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A theory-informed framework for designing software to support reasoning about causation in history


Computers & Education Volume 38, Number 1, ISSN 0360-1315 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


We describe a framework for the design of a software tool to support reasoning about the causes of historical events by pupils aged 11–14 as they construct and manipulate diagrammatic representations of those events. Our approach demonstrates that applying relevant theories of teaching and learning can bring order to data collected from the field, and thereby provide a cohesive foundation for detailed software design. Determining the optimal way in which the computer might foster pupils' causal reasoning required a theory-informed understanding of the pedagogical process at three levels: (1) the physical and conceptual space within which teaching and learning take place (a Zone of Proximal Development), (2) the activities taking place within that space (“modelling–supporting–fading”), and (3) the verbal and non-verbal exchanges (“conversations”) that form the essence of these activities. Mapping these levels to each other produced a set of fundamental design issues which were then validated against field data in order to determine the computer's role as active partner and/or mediating artefact in these pedagogical conversations. An initial software prototype, in which the computer assumes the latter role only, has been developed and successfully evaluated with pupils studying the causes of the English Civil War. Design of a second prototype, in which the computer is more actively engaged in the conversation, is currently in progress.


Masterman, L. & Sharples, M. (2002). A theory-informed framework for designing software to support reasoning about causation in history. Computers & Education, 38(1), 165-185. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved June 23, 2021 from .

This record was imported from Computers & Education on January 28, 2019. Computers & Education is a publication of Elsevier.

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