Education Development Center, Inc.
Center for Children and Technology
Toward a Design Science of Education
CTE Technical Report Issue No. 1
Bolt Beranek and Newman
Many technologies have been
introduced in classrooms all over the world, but these innovations have
provided remarkably little systematic knowledge or accumulated wisdom to
guide the development of future innovations. Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN)
is part of the new Center for Technology in Education located at Bank Street
College of Education in New York City. The Center's goals are to synthesize
research on technological innovations; to develop a methodology for carrying
out design experiments; to study different ways of using technology
in classrooms and schools; and to begin to construct a systematic science
of how to design educational environments so that new technologies can be
Historically, some of the best minds in the world have addressed themselves
to education; for example, Plato, Rousseau, Dewey, Bruner, and Illich. But
they addressed education essentially as theorists, even when they
tried to design schools or curricula to implement their ideas. Today, some
of the best minds in the world are addressing themselves to education as
experimentalists. Their goal is to compare different designs to see
what affects what. Technology provides us with powerful tools to try out
different designs so that, instead of theories of education, we can
begin to develop a science of education. However, it cannot be an
analytic science, such as physics or psychology, but rather a design science,
such as aeronautics or artificial intelligence. For example, in aeronautics
the goal is to elucidate how different designs contribute to lift, drag,
and maneuverability. Similarly, a design science of education must determine
how different designs of learning environments contribute to learning, cooperation,
Unfortunately, major problems with current design experiments prevent our
gaining much information from them. For the most part, these experiments
are carried out by the designers of a technological innovation who have
a vested interest in seeing that it works. Typically, they look only for
significant effects (which can be very small) and test only one design,
rather than trying to compare the size of effects for different designs
or innovations. Furthermore, such experiments are so variable in their design
and implementation that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the design
process by comparing different experiments. Finally, they are carried out
without any underlying theory; thus, the results are largely un-interpretable
with respect to constructing a design theory of technological innovation
in education. Although we plan to look at past experiments in detail, we
believe that the conclusions to be drawn from them are very limited.
Our goals, then, will be (a) to construct a more systematic methodology
for conducting design experiments, and (b) to develop a design theory that
can guide implementation of future innovations. We anticipate a methodology
that will involve working with teachers as co-investigators to compare multiple
innovations (media and software) at one site and with no vested interest
in the outcome. The design theory we envision will identify all the variables
that affect the success or failure of any innovation, and will specify critical
values and combinations of values with respect to these variables.
Methodology for Design Experiments
While we will describe our initial ideas about a methodology for carrying
out design experiments, we expect to make refinements during the first years
of the project. First, there is a huge space of possible designs that might
be tried out in schools. Thus, a major goal of such a methodology must be
to explore systematically the space of designs in relatively few experiments
in order to extrapolate into the regions of the space that cannot be tested
directly. Second, a large number of constraints, which derive from the school
setting and the capabilities of administrators, teachers, and students to
deal with new technologies, limit our ability to try out different designs.
Therefore, the goal must be to maximize the information gained within the
limitations of any particular experiment.
There are several desiderata that we think are critical in developing such
1. Teachers as co-investigators. To be successful, the experiments
must work within the constraints defined by the teachers and must address
their questions. Hence, it is critical that teachers take on the role of
co-investigators, helping to formulate the questions to be addressed and
the designs to be tested, making refinements in the designs as the experiment
progresses, evaluating the effects of the different aspects of the experiment,
and reporting the results of the experiment to other teachers and researchers.
2. Comparison of multiple innovations. In order to assess the relative
effects of different innovations, it is important to try out multiple innovations
within and across sites. Within a site, it is possible to hold constant
such factors as the teachers, the students, and the school culture in order
to make comparisons. Across sites, it is possible to vary these same factors
3. Objective evaluation. In order to develop a design theory, we
want to break the pattern of developers' testing their own innovations.
In order to address questions of how well different innovations work and
under what circumstances, we need to view these innovations objectively.
While we will be test-ing some of our own technologies, we will do so in
situations where they can be compared with other technologies, and where
the developer is not included in the design team for that site.
4. Testing of technologies most likely to succeed first. In school
settings, tool-based technologies such as word processors or graphing packages
are most likely to have wide application and be used most successfully because
they do not require the restructuring of the school milieu.
