Using revolution, evolution, randomness and dead-ends in Educational Design
ABSTRACT To think about how educational design will evolve in the future, we need to first analyse its previous evolution. The paper draws lessons for progress in the continuing educational design of successful courseware. Educational design is here the ongoing analysis of educational needs and the systematic development and refinement of educational courseware. The paper considers what irritants make courseware successful. To do so it analyses the irritants at work in producing courses that have been successful in that they have survived and are in international demand. It analyses the development and refinement of successful courseware as being directed by the irritant mechanisms of revolution, evolution, randomness and dead-ends.
Educational design of courseware has progressed via these four irritants. Revolutions in the process of educational design have included the introduction of new paradigms, hardware and software. Evolutionary pressures have included catering to student’s feedback and catering to the needs of diverse students. Random factors included the different educational environments in which the courses were presented. Progress has also been made through the discarding of dead-end tools.
The paper reviews the current development tools that survived and hints at those to come. The author takes the safe viewpoint that future tools will be similar but more advanced in producing tomorrow's tools for educational design.
The paper recommends that universities adopt best-practice development, which includes using evolution, revolution, randomness and eliminating dead-ends to succeed in the future production of high quality courseware of international standard. Universities must allow time, space, money and other resources for experimenting, feedback, buffeting, simmering, expansion and future best-practice.
Abstract— To think about how educational design will evolve
in the future, we need to first analyse its previous evolution.
The paper draws lessons for progress in the continuing
educational design of successful courseware. Educational
design is here the ongoing analysis of educational needs and the
systematic development and refinement of educational
courseware. The paper considers what irritants make
courseware successful. To do so it analyses the irritants at work
in producing courses that have been successful in that they have
survived and are in international demand. It analyses the
development and refinement of successful courseware as being
directed by the irritant mechanisms of revolution, evolution,
randomness and dead-ends.
Educational design of courseware has progressed via these
four irritants. Revolutions in the process of educational design
have included the introduction of new paradigms, hardware
and software. Evolutionary pressures have included catering to
student’s feedback and catering to the needs of diverse
students. Random factors included the different educational
environments in which the courses were presented. Progress
has also been made through the discarding of dead-end tools.
The paper reviews the current development tools that
survived and hints at those to come. The author takes the safe
viewpoint that future tools will be similar but more advanced in
producing tomorrow's tools for educational design.
The paper recommends that universities adopt best-practice
development, which includes using evolution, revolution,
randomness and eliminating dead-ends to succeed in the future
production of high quality courseware of international
standard. Universities must allow time, space, money and other
resources for experimenting, feedback, buffeting, simmering,
expansion and future best-practice.
Index Terms— Educational design, courseware development.
DUCATIONAL DESIGN is the analysis of educational
needs and the subsequent systematic development of
useful educational material. In his book on useful things ,
Petroski’s theme is that technological innovation results
from responding to the perceived failures of existing
products — Irritation is the mother of invention. The theme
of this paper is that irritation is the mother of invention in
educational design to produce useful products such as
courseware . This paper reflects on irritations that have
benefitted the author’s courseware over the last decade,
enabling one course to expand from 1 to 40 Mbytes. Fig. 1
shows the contents page in 1996, and Fig. 2 early in 2006.
I. G. Kennedy is with the School of Electrical and Information
Engineering, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
2050 (phone: +27 11 717 7228; fax: +27 11 403 1929; e-mail:
According to the Moodle philosophy,  Constructivism
is the educational approach where students actively construct
new knowledge as they interact with their environment.
Constructionism is when students construct something for
others to experience. Finally, Social Constructivism
combines the two previous ideas in that a social group of
students construct things for one another, thereby
collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts
with shared meanings.
