Computer Science and Educational Software design
A Resource for Multidisciplinary Work in Technology Enhanced Learning

Pierre Tchounikine

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And the computer scientist said:
"How is it possible that this guy doesn’t understand how smart and pedagogically useful my system is?”

And the educationalist said:
”What a brilliant technical solution!
Now, what’s the problem?”
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(C) 2011 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heideberg



This book is about educational software, i.e., software designed as a means to implement computer-based pedagogical settings and contribute to the addressing of some pedagogical objectives.

The focus is on the issues related to the design of software in reference to pedagogical settings. Design refers here to building new software and/or articulating software components (e.g., ICT-based educational software).


This book is for actors engaged in research or development projects that require inventing, designing, adapting, implementing or analyzing educational software and related issues.

The core audience comprises Masters students, Ph.D. students, researchers and engineers from Computer Science and Human and Social Sciences (e.g., education, psychology, pedagogy, philosophy, communication or sociology) interested in the issues raised by educational software design and analysis, and the variety of perspectives that may be adopted.

This book may also be of interest for teachers engaged in, for example, the development of ICT-based innovations.


Considering computer-based pedagogical settings requires thinking, problematizing, representing, modeling, implementing or analyzing objectives, issues, models and/or software. This cannot be addressed by separating educational concerns on one side and Computer Science concerns on another: effective multidisciplinary work is required.

Such multidisciplinary work requires actors from different disciplines, but also with different matters of concern, to understand each others’ perspectives and build shared constructions.

Technologists and computer scientists face the difficultly of understanding the particular issues and phenomena to be taken into account in educational software projects, and avoiding falling into a naïve techno-centered perspective. Actors whose background is in Human and Social Sciences, and teachers, face the difficulty of understanding software design issues and what must be considered when designing, adapting or analyzing software, and how computer scientists may engage in these tasks. All actors share the difficulty of understanding how to relate software dimensions and educational issues, in a context within which both technologies and learning theories evolve, and a field that is to a large extent an experimental field. As a consequence, many misunderstandings develop, and effective multidisciplinary work is an issue. Misunderstandings also develop within disciplines, in relation to the variety of perspectives or matters of concern that may develop.

The above-mentioned difficulties arise in both development projects (building a particular system for a particular context) and research projects. They are a central issue for knowledge capitalization, i.e., developing knowledge, providing bases for design, and avoiding that every new wave of technology leads to more or less to the same bunch of high expectations, disappointments and errors.

These difficulties cannot be solved by building a kind of “general theory” or “general engineering methodology” to be adopted by all actors for all projects: educational software projects may correspond to very different realities. They may be conducted within very different perspectives and with very different matters of concern. The issue of understanding each others’ perspectives and elaborating some common ground must be considered in context, within the considered project or perspective.


This book addresses the objective of providing actors considering educational software issues (computer scientists and educationalists) with means for thinking the relationships between pedagogical settings and software and working together in a multidisciplinary way, in particular when constructing educational software.

This objective is addressed within the perspective of providing a substratum for actors to understand each other’s perspectives and elaborate common ground. It is meant to provide a resource for conducting the context-dependent work of building, refining or confirming the adopted common ground, definitions, tools, strategies, etc.

Adopted perspective

The adopted perspective is software-design oriented, transdisciplinary, conceptual and pragmatic:

    1. It is software-design oriented in the sense that it focuses on the dimensions related to software design and software properties (which will be referred to as educational software engineering), and not on general considerations related to software in education. In this book, Computer Science refers to software design issues (and not to mathematical foundations or to low-level technical considerations such as programming languages or technical frameworks).
    2. It is transdisciplinary in the sense that it addresses educational software from the perspective of a given dimension (design) and not from a disciplinary perspective. This leads one to consider notions that appear useful when considering design or analysis issues in a way that transcends boundaries of conventional academic disciplines, as opposed to a projection of educational issues onto a technical plan. For instance, the notion of computer-based pedagogical setting is not addressed in general, but in a way that makes salient dimensions and issues related to software design, which leads one to consider specific correlated notions such as that of software pedagogical rationale.
    3. It is conceptual in the sense that emphasis is on proposing means for thinking and problematizing, which may be used for conducting different types of work, and not on proposing a methodology or a set of guidelines. Similarly, implementation is addressed in terms of approaches, not going into technical considerations.
    4. It is pragmatic in the sense that the underlying intention is to help with thinking, designing, constructing or analyzing systems in research and development projects.

The adopted perspective complements more general perspectives such as understanding how technology may be used in educational settings or how educational practices may be changed, and narrower perspectives such as studying how to build a particular type of system (e.g., Intelligent Tutoring Systems or networked learning environments) or how to best use some given technology (e.g., Artificial Intelligence or networks).


Altogether, this book’s content is:

    1. A highlight of the fact that what is referred to by the “design of educational software” may be subject to very different perspectives, and the importance of making explicit matters of concern.
    2. A general conceptualization that helps in disentangling issues and clarifying matters of concern.
    3. A set of items that help in characterizing (1) the way the pedagogical setting is considered and (2) the software properties and construction processes.
    4. A set of methodological considerations.
    5. A perspective on the field anchored in an engineering approach, and propositions related to how to push the field forward.
    6. Different examples illustrating issues and propositions.

Although this book addresses the field in a transversal way and does not describe a particular methodology, its content has heuristic value for conducting development projects.


In this book we introduce a design-oriented conceptualization, i.e., a set of notions and definitions making salient features of importance given design matters of concern. However, introducing definitions for core notions only makes sense within a general perspective, whose introduction requires reference to these notions. There is a bootstrap issue.

In order to deal with this issue, Chapter 1 introduces a general picture, which allows explanation of the rationale for the book’s content and structure. The different elements addressed in this introductory chapter, and others, are further defined and explored in the following chapters.

A side effect of the adopted plan is that considerations introduced at some place may be better understood later on. While the book allows linear reading, deeper understanding of its content requires re-reading.

(C) 2011 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heideberg