“Problems with Using Components in Educational Software” by Spalter

  • ©Anne Morgan Spalter




    Problems with Using Components in Educational Software



    Reuse is vital in the education world because the time and money necessary to create high quality educational software is prohibitive. Estimates for the cost of creating a single well designed, highly graphical and interactive online course in the commercial domain range from several hundred thousand dollars to a million or more. Thus the idea of reusable software components that can be easily shared is tremendously appealing. In fact, “component” has become a buzzword in the educational software community, with millions of dollars from the National Science Foundation and other sponsors funding a wide variety of “component-based” projects. But few, if any, of these projects, have approached the grand vision of creating repositories of easy to reuse components for developers and educators. This paper investigates some of the factors that stand in the way of achieving this goal.

    We begin by defining the word component and looking at several projects using components, with a focus on our Exploratories project at Brown University. We then discuss challenges in: Searching and Metadata, Quality Assurance, Programming in the University Environment, Platform and System Specificity, Social Issues, Intellectual Property Issues, and Critical Mass. We look at relevant software engineering issues and describe why we believe educational applications have unique factors that should be considered when using components.


    his paper would not have been possible without the technical insights of Shriram Krishnamurthi of Brown University and conversations with Chris DiGiano of the ESCOT project. We also wish to thank Manoulis Koutlis from E-Slate and Andy DiSessa and his Web/comp project. Thanks also to Andries van Dam for many close readings and to Jean Laleuf, for contributions to the technical sections, feedback on many drafts, and his contributing work as Technical Director of the Exploratories project. And, last but not least, a thank you to Rosemary Michelle Simpson for readings and the tracking down and organizing of the paper’s references.

    Our Exploratories work is sponsored by the NSF Science and Technology Center for Computer Graphics and Scientific Visualization and by the NSF NSDL grant “A Component Repository and Environment for Assembly of Teaching Environments (CREATE).” This work is also generously sponsored by Sun Microsystems, Inc.


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