Design Experiment or Experimental Design? Towards a Methodology to Study GIS use in Geographic Education




Chang, Chew-Hung
Liu, Yan
Bui, Elisabeth N.
Jin, Tao
Lossman, Hans Gunnar

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


Arising from the metaphor and methods of the design and engineering fields, design experiment is a methodology whereby an artifact or intervention is designed based on a known theory with the goal of improving the artifact or intervention through the inquiry. Experimental design, on the other hand, refers to an investigative method in which variability in the experimental subjects or objects are compared. In developing a methodology to investigate if Geographic Information System (GIS) use with the problem based learning (PBL) approach will result in higher order learning outcomes, the concepts of design experiment or design-based research (DBR) and experimental design were considered. A combination of both approaches was adapted into a hybrid methodology that draws on the benefits of these two approaches to address the research question raised. In particular, experimental design was used in combination with microethnography to inform the design process of this study. The experimental design part of the study found that GIS use with PBL resulted in higher order cognitive skills use, such as applying and evaluating, while the use of recall reduced. Studying the preliminary results of the microethnography showed that the affordances of the GIS technology such as spatial analysis tools helped students develop cognitive skills of analysis and evaluation. While initial conception of the methodology was a hybrid of both experimental design and design experiment, the resultant methodology was primarily a DBR which addressed the process of learning and the way that learning is supported by GIS. A key outcome in this methodology evaluation process is the importance of having a practitioner on the research team.



geography, GIS, PBL, design experiment


Chang, C.H., Liu, Y., Bui, E.N., Jin, T., & Lossman, H.G. (2010). Design experiment or experimental design? Towards a methodology to study GIS use in geographic education. Research in Geographic Education, 12(1), pp. 41-63.


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