Learning Environment Architectures

Computer Science D37

Winter 1999


Professor: Daniel C. Edelson

Teaching Assistant: Michael Wolfe


Time: Tuesdays 4:00-6:30 p.m.

Location: ILS, 3rd floor classroom


This course is about the design of computer-based learning environments. It focuses primarily on the initial conception of an environment more than the technical issues involved in building these environments. In this course you will go through the initial design process for a number of different learning environments. In contrast, in D37-2 in the spring, you will work on a single design from start to finish.



In this class, we will pursue two activities in parallel. First, we will read about a number of architectures for the design of computer-supported learning. Each week, we will read a couple of articles about a type of learning environment or a specific issue for the design of learning environments. Second, we will develop and critique our own designs for learning environments for specific subject matters.

The challenging thing about this class structure is that there will be two different sequences going on at the same time. The readings will be organized by architectures and technical issues. The design problems will be organized by domains and complexity.



For this quarter, readings will be associated with software that we’ll give you to play with or view a demo of. See the software schedule for a current listing of software to be discussed.


Design projects

Each design cycle will take two weeks. The first week you will come up with an initial design for a learning environment. You will share that design with two of your classmates and the TA or professor, who will prepare critiques of it for you. You will then revise your design for the following week. Each week the TA and professor will pick three or four of the designs to discuss and critique in class.

Subject matter. We will select the domain areas on the first day of class. They should represent both practical (e.g., driving, investing) and formal (e.g., history, statistics) areas, as well as well-structured (e.g., math, computer troubleshooting), and ill-structured (e.g., counseling, art). Finally, there should be some targeted at children and some targeted at adults.

Design Framework. Every design will be developed using a framework that has been developed for this course. The D37 design framework will be distributed and discussed the first day of class. Students will organize their design documents according to that framework. As the quarter goes on, we may modify that framework as we see fit.

Schedule. Because we are only meeting once a week, and everyone needs to have time to critique each other’s designs, we will have a rigid schedule that everyone must observe. The schedule looks like this:

  1. Each week, you will be given the names and email addresses of two classmates who will be critiquing your design that week. You will also be told whether Danny or Mike will be critiquing your design.
  2. By Sunday at midnight, you must e-mail a copy of your design to your two critiquers and the assigned instructor. You must prepare your document in plain text, Microsoft Word 6/95, or html formats. At the top of the document, you should list the names of your two assigned critiquers and the assigned instructor for that week.
  3. By class time, you must have prepared a critique for your two classmates. You will bring a hardcopy to class, in addition to emailing copies to them and to the instructor.
  4. You will do a revised design for the following week, which you will submit to the same critiquers and instructor.

Class presentation. Each week, the TA and I will select three or four designs to be presented and discussed in class. There will be no advance notice. The selection criteria will depend on our goals for the week. All students will be responsible to present on multiple occasions.


Policies and Logistics

Classroom culture

Design is a very difficult task. On top of that, submitting one’s designs to the scrutiny and criticism of others can be intimidating. On the other hand, critiques of each others’ work provide invaluable opportunities to learn for both the designer and the audience. Lessons can come both from the failures and successes of any particular design, as well as the different solutions that different students will find to the same problems. In order to achieve the full benefit of these opportunities, it is important that everyone maintain a classroom culture based on trust and sensitivity.


Learning Objectives & Assessment

The goal of the class is to teach you how to go about developing a design idea for a learning environment and matching it to the capabilities of computer technologies. You will be assessed on the quality of your designs and your critiques of the designs of others. We are much more interested in the progression of your designs across the quarter then we are in your specific starting and ending points.

We expect every student to do the readings and to participate in the discussion each week. If it becomes apparent that students are not doing the readings, then we will institute weekly reaction papers.

There will be a final project that will ask you to integrate and apply what you've learned during the quarter. The nature of this project will be determined by midterm.



Contacting Us

Office hours are by appointment.

Danny Edelson
ILS 352 & Annenberg Hall 233
Phone: 7-1337
Email: d-edelson@nwu.edu


Michael Wolfe

ILS 324

Phone: 1-7252
Email: wolfe@ils.nwu.edu