Review Part I: Jan Van Den Akker, Principle and Methods of Development Research

Reviewed by: Evangelista L.W. Palupi

This is a review of a chapter of a Akker’s book about design research. In this chapter “Principle and Methods of Development Research” Akker discusses the role of research in relation to educational design and development activities.

In the first part of Chapter 1#, Akker focuses on describing the rationale and basic principle of development research by outlining motive for conducting development research, definition and aim of developmental research and its key characteristic. Furthermore, methods of development research, its problem, and its major challenges will be described in the second part of this chapter. In this section I will try to review the first part only.

1. Motives for Development Research

Akker stated that there are various motives for initiating and conducting development research. The basic motive come from the experience that ‘traditional’ research approaches like experiment, surveys, correlation analyses and so on which focus on descriptive knowledge, cannot provide prescriptions with useful solution for variety of design and development problems in education. Another motives stem from the highly ambitious and complex nature of many policies in education worldwide; rather dubious reputation of educational research in general; and a distinct scientific interest at stake.

2. Definition and Aim

There are a lot of labels of development research such as design studies, design experiment design research, developmental/development research, Formative research, formative inquiry, formative experiment, formative evaluation, action research, and engineering research. Thus various labels are rather confusing.

‘Development research’ was ever used by Walker in discussing methodological issues in curriculum research (Walker & Bresler, 1993). Its goal is to inform the decision making process during the development of a product/program in order to improve the product/program being developed and the developers’ capabilities to create things of this kind in future situations. While Akker and Plomp (1993) defined ‘development research’ by its twofold purpose: (i) supporting the development of prototypical products (including providing empirical evidence for their effectiveness), and (ii) generating methodological directions for the design and evaluation of such products. In this approach, the scientific contribution (knowledge growth) is seen as equally important as the practical contribution (product improvement).

Besides having a prominent role/place in curriculum research, development research also has a prominent place in area of educational media and technology. Richey and Nelson (1996) mention as its aim: “improving the processes of instructional design, development, and evaluation … based on either situation-specific problem solving or generalized inquiry procedures” (o.c., p. 1213).

In the board of learning and instruction invest more in’design experiment’, Greeno, Collin and Resnick (1996) highlight the “kind of research that includes developmental work in designing learning environments, formulating curricula, and assessing achievements of cognition and learning and, simultaneously, on efforts to contribute to fundamental scientific understanding” (o.c., p. 41).

In the teacher education area the concept of ‘action research’ is rather popular. It refers to practical inquiries where teachers (often in collaboration with others) investigate and reflect on their own teaching and students’ learning. The primary goal is usually to contribute to the teachers’ professional learning and/or bringing about change in a specific educational setting (Elliott, 1991; Hollingsworth, 1997).

In the area of didactics the emphasis tends to be on ‘developmental research’ as an interactive, cyclic process of development and research in which theoretical ideas of the designer feed the development of products that are tested in classroom settings, eventually leading to theoretically and empirically founded products, learning processes of the developers, and (local) instructional theories.

3. Key Characteristics of Development Research

In this part, van Den Akker delineate the key of characteristics of development research by exploring two things, they are: the difference between developmental research and professional design and development; and development research compared to other research approaches.

In the case of the difference between developmental research and typical for design and development approaches in professional practices, Akker focuses is on additional elements that are more prominent in development research than in common design and development practices which are preliminary investigation, theoretical embedding, empirical testing and documentation, analysis and reflection on process outcomes.

In Development research, more intensive and systematic preliminary investigation of tasks, problems, and contexts is made. More systematic efforts are also made to apply state-of-the-art knowledge in articulating the theoretical rationale for design choices. In addition, in development research, clear empirical evidence is delivered about the practicality and effectiveness of the intervention for the intended target group in real user setting. Much attention is also given to systematic documentation, analysis and reflection on the entire design, development, evaluation and implementation process and on its outcomes in order to contribute to the expansion and specification of the methodology of design and development.

If we compare development research to other research approaches then their differences are best perceived from their aims and context. Akker wrote that the development research aims at making both practical and scientific contributions. Interaction with practitioners like teachers, policy makers etc. is also needed for searching innovative solution. Those kind of interaction can help to clarify the problems and the characteristics of its potential solution. In additon, to do interaction with practitioners gives benefits in both social and technical which is to improve their fitness for survival in real life context.

Related to its context or its nature of knowledge, Akker states that the major knowledge to be gained from development research is in the form of (both substantive and methodological) ‘design principles’ to support designers in their task. Those principles are usually heuristic statements of a format such as: “If you want to design intervention X [for the purpose/function Y in context Z], then you are best advised to give that intervention the characteristics A, B, and C [substantive emphasis], and to do that via procedures K, L, and M [procedural emphasis], because of arguments P, Q, and R.” Obviously those principles cannot guarantee success, but they are intended to select and apply the most appropriate (substantive and procedural) knowledge for specific design and development tasks.

Read also:

Review Part II : Jan Van Den Akker, Principle and Methods of Development Research

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