Critical distance in design-based research

Last updated on August 30th, 2019 at 07:08 am

In a meeting with my committee to review my research proposal, I was told that I needed to consider how I would maintain a ‘critical distance’ as my research proposal had me performing several roles, but more specifically the roles of designer and evaluator.

Joseph (2004) argues that a researcher who is place in multiple roles can gain deeper insight, providing that he or she is aware of these different roles as they shift. However, some scholars caution that it is not possible for the researcher to be so objective when evaluating their own designs (Collins, 1992; The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). I did not really appreciate the significances of this issue until I connect the idea of ‘critical distance’ with a TED talk that I happened to have watched last week.

In the 2013 TED talk by the behavioural economist Dan Ariely titled “What makes us feel good about our work”, he talks about studies that have shown that when someone is involved in the creation of an artifact, that the person who created the artifact will value it more, and that the creator will also give it more value. That is, the creator believes the artifact is worth more than comparable artifacts created by others. It is not just that the creator gives more value to his or her work, rather that the creator actually has a disproportionate view of the value of the work.

Upon reflection, I now see that I need to do a better job of clarifying and articulating my biases. As part of the research, I will be observing the learning intervention as someone else delivers it. This allows me to evaluate the learning intervention while is it being taught, as I cannot evaluate myself as a teacher and teach at the same time; however, I now realize that my observations will be inherently biased. Being in the room, in the moment of the learning intervention I will not be able to be aware of my shifting roles of designer and evaluator. Fortunately, I will also be video recording the experience for future playback and analysis. The video clips will allow me to take a step back from the learning intervention and view it as a more distant observer. I can mentally prepare myself to be in the role of evaluator rather than designer. In addition, I can ask another researcher to view the video analysis to ensure that I am not missing something or over valuing something as a result of my dual role.

The ‘critical distance’ becomes a special problem in design-based research. It is something that I believe needs more consideration, as design-based research methodology evolves.


Collins, A. (1992). Towards a design science of education. In E. Scalon & T. O'Shea (Eds.), New directions in educational technology (pp. 15-22). Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Collins, A., Joseph, D., & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). Design Research: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 15-42. doi:10.1207/s15327809jls1301_2

The Design-Based Research Collective. (2003). Design-based research: An emerging paradigm for educational inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 5-8. doi:10.3102/0013189X032001005

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