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Designing Effective Educational Software: Involving Children In The Design Process

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

K-12 Activities

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.419.1 - 11.419.11



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Paper Authors


Leanne Hirshfield Tufts University

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Department of Computer Science
Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155

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Barbara Moskal Colorado School of Mines

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Department of Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO 80401

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Designing Effective Educational Software: Involving Children in the Design Process Abstract

According to proponents of educational software, one manner in which to improve student learning is to provide students with personalized tutors through the use of educational software. However, without the authoritative involvement of a teacher, many students are not motivated to learn material presented via computer. The challenge to educational software designers is to create environments that motivate students to think reflectively about content, encouraging them to invest time and energy in the learning process. One manner in which to accomplish this goal may be to include student ideas when developing software. This paper presents the results of a research investigation that examined the inclusion of middle school students in the process of designing educational software. Eight middle school students participated in a focus group discussion, during which time they generated ideas for teaching fractional content. Based on their input, an educational game was developed. Sixty-three middle school students who had not participated in the focus group were then randomly assigned to either treatment or control group. The treatment group worked with the software that was developed based on the ideas of the middle school focus group; the control group worked with software that was developed based on the ideas of adult software designers. Both games had nearly identical fraction content and the differences between the two games stemmed primarily from the ideas produced by the student designers. Results suggest that students working with the game based on middle school students’ ideas had a greater increase in fractional knowledge as measured by a content assessment than did those that worked on the game developed by adult designers.

I. Introduction

Many believe that mathematical educational software can act as a personalized tutor for each student, supplementing the classroom instruction provided by the teacher. This permits teachers to continue with the class schedule while enabling students to develop a deeper understanding of prior material. Although some advocates believe that software can act as a personalized tutor regardless of the skill that is being learned, many researchers and educators disagree.1,2 Most educational software focuses on drill and practice, an approach that may be successful for teaching low level skills such as memorizing facts, but that fails to promote the learning of conceptual, higher level information.1 Examples of low level content are memorizing the multiplication tables or the process for adding or subtracting single digit numbers. Low level problems do not require reflective thought on the part of the student. In order for educational software to be truly effective as a personalized tutor, students need to think reflectively while working with the software. This study is concerned with student learning at the reflective level, where students need to dispense cognitive energy in order to reflect on and solve the problem at hand. Indeed, learning conceptual information requires a higher investment of mental energy than learning low level mathematical facts.3

Hirshfield, L., & Moskal, B. (2006, June), Designing Effective Educational Software: Involving Children In The Design Process Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1223

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