Posted on Aug 19 , 2010 in Current Conferences & Action Research

Action Research as a Methodology Used to Help Assess the Effectiveness of Sustainable Design Websites

Action Research refereed paper | Peter Simmons | 2008

Action Research as a Methodology Used to Help Assess the Effectiveness of Sustainable Design Websites


Despite large investment into information communication tools such as websites, the impact that these websites have within education is rarely assessed. This paper reviews current action research methodology employed to assess how effective sustainable design websites have been in influencing the design decisions of student designers. Website effectiveness encompasses a wide range of elements that stretches further than just website usability. It includes cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, professional writing, linguistics and persuasive value. This paper shows action research as part of a three year PhD study which looks at the assessment of website effectiveness using data from interviews, observations, questionnaires, usability checklists and design folio observations.
The paper outlines three different areas of action research; creating a sustainable design website, direct support of design project work (both one-to-one and in groups), and raising awareness. Current sustainable design initiatives in education that aim to achieve an integration of sustainability principles through websites are described. These sustainable design initiative websites, such as the Sustainable Design Award, form the main focus of this investigation.


In the past, the mention of the label ‘action research’ risked conjuring visions of a research project of low academic value when compared to other research methodological practices. At one stage there seemed to be an air of unshakeable controversy surrounding the research method, with many researchers questioning its validity. Perhaps as a consequence people tended to overlook its longstanding development:

… qualitative inquiry and action research have a long and proud tradition that many academics, professors and administrators, and public school teachers and administrators do not realise (Smith 2004:190).

Today however, it is more widely recognised as one of the most productive and valid forms of research by the leaders in the field (Archer 1992; Norman 1999; Roberts 2000 ; Green 1998).

A designerly approach, rather than a scholarly or scientific approach, can with advantage be made towards educational research and curriculum development (Archer 1992:12).

Its history and traditions are now also starting to get the recognition to support Archer’s assessment of its potential. Take ethical issues surrounding design research for example. The Revised Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research by the British Educational Research Association specifically including guidelines on Action Research for the first time in 2004.

Action Research as a Methodology Used to Help Assess the Effectiveness of Sustainable Design Websites

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Nigel Zanker
Programme Director, Design Education and Research

Loughborough Design School
Loughborough University
LE11 3TU
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