International Society for Design and Development in Education

A background paper

This Society has a strategic goal - to improve the impact on education of the design and development of educational materials, particularly in mathematics, science and technology.

To this end, ISDDE seeks to forward the development of a coherent, mutually-supportive and self-critical professional design and development community, which aims:

Background

It is surprising that no community of educational designers has existed up to now, nationally or internationally. There are societies of educational researchers, administrators, teachers and those involved in professional development, but no community of those who design and develop the materials that these groups use in their work. Around the world, separate design groups or individuals use more-or-less systematic, more-or-less research-based methods for the development of more-or-less imaginatively designed educational materials and processes. The range of quality appears to be enormous, as one would expect, though the superficiality of most of the evaluation makes this, too, uncertain.

In any field with obviously serious consequences, this would not be tolerated. No-one would fly in an airplane or allow their children to be treated with drugs that had been as casually developed and tested as are the products and processes used in education. But the "deaths" in education are less dramatic - students who fail dismally to reach anywhere near their potential. While there are other factors than their schools which contribute to these failures, there is enough experience around the world to show that the quality of the "tools" used in schools can make a huge difference. The goals we set out above seem an essential part of any improvement strategy. Though individuals may make outstanding contributions, no field can progress without effective communication among its practitioners.

A few years ago, in response to this need, a group of developers from several countries recognized the need for a structure of support for such a community - hence the International Society for Design and Development in Education. Since then there have been informal discussions on the best way forward, and some exploratory work on the design process itself. Over the same period, there has been growing interest in design within the educational research community - there are even some signs of political recognition of its importance.

The need for good tools

The need for educational materials of high quality is now widely recognized. If the classroom is to provide a stimulating and supportive learning environment for students, the nature of the learning activities is central. In most classrooms these are, more often than not, based on textbooks or other published learning materials. This is appropriate since few teachers have either the wish, the time, or the high-level abilities in design that are needed - understandably, most are performers rather than designers of curriculum.

If the materials are important, the process of their design and development surely deserves continuing attention. The questions this raises are at the heart of this meeting. Are there effective mechanisms, for example, for:

and many more, some of them set out in the Provisional Program. Indeed, is there any attempt to optimize any aspect of the process?

Though there has been occasional attention to some of these questions, that is uncommon. The design and development process which is used to produce educational materials varies greatly from country to country, and from subject to subject in the curriculum - and for no obvious reason other than custom and lack of attention to the possibilities of doing better. In some cases, classroom learning is based on a book, written by an experienced and talented individual to communicate his or her own professional experience as a teacher. In others, a team designs and develops materials over a period of years, through several stages of refinement based on trialing the materials in classrooms. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these and other approaches? How can we establish a firm basis for high-quality 'engineering' of materials and processes?

Strategy for the conferences

In September 2005, the Society held its first conference, in Oxford. Its goal was to discuss the goals of the Society, and to plan how progress might be made towards them. Major issues of design and development were raised and considered. It was decided to move forward, and to develop a program of activities to that end.

It now seems clear that a focused meeting of leading designers and developers from around the world is a useful step in moving towards the goals outlined above through intensive work on moving through issues of principle towards practical outcomes. We believe that this promises potential benefits for education globally.

Educational design and development is not a field with a well-established theoretical and empirical structure within which the main source of progress is through individual contributions that can be reported by their authors. On the other hand, all the participants at the conferences have substantial experience in it, evidenced by successful examples of design and development work. The strategy grows from these two factors.

The main features are:

To this end the conferences are relatively small (less than 80 people), so that there will be:

Conferences so far

More details of ISDDE conferences…

The Outcomes

We envisage a number of important outcomes from the conferences. These include plans for:

Significant progress has already been made on some of these.

Comments and suggestions for the development of this draft will be welcomed. Please send them to Hugh.Burkhardt@nottingham.ac.uk

A constitution for ISDDE is available.