For example, when each post-graduate student had to
prepare an individual research project proposal as an
outcome, that was constructivism. When each student had to
prepare an annotated reading list for part of the field in the
form of a bookmark file, and give it to the other students for
them to import, that was constructionism. When the students
had to collaborate with each other (and a critical world) in
producing an on-line encyclopaedic entry on a set topic, that
was social constructivism. For an example of the last
approach, see the entry on Teletraffic engineering by the
author’s students in Wikipedia. The obvious dangers of the
last two approaches are that each student does not
necessarily command a full understanding of every part of
the field, so such approaches would be inappropriate in an
(industrial or military) instructional situation, where each
attendee is expected to exit with identical training. Sadly,
many universities imply that they expect each post-graduate
to exit with identical training in the field, because they are
still insisting that their post-graduates must be assessed by a
It is too dangerous to base our educational designs solely
on unproven theories of how students (might) learn. The way
students learn depends on the individual, the subject area,
and the pre-learning (which might even have to be undone!)
The author takes the stance that Mergel is wrong in saying
“The instructional designer must understand the strengths
and weaknesses of each learning theory to optimize their use
in appropriate instructional design strategy.”  The author
does however agree with her next point that: “From a
pragmatic point of view, instructional designers find what
works and use it.”  In practice, the evolutionary
process ensures that the fittest approach survives. This
author looks back on successful courseware design, and here
analyses the evolutionary and other irritations that were at
work. A reader looking for grand theories in the current
paper will be sadly disappointed. However, the fledgling
practitioner will find pointers to a workable approach that
can be reused as a guide.
Using revolution, evolution, randomness and
dead-ends in Educational Design
Ian Geoffrey Kennedy, Member, SAIEEE
Figure 1: Research Methods hyperlinked course as a help file in 1996
Figure 2: Research Methods hypertext course as a HTML file in 2006
II.THE PROCESS OF EDUCATIONAL DESIGN
Educational design may be thought as being both an art
and as a science. As an art it creatively uses words and
images; as a science it uses formal software engineering
techniques. There is a tension: For example, educational
design requires the artistic creativity of the educator to vary
and shift the vocabulary for variety and to ‘get through’ to a
diverse audience. However, it also requires the scientific
precision of the fixed terminology found in science and
As educators, our only job (apart from admin and
research?) is to use art and science to didacticize the world’s
knowledge, for ready consumption by our students. What is
meant by didacticizing or pedagogizing? Simply speaking,
this is when the educator ‘sorts the ideas out’, discards the
inconsequential and trivial, and enhances the solid themes. It
is not ‘spoon-feeding’ of the students. It is the process of
searching, selecting, storing, sorting, structuring, and sharing
of knowledge. In fact, the knowledge of this process needs
to be communicated to our post-graduates . The
didacticizing processes include:
• giving the prerequisites
• giving a summary of what is to come
• giving the background
• giving the viewpoints
• giving the limitations
• giving the content.
• giving examples which are relevant
• giving the links to reference material
• giving exercises to hammer home the material and
enable the students to internalise it
• giving links to supplementary material to fully engage
the minds of bright students
• assessing the students to quantify the degree of
assimilation of the material.
The crowded curriculum does not allow for the luxury of
a fully constructivist approach with a duplication of the
original discovery process, including the revolutions,
evolutions, randomness and dead-ends that occurred in the
history of science or engineering. Hence the university uses
laboratory report forms, summarising textbooks, selected
reading lists, and compressed course packs.
The educational design of courseware has proceeded and
progressed via four irritations. The first irritant is revolution
and the second is evolution. The third is randomness
introduced by the different educational environments in
which the courses were presented. The fourth irritant is the
existence of dead-ends. Progress is made through the
discarding of dead-ends in tools and text.
III. PROGRESS IN EDUCATIONAL DESIGN THROUGH REVOLUTION
Revolutions in Educational Design can be categorized
into three categories: the availability of new hardware,
availability of new software and the development of new
concepts. Progress in all three areas is essential for success
as the $100 laptop project  suggests. Figures 3 and 4
show the prototype of the laptop which will be in mass
production at the end of this year.
Figure 3: Keyboard, colour screen, hand-crank and handle 
Figure 4: Black & white reflective screen on reverse as an e-book 
Key points in the production of courseware for the $100
laptop are the need to internationalize the material, and to
use open source material. A commercial version will be an
ideal medium for carrying higher education courseware.
A. New concepts in educational design
The new concepts that the author has taken advantage of
include the introduction of hypertext, the development of
asynchronous learning, and distance education.
