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The Dynabook Project: An Engineering Approach To Research and Development of an Educational Innovation


Michelle Phillips, Ph.D., Mark St. John, Ph.D., Inverness Research Inc.


In 2003, Alan Schoenfeld and Hugh Burkhardt advocated for an engineering-based approach to research and development in education, and yet in the ten years since, relatively few examples have been put forward of work that manifests such an approach - when in fact, many would argue that it is even more relevant today. For example, the current administration advocates for the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-ED) because of a wide recognition of the under-investment in learning technology research, development, and innovation.

An engineering-based approach to innovation has long been more appropriate and effective than experimental design for producing tools and resources that education actually needs. Engineering-based approaches provide more understanding about how and why to design an innovation for particular contexts, whereas randomized controlled studies measure just a single causal factor with extraordinary certainty. Projects that over-rely on a single causal factor tend to be educationally ineffective and/or not sustainable in real-world contexts.

Through its work as external evaluators for the NSF-funded Dynabook: A Digital Resource and Preservice Model for Developing TPCK project, Inverness Research came to see, understand, and document this project as an exemplar of an educational innovation that integrated research, development, and practice, brought to fruition through an engineering approach.

Intended Audience

STEM Educators, School and District Administrators, Funders, and general public.


Any and all errors are claimed by the authors of this document, Inverness Research, Inc.

Date published

June 2014

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