-Based Research in the Field: Stories from the field [Webinar]

Description: Building upon the previous week’s webinar and the critiques of design-based research, this webinar will apply these critiques to work being carried out in the field. The participants and facilitators will reflect on their current and previous design-based research projects with a critical eye toward methodology, scalability and agency. 

Structure: During the live webinar, the facilitators and presenters will share stories from the field and address questions sent in ahead of time or provided on the Etherpad.

Participants: Aaminah Norris, Caitlin Martin, and Vanessa Svihla



Methodology Critique

  • Shavelson, R. J., Phillips, D. C., Towne, L., & Feuer, M. J. (2003). On the science of education design studies. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 25-28.
  • Kelly, A. E. (2004). Design research in education: Yes, but is it methodological? The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 113-128.
  • diSessa, A. A., & Cobb, P. A. (2004). Ontological innovation and the role of theory in design experiments. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 77-103.
  • Sandoval, W. A. (2014). Conjecture mapping: An approach to systematic educational design research. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 18-36.
  • Bell, P. (2004). On the theoretical breadth of design-based research in education. Educational Psychologist, 39(4), 243-253.

Agency Critique

  • Engeström, Y. (2011). From design experiments to formative interventions. Theory & Psychology, 21(5), 598-628.
  • Ormel, B. J. B., Roblin, N. N. P., McKenney, S. E., Voogt, J. M., & Pieters, J. M. (2012). Research-practice interactions as reported in recent design studies: Still promising, still hazy. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60(6), 967-986.
  • Gutiérrez, K. D., & Vossoughi, S. (2010). Lifting off the ground to return anew: Mediated praxis, transformative learning, and social design experiments. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 100-117.

Scalability Critique

  • Fishman, B. J., & Krajcik, J. (2003). What does it mean to create sustainable science curriculum innovations? A commentary. Science Education, 87(4), 564-573.
  • Bielaczyc, K. (2013). Informing design research: Learning from teachers’ designs of social infrastructure. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 22(2), 258-311.
  • Penuel, W. R., Fishman, B. J., Cheng, B., & Sabelli, N. (2011). Organizing research and development at the intersection of learning, implementation, and design. Educational Researcher, 40(7), 331-337.

⇐ Unit 3 (Design Research)