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An answer to the question of impact

Charlotte Vidal-Hall

In their recent Research Intelligence article Cain and Hayward posed questions related to ways in which educational research might inform teaching and learning and the implications of ‘impact’ for research methodologies.

These seem to me to touch not only on the issue of the link between research and practice, but also on the relationship between researcher and practitioner. How do we as researchers design research that has an impact on practice, but also advances knowledge? It is this that I want to attempt to answer using my own experience of designing and conducting research with classroom practitioners using educational design-based research (EDR). I propose EDR as an alternative to practitioner research.

As a teacher I believe educational research should aim to have some relevance to practitioners and be usable in practice. As a researcher, however, I also recognise that research should aim to produce scientific knowledge and develop theory. My own doctoral research has, therefore, attempted to address the question of how research can have an impact on practice and at the same time develop a theoretical understanding of what works and why.

In my struggle to design a research project that could address a problem faced by practitioners in a nursery class, while at the same time advance theory I quickly found that EDR had the potential to produce usable knowledge based on empirical research while working closely with practitioners to design and ‘test’ a theoretically based solution to a real problem. Grand theory is all very well, but practitioners are often unlikely to engage with it if they cannot see its application to practice (Cobb, Confrey, diSessa, Lehrer, & Schauble, 2003).

At the heart of EDR is a blend of design, research and practice in which practitioners and researchers collaborate to design a solution to an educational problem. It is a distinctive approach to research and at its heart is a commitment to the twin goal of advancing theory from inside the classroom while at the same time solving real-world educational problems and developing effective pedagogical strategies. It is a methodology that aims to ‘increase the impact, transfer, and translation of education research into improved practice’ (Anderson & Shattuck, 2012, p. 16)

Engagement with research, and collaboration with practitioners is built in to the methodology and this collaboration can enhance the relationship between research and teaching

It is EDR’s ability to bridge theory and practice through collaboration between researcher and practitioner (Design Based Research Collective, 2003) that I believe provides a way to marry practitioner research with educational research. Engagement with research, and collaboration with practitioners is built in to the methodology and this collaboration can enhance the relationship between research and teaching.

My experience of using EDR has shown that successful collaboration requires practitioners committed to changing their practice and engaging with research. But more than this, it requires practitioners willing to change the learning environment, take risks and challenge their own beliefs and pedagogy.

I have spent the past year designing, implementing and developing a naturalistic intervention with a reflective teacher always looking for ways to improve and develop her practice and someone who engages with research. It has enabled her to change her practice around the integration of computers into early reading development, while I am using the data I gathered to develop a theoretical understanding of what worked and why.

Collaboration between researcher and practitioner is one of the core features of EDR and critical to its success (McPake & Stephen, 2015). However, as a new and evolving approach to research, the nature of that collaboration and its impact on the research outcomes is underexplored. If educational researchers are to engage with practitioners to produce usable and useful knowledge and have an impact on education practice, research should aim to be genuinely collaborative and co-constructed. This could enhance the relationship between research and teaching and provide a way to marry it with practitioner research.


Anderson, T., & Shattuck, J. (2012). Design-Based Research A Decade of Progress in Education Research? Educational Researcher, 41(1), 16–25.

Barab, S., & Squire, K. (2004). Design-based research: Putting a stake in the ground. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 1–14.

Cobb, P., Confrey, J., diSessa, A., Lehrer, R., & Schauble, L. (2003). Design Experiments in Educational Research. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 9–13.

Design Based Research Collective. (2003). Design-Based Research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 5–8.

McPake, J., & Stephen, C. (2015). New technologies, old dilemmas: theoretical and practical challenges in preschool immersion playrooms. Language and Education, 0(0), 1–20.