Design-based research


Design-based research was initially coined by Anne Brown and Allan Collins in 1992 . The concept is still evolving and Barab & Squaire (2004) has described it as “a series of approaches, with the intent of producing new theories, artifacts, and practices that account for and potentially impact learning and teaching in naturalistic setting.”

Reeves, 2006

Some of the characteristics of design-based research (DBR) identified by Wang & Hannafin (2005), Herrington & Oliver (2010) and McKenney & Reeves (2012), as summarised by Dorothy (2015) are the following:

  • DBR has a theoretical orientation with theory informing practice.
  • It has an interventionist in the sense that the design aims at an intervention in a real-world context.
  • DBR involves practitioners and is collaborative and iterative.
  • It uses mixed methods to ensure a richer understanding.
  • And it is situated in a real education context.


Application to my context

At present I have identified my problem as a field test of the present courseware in order to make adjustments necessitated by unforeseen contextual, pedagogical or technical issues.

A design-based approach could be implemented with great success to ensure courseware that is highly practical and professionally enriching.

However, the constraints set by a corporate environment within a transforming industry have to be considered. At present the publishing industry as a whole is in a state of extreme uncertainty as a result of the Department of Basic Education’s  (DBE) “one textbook” approach, which can be summarised as follows:

  • In the past all publishers could submit any number of titles and the best would be accepted and placed on a national catalogue from which schools could then make their choices.
  • In 2012 publishers could still submit unlimited numbers of titles, but now only the best eight titles per subject per grade were chosen for the national catalogue.
  • In 2015 the decision was made that (a) publishers could only submit one title per subject per grade and no longer different series; and (b) that of all the titles submitted only one textbook per subject per grade would be accepted. In other words – schools will no longer have a choice. The DBE will choose for them.

This policy change, combined with the seemingly potential gradual nationalisation of school textbook printing (the DBE are writing and releasing their own workbooks and extending this to interactive content), has placed the publishing industry into a state of survival of the fittest. Small publishers have already had to close down, or completely change their business models to include other publishing fields.

In this state of uncertainty, the unproven assumption could be made that much time wouldn’t be allocated to a single product or service. In other words, although DBR would be a good fit for the development of a product or service such as our courseware, at present we have neither the resources nor the available project timelines to invest into a structured series of iterations.

All this is my own assumptions and can only be tested by the creation of a proposal for such a research project.


  1. Barab, S., & Squire, K. (2004). Design-based research: Putting a stake in the ground. The journal of the learning sciences, 13(1), 1-14.
  2. Brown, A. L. (1992). Design experiments: Theoretical and methodological challenges in creating complex interventions in classroom settings. The Journal of The Learning Sciences, 2 (2), 141–178
  3. Collins, A. (1992). Toward a design science of education. In E. Scanlon & T. O’Shea (Eds.), New directions in educational technology (pp. 15–22). New York: Springer-Verlag.
  4. Herrington, J., Reeves, T. C., & Oliver, R. (2010). A practical guide to authentic e-learning. Routledge.
  5. McKenney, S., & Reeves, T. C. (2013). Systematic review of design-based research progress is a little knowledge a dangerous thing?. Educational Researcher, 42(2), 97-100.
  6. Reeves, T. C. (2006). Design research from a technology perspective. Educational design research, 1(3), 52-66
  7. Wang, F., & Hannafin, M. J. (2005). Design-based research and technology-enhanced learning environments. Educational technology research and development, 53(4), 5-23.





    1. It has already been implemented with the recent FET Literature titles (novels, dramas, folklore, short stories and poetry anthologies) submissions – and that one was even worse for publishers. The submission was for Grades 10 to 12, but we were not allowed to submit a book per grade. We had to submit only one book aimed vaguely at a grade and the screeners decided to which grade they think it should apply. In other words – even for a publisher that only publishes one series (and the bigger ones usually publish at least two or three) it meant that instead of being able to submit three titles (one for each grade), we were now only able to submit one title. Furthermore, if the holding company was the same, it didn’t matter who the business unit owners were – you could submit only one title. This meant that companies had to choose who submitted which books, despite the fact that they were totally separate business units, each with our own everything. If they both belonged to the same holding company they had to choose. The same for the other big publishers. Oh, and then add to that the price war: so there were two levels of screening: the first level was based on quality (I think there were five or so criteria) and then if you passed that, you were judged on BBBEE score card and on price. We all have good BBBEE scores, so in the end it became a price war. This has, for the literature titles at least, resulted in some companies pricing Grade 12 textbooks at ridiculously low prices which means that a title with a great score on the first level, but with a higher price on the second level was often beaten by a title with a lower score on quality, but a lower score on price got it accepted. My concern is that some of the prices are below what is economically viable – I have NO idea how those companies will make a profit – at least from their textbooks. I therefore think that the business models in the publishing industry is changing radically in this battle for a place on the national catalogue (something I would love to research further … maybe for my masters, if I am accepted??). We haven’t had a new textbook submissions yet, and I think when we do, things are going to get really interesting.


  1. This is a really crazy situation…. And yet so fitting in the context of how things happen in the context of South Africa when uninformed people are making short-sighted decisions! Having textbooks come down to a price war seems ridiculous! As you say, quality is suffering and long term, these people will probably go out of business, unless they choose to finance their cheap textbooks with a sure fire winner in another field !! (the mind boggles!). Yes, this would indeed make a really interesting research project….. but as you say……… time and resources……


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