Our methodological choices are summarized below:
- From the particular to the general.
Since we aimed to produce a toolbox and an instance of what can be built with that toolbox, it would have been sensible to build the tool first and then to create an ILE with that tool. We actually proceeded inversely: we started with the design and the implementation of an ILE called MEMOLAB, and we progressively abstracted a toolbox called ETOILE. Many research teams started with the over-general question: "What functionalities are shared by any educational software?". This approach generates constraints at a high level that unavoidably lead to a set of neutral interface tools and to procedures for specifying the sequence of learning activities. While the authoring process is primarily a pedagogical activity, most authoring tools only take care of the computational issues. By proceeding inversely, we succeeded in designing a generic tool which encapsulates pedagogical knowledge.
- A toolbox is not a `generator'
Most authoring tools available on the market focus on designing canonical interactions (question / answer analysis / feedback) and on specifying a more or less complex `scenario'. These tools use powerful interfaces that enable teachers without programming skills to build courseware. We deliberately avoided the issue of building an authoring interface, because we don't have the resources to produce anything close to the authoring tools being developed by large commercial companies. Instead, our concern was to support a richer interaction than most authoring tools, and especially to create more `open' problem solving situations. ETOILE provides designers with the bricks of an ILE, but it is the author's task to assemble them into a coherent system. It supports the design process, it does not automate it.
- Design is a creative process
Current pedagogical and psychological theories cannot be directly translated into system specifications. A particular authoring question raised by a designer must always relate to some psycho-pedagogically valid conceptual framework. This may be supported by providing the designer with metaphors that help him to `view' his system from some theoretical perspective. During the design of MEMOLAB, we have paid a lot of attention to those design metaphors that are essential for the conceptual architecture of an ILE.
- Propose domain-independent pedagogical knowledge
Most authoring tools are pedagogically neutral. For instance, they provide tools to build questions, but they do not include the knowledge necessary to automate the selection of a relevant question. ETOILE includes some pedagogical expertise that can be used for various domain contents. However, pedagogical knowledge is not neutral, i.e. it often reflects particular educational approaches or values. Hence, ETOILE includes multiple pedagogical knowledge bases and it covers a wide and extensible range of teaching styles.