My research agenda centers around “design,” how we teach design, how learners learn through designing, how we design mentoring experiences, and how we give learners control to design their learning experience. Figure 2 illustrates this agenda.

I do not accept collaboration invitations or initiate new projects that do not fit into one of these four areas. I use the following questions help me decide whether or not to accept or launch a new initiative:

  1. What happens when learners take control of designing their own learning experience?
  2. How does multimedia design in mixed reality contexts influence learning?
  3. How can we reinforce content fluency and encourage creativity through design?
  4. How do we design mentoring experiences to support lifelong learning?
Dousay research agenda with four components: learner control, mentoring, design activities, and multimedia & mixed realities.
Figure 1. Tonia’s research agenda captures learner control, mentoring, design activities, and multimedia & mixed realities.

To maximize potential and impact, I strive to design projects that align with mulitple areas of my agenda. Examples of this approach include manuscripts published in the International Journal of Designs of Learning (IJDL) as well as the Survey of Instructional Design Models book.

Designing Artifacts or Experiences?

Design cases, the type of scholarship accepted by IJDL, are a different type of scholarship in that they, “offer in-depth explanations of design rationales, rich and multi-dimensional descriptions of designed artifacts and experiences, and full reflection on design processes have the potential to offer teaching and learning opportunities that are difficult to find and that may especially benefit students of design across multiple fields” (Boling, 2010, p. 6).

Notice Ms. Boling’s inclusion of both “artifacts” and “experiences.” I teach others how to design media and how to design instruction. Often, learning experiences involve the use of media. Thus, I view these two concepts as inextricably intertwined. A good teacher must be equipped with the relevant learning theories and pedagogical or andragogical strategies that work for their learners. As we often experience learning mediated through technology, teachers must also be mindful of how media and learning environment design influences the experience.

Through this lens, I seek to research how and why these influences impact both consumption and production of media. Consumption of media refers to experiencing anything from the arrangement of resources in a Learning Management System to using cat memes as classroom metaphors to virtual reality. How do we design these experiences and use them to maximize learner benefits? Further, how do we let learners create and control media to drive their own learning experience? This latter question often requires drawing upon the creativity research in order to both empower learners and evaluate their creations.

Nuances of Fit

You may be questioning where “mentoring” fits into this research agenda. The answer rests in situating design at the center of my agenda. From traditional mentoring structures to near peer mentoring experiences, my philosophical grounding in social constructivism recognizes the value of social experiences and their impact on the learning process. Thus, as I research “learning & design,” I must respect the influence of mentoring and seek out research projects that either investigate mentoring as a theoretical framework or result in findings that influence how we design mentoring experiences.

In some cases, projects result in manuscripts that may not neatly fit into a specific agenda category. For example, my collaborative manuscript with Veletsianos, Kimmons, Larsen, and Lowenthal on sentiment in comments on educational videos may not seem like an exact fit for “mentoring.”

However, this manuscript represents one artifact in a broader area of inquiry of digital harassment in social spaces. We purposefully targeted TED talks as a data source for the study due to the prevalence of using these types of recorded speeches in educational contexts, introducing or exploring topics with students. As a teacher educator, I mentor dozens of preservice teachers each year and we talk about the resources one might use to foster professional growth, such as TED talks. Harassment, to include negative or toxic comments on social media, is a reality of communication in the 21st century and we must be cognizant of the possible pitfalls and challenges our students and protégés may face navigating these spaces.

The results of this project, and others like it, then feed back into my teaching and advising, cementing the reciprocal relationship between research and practice.

Outreach & Service

As a product of two Land Grant universities, my commitment to outreach and service runs deep. I also grew up in a rural community of East Texas where the county extension agent was a household name. Whether a family needed assistance with crop production or nutrition education, the extension agents had a complete repertoire of resources and training readily available to share, and these experiences always referenced the leading researchers of that field from Texas A&M University.

Thus, my approach to outreach and service directly integrate with my teaching and research. While extension agents may not be the ones who use the findings of my research, other designers, technologists, teachers, and scholars directly and indirectly benefit from my work. For outreach and service to be meaningful, they must connect to research. This assumption is based on a philosophy of opportunity and connecting practical knowledge with the emerging science, a founding tenet of land grant education (Burton, 2008).

Piloting Research Ideas through Outreach

At times, my outreach and service provide opportunities for me to pilot or test future research projects. At others, they provide outlets for me to disseminate findings from my work and relevant work from peers. An example of the former would be the outreach I conducted in Wyoming, hosting workshops in the WyoMakers makerspace that I established.

Here, I was able to use the facility as a playground and experiment with different design activities for learners focusing on different content areas. In Fall 2016, I hosted workshops for the Wyoming Latina Youth Conference that introduced the young women to 3D drawing technology and invited them to design and draw insects from their imagination. I gave the girls three prompts to consider, including where the insect lived, how it moved, and what it ate, to help guide their designs and challenged them to develop a story about their creation.

A little more than a year later, and this activity has transformed into a full research collaboration with Dr. Jennifer L. Weible at Central Michigan University. Together, we mapped out an in-class biology lesson, generated research questions, and modified instruments to measure science learning interest and self-perceptions of creativity. While implementing this research project, we will both use preservice teachers to deliver the lesson, making this a combined research, outreach, and service-learning experience.

While this project remains ongoing, we have published one manuscript, presented two poster presentations, and delivered two conference presentations. More importantly, I can continue my outreach efforts, hosting workshops for teachers on how to use the 3D drawing technology and share the lesson plan we developed for these teachers to consider using in their own classrooms.

This practical and integrated approach embodies the land grant mission through which I was educated and continue to serve.


Burton, V. (2008). Lincoln and the founding of “democracy’s colleges.” Retrieved from