Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Information Studies


Marilyn P. Arnone


Design-as-a-Discipline, Design Research, Faculty Development, Instructional Design, Question Asking, Sense-Making

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Questioning is a means of information gathering as part of information seeking behavior, including but not limited to: self-questioning, asking questions of others, ignoring questions, deferring asking questions, or denying there are questions. Questioning is critical to design synthesis, supporting learning, problem identification and solving, creativity, evaluation, decision making, and identification and reduction of uncertainty. Jon Kolko refers to design synthesis the magic of design, an abductive, creative sensemaking process generally invisible to observers and often to designers, making it difficult to formalize design and discounting the value of design research and synthesis. Extensive research exists on what designers do, substantially less on how designers think, and very little on cognitive questioning behavior during design from user-based perspectives.

The general goal of this study is to help illuminate information gaps that exist for faculty early in the instructional design process. The overarching goal of this study is to provide a starting point for future research on interventions to aid designers from all disciplines with question-asking during design, based on techniques used in commercial nuclear power. The general research objective is to empirically describe faculty's cognitive question-asking behavior during conceptual instructional design. Specific research objectives include exploring questions faculty ask, identifying uses faculty associate with the questions they ask, identifying patterns of behavior in the descriptions faculty provide, and exploring what faculty feel is important about question-asking during instructional design.

This qualitative, descriptive study applied Brenda Dervin's user-based sense-making methodology to explore actual questions asked by faculty using timeline interviews. Data was analyzed using deductive and semi-inductive content analysis, descriptive statistics, and design mapping of faculty's questions to other design domains.

Results include a variety of faculty questions, concerns, and behaviors including information seeking, concern for students and self, uncertainty about the current design situation, concerns about cross-disciplinary instructional design and complexity, expert/novice issues, and motivational techniques. Participants see value in asking questions during instructional design, but several communicated that they're not trained enough in instructional design. Multiple opportunities were identified for provision of design support and faculty development.

As a whole, this study offers two contributions to the fields of instructional design, information science, and design research. First, it provides in-depth exploration of questions asked by faculty designers-by-assignment and expert faculty instructional designers during early conceptual instructional design involving something that is new to them, highlighting problems experienced by faculty. It reaffirms some of the earlier conceptual work about the role of question-asking during design and the needs of instructional designers, and suggests means to aid faculty with instructional design and information seeking. Second, it provides a detailed example of application of design mapping to identify commonalities in question-asking behavior across multiple design domains, a partial proof of concept for design as a discipline. This study provides a basis for future research on interventions to aid designers with question-asking.


Open Access