B. New hardware for educational design
The revolutions in hardware that the author has taken
advantage of in educational design include: colour screens,
colour printers, CD-ROM writers, World Wide Web
connections and in the future, DVD writers.
C. Dead-end software tools for educational design
The revolutions in software that the author has taken
advantage of for educational design include the programs
Winfract, WysiHelp, Altavista Discovery, AOLPress,
WebCompiler. These programs include ones which are
dead-end programs, programs that are no longer supported,
or programs which have served their useful (free beta?) life
before becoming obsolete.
D. Today's software for educational design
Today's software tools include: the Mozilla editor, e-
bookmarks, the Firefox search box, Amazon’s ‘Search
inside’; Goofresh, Google print, Google scholar, Google
desktop, Google sidebar; Scirus, and Citeseer. Figure 5 in
the Appendix gives just one example of the usefulness of
one aspect of one modern aid. It illustrates how Google
helps the reader to quickly make sense of the page in
Google's cache by highlighting in colour the words that the
reader used in searching for the page. Readers are
encouraged to follow up on these pointers and to make them
part of their and their students’ toolkits.
E. Tomorrow's software for educational design
Tomorrow's software tools for education will be even
more advanced. They include Moodle, Wikis, CNXML,
IEEE Connexions, edu-podcasts etc. The author takes the
safe viewpoint that future tools will be similar but more
advanced in producing tomorrow's educational design.
Readers are encouraged to follow up on developments in
IV. PROGRESS IN EDUCATIONAL DESIGN THROUGH
Evolution in educational design has included the changes
resulting in going from short lunch-hour lectures through to
fully accredited and internationally marketed courseware.
The evolutionary pressures included taking action on the
precious, honestly expressed feedback from diverse
audiences. This feedback has caused there to be many
random small changes implemented in an attempt to remove
the irritations of the remaining deficiencies of the material
and presentations. We keep on a chipping away the bad
Some of the progressive demands of the users are
expressed as follows:
• I want my own copy of the lecture notes.
• I want a copy of the lecture slides.
• I want a copy of the lecturer's Course Notes.
• I want a copy of the course on a CD-ROM.
• I want a copy of the course on the World Wide Web.
• I want an example that I can relate to from my field.
• I want an enjoyable educational experience (satisfied
e.g., through providing gratuitous graphics and colour).
We agree that the courseware should be user-centric.
However, and we do not believe that one should pander to
the eccentricities of every single student.
The author also agrees that subsequent re-usability of the
modules is rightfully an important concern. Some progress
has also been made to adapt to our student’s needs at run-
time . However, the author believes that it is utopian to
believe that a re-usable component can be made that is a
perfect fit for every student, every lecturer and every
The author’s question to the utopian educational authors
is: why not implement the best practice the first time? Take
for example a textbook with the title “Advanced Engineering
Mathematics”. Would you believe that today there are
fifteen books in print with this identical title?  Why not
one book with the best practice method from all books?
Sadly, the problem boils down to:
• intellectual property and copyright issues,
• the “not invented here” syndrome,
• the cry of lecturers that “my students are different” —
• the feeling that “this is the way I learnt it and this is the
way my students must learn it too.” (But is this not also the
‘deep-end’ punishment we inflict on our beginning
• the fact that universities often exist in insulated ivory
towers, forming academic cliques. (However, today we look
beyond to Google-like tools to end such insularity.)
The pragmatic result of these problems is that fully re-
usable modules (or ‘educational objects’) appear currently to
be unattainably utopian.
V.PROGRESS IN EDUCATIONAL DESIGN THROUGH RANDOMNESS
There are many random factors which have
serendipitously buffeted the development of courseware.
• the length of the course which is available
• the length of the course of which is required
• the number of students participating
• the use of distributed versus campus-based education
• the attendance by industrial delegates versus university
• the delivery of mixed education.
Reflection by the educator on the random buffeting causes
the educator to implement changes for the good. As
educational designers, we should embrace the serendipitous
forces that act on the design, because the natural selection of
the resulting changes allows the best design to survive. We
must help happenstance to happen.