5. Multiple expertise in design. In any design of a classroom (or
larger unit), a vast number of variables may affect the outcome. The goal
should be to optimize these variables within the constraints of the setting.
To accomplish this requires an interdisciplinary team of expertsteachers,
designers, technologists, anthropologists, and psychologists.
6. Systematic variation within sites. In order to test hypotheses
about particular design questions, it is best to make specific comparisons
within a site. In this way, most variables can be held constant while addressing
such questions as the structure of the classroom, the role of the teacher,
or the activities using a particular technology. The teacher(s) must be
interested but neutral about questions addressed, and confident that they
can execute the two variations successfully.
7. Flexible design revision. It may often happen early in the school
year that the teachers or researchers feel that a particular design is not
working. It is important to analyze the reasons for failure and to take
steps to fix them. It is critical to document the nature of the failures
and the attempted revisions, as well as the overall results of the experiment,
because this information informs the path to success.
8. Multiple evaluation of success or failure. Success or failure
of an innovation cannot be evaluated simply in terms of how much students
learn on some criterion measure. A number of questions must be addressed,
such as: How sustainable is the design after the researchers leave? How
easy is it to realize the design in practice? How much does the design emphasize
reasoning as opposed to rote learning? How does the design affect the attitudes
and motivation of teachers and students? How much does the design encourage
students to help other students learn? To evaluate these variables, it is
necessary to use a variety of evaluation techniques, including standardized
pre- and post-tests and ongoing evaluations of the classroom milieu. For
these latter evaluations, we anticipate using both observation and interview
techniques and, perhaps, primary trait scoring based on videotapes of the
classrooms. Issues such as sustainability require follow-up studies to see
what happens to the design in later years.
A major goal of the Center, then, will be to develop a
specific methodology incorporating these desiderata (and others discovered
in the course of our research). The design experiment described below gives
an idea of the kind of design we think might be viable in sites we have
worked with in the past. It is not final because the teachers and researchers
must arrive at a final design within the constraints of a particular setting.
But it concretizes the abstract principles described above.
What are Design Experiments?
The best way to describe design experiments is to give an example of an
experiment we may carry out. We have been thinking about developing a technology-based
unit on the relative motion of the earth and sun and the seasons; that is,
why it is warmer in the summer and colder in the winter. Several of us have
been working with fourth grade classrooms in Cambridge (with large numbers
of minority children) observing teachers, developing materials, and interviewing
students about the seasons. Philip Sadler, who interviewed 24 graduating
seniors at Harvard, found that only one understood the causes of the seasons.
Clearly, this is a topic that students are failing to learn in school, although
the seasons are taught in most K-12 curricula.
We propose to consider five technologies in developing a unit about the
seasons: (1) The television series, The Voyage of the Mimi 2, developed
at Bank Street College, has several programs devoted to astronomyin particular,
the relative motions of the earth and sun. (2) Associated with The Voyage
of the Mimi series, Bank Street has developed a series of computer programs
that allow students to explore different views of the earth-sun relationship
(e.g., an orbital view with earth rotation and day/night cycles; a view
out of a window in New York showing the sun at different times of the year;
a dome of the sky view showing how the sun moves across the sky relative
to New York and Capetown at different times of year; and a view of projected
shadows at different times of the year). (3) The ELASTIC program developed
at BBN for teaching students how to construct tables of data and to graph
them in different ways. (4) A computer network, such as Earthlab or Kidnet,
to encourage students to communicate with other students about their findings.
(5) Word processors and drawing programs that students can use to produce
documents about their findings.
Our first step would be to observe a number of teachers and to choose two
who are interested in using technology to teach students about the seasons.
The teachers must be comparably effective, but must have different teaching
styles; for example, one might work with activity centers in the classroom
and the other with the entire class. Ideally, the teachers should have comparable
populations of students.
We plan to devise a unit that optimally integrates the available technology.
For example, we might have students watch The Voyage of the Mimi
episodes and then work with the various computer views. Students might then
be encouraged to collect data on the sun's position as seen at different
times from their school and put these data in ELASTIC. They could then compare
their data with those in the window-view program from Bank Street, and perhaps
with students in another location. Finally, they might produce books explaining
their observations and understanding of the movements of the earth and sun
and the causes of the seasons.