VI. PROGRESS IN EDUCATIONAL DESIGN THROUGH USING THEN
This paper referred earlier to software dead-ends. In a
similar fashion, there were dead-ends in hardware and in
concepts. For example, initially delivering hypertext through
the Microsoft help system limited the use of images to one
palette per page. The important thing to remember is that
without some scaffolding (be it temporary or permanent) one
cannot make progress. Also, when better scaffolding be-
comes available, we should immediately embrace the new
technology even though it is a beta version, because ethically
we are bound to give our students the best education.
“The world is changing in fundamental ways, and, as
educators, we have to be responsive to these changes.” .
However, we are still basically charged with “the public
preservation, validation, development and dissemination of
knowledge.”  There is thus a natural tension between
change and preservation.
Higher education is changing. We can no longer impede
the conversion from delivery only via paper to delivery via
mixed media including digital media. Nor can we impede the
change of delivery from being synchronous and campus-
based, to being asynchronous (where lecturers and students
are separated in time) and in virtual lecture theatres (where
lecturers cannot reach out and touch the students because
they are separated in space). We still have to announce the
asynchronism to our administration officers! Universities
must adopt best-practice development, which includes using
evolution, revolution, randomness and dead-ends to succeed
in the future production (and exportation) of courseware of
Progressive universities must allow time, space, money,
people and other resources for courseware to be experi-
mented with, to be allowed to simmer, be expanded and then
to succeed in the future.
The abstract appearing in Figure 3 was found for the
author in Google's cache. Google then automatically high-
lighted the author's search words, which were preserved in
the saved version on the author's hard drive. (The original
abstract is found at ).
Figure 5. Cached page found by Google with requested words
automatically highlighted in different colours
The author thanks the anonymous referees for their
Petrowski, H. The evolution of useful things. New York: Vintage
Books, Random House 1994. Especially pp 1-33.
Kennedy, I.G., How do we formally create courseware? 6th UICEE
Annual Conference on Engineering Education, Cairns, Queensland,
Australia, 10-14 February, 2003. ISBN 0 7326 2240 9. 307-311.
— Philosophy: Moodle Documentation files http://moodle.org/doc/
Last accessed 4 January 2006.
Mergel, Brenda, Instructional Design and Learning Theory.
htm. Last accessed 4 January 2006.
Kennedy, I.G., Pedaglue Teaching for Life-long Learners: Rapid
Development by Post-Graduates of a PG Course with Modern
Content. ICALT2004 – 4th International Conference on Advanced
Learning Technologies. Aug. 30 - Sept. 1, 2004. Joensuu, Finland.
2nd International Workshop on Technology for Education in
MIT Media lab. $100 laptop. http://laptop.media.mit.edu/ Last
accessed 4 January 2006.
Kennedy, I.G., Fallahkhair, S., Fraser, R., Ismail, A., Rossano, V., &
Trifonova, A., A Simple Web-based Adaptive Educational System
(SWAES) Special issue of Technology, Instruction, Cognition and
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Lopez; Wylie, et al; Potter, et al; Kovach; Bajpai; Cochran, et al;
Jain; Taylor, et al; Grossman; Maybee (Out of Print); Malek-Madani
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Ian G. Kennedy (MSAIEE) Born Johannesburg 1945-03-29. He has
attained the following degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand,
Johannesburg, South Africa: PhD, 1992; MSc(Eng), 1985; BSc(Eng),
1967. He is registered as a Professional Engineer with the Engineering
Council of South Africa.
He was Development Engineer at Motorola SA in 1967; Science and
Mathematics teacher at St Andrews School, Bloemfontein in 1968 and
1969; Research Officer at NBRI, CSIR Pretoria in 1969 and 1970. Also in
Pretoria, on 1971-02-01, he joined the Department of Posts and
Telecommunications, now Telkom SA, where he became a High Level
Specialist (Manager). During 1999 he was a Visiting Professor to the
University of Cape Town, Department of Electrical Engineering (also
1998); Visiting Professor to the University of Pretoria, Department of
Electrical and Electronic Engineering. In 1999, he returned to his alma
mater, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa to
work as a Senior Research Officer.
Dr. Kennedy is a Member of The English Academy of Southern Africa.
Current and previous research interests include engineering education, e-
education and teletraffic.