Assuming that both teachers teach a number of classes, we would ask each
to teach half her classes using the design we have developed. In the other
classes, we would help the teacher design her own unit on the seasons using
these various technologies, one that is carefully crafted to fit with her
normal teaching style.
In evaluating the results of the experiment, we would look at a number of
- We would give students a pencil-and-paper test on the earth-sun motion
and the causes of the seasons.
- We would use structured interviews, as we have done with fourth graders,
to analyze how well students understand the seasons and, more generally,
- We would observe the classrooms to see how the designs are realized
- We would ask the teachers to make daily notes as to which parts of the
design they perceived to be working and which parts were not, and what changes
they implemented to make the design work better.
- We would carry out follow-up studies in the following year's class to
determine whether the teachers decided to teach about the seasons and, if
so, how and why.
- We would follow up on students' understanding after a year or two.
One of the purposes of the study is to determine the form a design theory
should take: Can it try to characterize the most effective designs in terms
of activities and technologies,
or must the theory differentiate different designs given different teaching
styles? Similar issues are raised in the next section.
While the grain size of this experiment is at the individual classroom level,
design experiments should also be done at the grade, school, and district
levels. Such larger experiments would permit variation in cooperation between
teachers, length of class period, peer tutoring across grade levels, relations
of community to school, which cannot be viably altered at the classroom
A Design Theory for
Our long-term goal in studying various technological innovations in schools
and in carrying out a series of design experiments is to construct a design
theory for technology innovation. This design theory will attempt to specify
all the variables that affect the suc-cess or failure of different designs.
Furthermore, it will attempt to specify what values on these variables maximize
chances for success, and how different variables interact in creating successful
designs. Crafting such a design theory for technological innovation in education
has not been attempted heretofore, but we think it is the most critical
role for a national center for educational technology.
The first phase of our work in constructing such a theory will be to identify
all the relevant variables: dependent variables, by which we measure the
success or failure of any innovation; and independent variables, which are
the variables we control in creating any design. Identifying the relevant
variables will be a major goal of our analysis of different innovations
that have been attempted to date. Because they have been so varied in their
designs, they should have uncovered most of the critical variables needed
for a design theory.
Some of the dependent variables we think are important are listed above
in the section on multiple evaluations. The independent variables cover
a wide range that includes the technologies, software, and associated activities;
the number of machines and their configuration in the classroom; the roles
that students and teachers play in working with the technologies; the maintenance
and other kinds of support for teachers using technology; the amount of
planning time and preparation for using the technologies; and the organization
of time and activities in the class period. While neither the list of independent
or dependent variables is complete, they do give a flavor of the space over
which a design theory will be constructed.
The second phase of our work will specify how the independent variables
interact to produce success or failure with respect to the dependent variables.
A vast array of issues surrounds the interaction of variables. For example:
- It may be that unless sufficient time on the computer is provided for,
any innovation is more costly in teacher time and disruption of ongoing
activities than it is worth in terms of student learning, so that a low
saturation of computers has negative effects.
- Perhaps the best deployment of technology in moderate saturation is
based on activity centers in the classroom, whereas the best deployment
in high saturation is to have students working for large amounts of time
on projects, with the teacher acting as a coach and students sharing information.
- Programs designed to teach specific subjects, such as physics or geography,
may be difficult to incorporate into classroom learning, no matter how well
they are designed, because of the cost of turning the classroom over to
the software's goals. Tool-based software may work better in classrooms
to the extent that it supports the more general goals of students and teachers.
Tables 1 and 2, which are based on interviews with Denis Newman and Andee
Rubin, illustrate our first attempts to evolve a design theory. The interviews
sought to determine what the respondents thought were critical factors affecting
the success of technology in classrooms. What emerged was a set of principles
that tacitly specified three things: (a) the scope of the principle (e.g.,
network-based software, computer technology); (b) the dependent variable
affected by the factor (e.g., adoption, continued use, learning); and (c)
the independent variable or factor itself (e.g., student-computer ratio,
restart capability). Andee Rubin began to group together factors that affect
a particular variable, such as adoption, because she has done some prior
analysis. This kind of analysis leads to a systems-dynamic model, such as
the models in econometrics or climatology.
These issues are meant only to be illustrative of the kind of issues a design
theory must address. There are many issues that have important consequences
for how we should deploy the technologies we develop, and it is important
that we start addressing them in a systematic way.
Table 1. Factors Affecting Success of Technology
1. For all technology, adoption depends on whether the teacher has
a lot of activities or is starved for innovative things to do. This variable
might be thought of as activity saturation and depends on how much
the teacher values the activities currently used.
2. Network-based software (e.g., Earthlab, Kidnet) takes coercion to reach
critical mass and simultaneously to achieve continued use. There
must be enough people communicating from the beginning to hold people's
interest. Critical mass requires enough machines (20) and enough participants.
3. All technology used in projects must have the ability to stop work and
restart easily on another machine (portability or restart capability)
in to achieve continued use.
4. All computer technology requires multiple users for each machine (optimal
between 2 to 1 and 4 to 1) in order to achieve cooperative learning (or
kids teaching each other). This variable ought to be called student-computer
Format: Scope, Dependent variable, Independent variable.
Source: Denis Newman.
Table 2. Factors Affecting Success of Technology
There are 4 variables that affect the likelihood of adoption for
1. Teacher interest in technology. Some male teachers tend to be
motivated by this variable, particularly if they have a computer at home.
2. Enhance subject-matter learning. If the teacher feels
technology can help students learn a particular subject better, she is more
likely to adopt the technology.
3. Teaching career enhancement. If the teacher feels administrators
expect or would value her using technology, she is more likely to do it.
4. Teacher interest in experimentation. If the teacher wants to try
something new, then the technology has appeal.
There are at least 5 variables that affect institutionalization and
continued use of any technology.
1. Coordination between decision makers. Computer coordinators, curriculum
specialists, and teachers are all involved in making decisions about how
technology is used. Sometimes they are at different levels in the school
district, which makes coordination difficult. Various decisions, such as
who orders software, are assigned to different people in different systems.
2. Powerful advocate. To the degree that there is a budget-controlling
administrator who is a strong advocate, the more likely it is that institutionalization
3. Student enthusiasm. To the degree that teachers see that students
are enthusiastic and self-motivated to work on tasks, teachers are rewarded
and likely to continue use.
4. Student learning. Not only do teachers want to see students enthusiastic,
but in time (about a month) they want to see some tangible effects on learning.
Again this affects continued use.
5. Teacher enthusiasm. If the teacher likes the technology and feels
it improves her teaching, then she is likely to continue use.
There are some classroom management variables that affect both adoption
and continued use of computer technology.
1. Activity-centered classrooms. If teachers structure classrooms
around activity centers, then it is easy to incorporate computers into classrooms
by adding one or two computers to the activity centers. This style allows
for effective use in low student-computer ratio settings.
2. Whole-class teaching. If a teacher normally teaches to the whole
class at one time, she has several options for trying to deal with the classroom
a. Some students miss the lesson. If there are one or two computers
in the classroom, the teacher may let a few students, who can afford to
miss the lesson, work on computers at the same time as she conducts the
lesson with the class. This can lead to problems about making up work. Teachers
do not like to do this because they feel their lessons are important for
everyone, and so this strategy works against continued use.
b. Works with whole class on computers together. This is what happened
in Columbus ACOT classroom with 1:1 student-computer ratio (computers mostly
sit idle). Normally this strategy is implemented by going to computer labs,
which is somewhat disruptive of lesson continuity. This strategy works somewhat
better than (a) for continued use.
c. Teacher uses computer for demonstrations. If there is only one
computer, then by using large screen projection, the teacher can run demonstrations
on the computer. This probably leads to very little student learning.
Continued use of any technology also depends on the teacher's level of
use of the technology. Susan Loucks identifies seven levels of expertise
teachers move through as they gain greater ease and sophistication. Teacher
training and professional development need to help teachers move through
each of these levels.
Source: Andee Rubin
To appear in Scanlon, E.,& O'Shea, T. (Eds.). (in press). New
directions in educational technology. New York: Springer-Verlag. This work
was supported by the Center for Technology in Education under Grant No.
1-135562167-A1 from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement,
U.S. Department of Education to Bank Street College of Education.
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