Joel Duffin

Joel Duffin, PhD

PO Box 529
Millville, UT 84326
joel DOT duffin AT gmail DOT com


Authoring Tools | Instructional Design Theory | Math and Science Education
Integrating Technology into the Classroom

Authoring Tools

I am interested in creating authoring tools that reduce the required technical skill and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of reusing and adapting interactive online resources. Of particular interest are authoring tools for secondary and college level math and science teachers. Keys to designing effective authoring tools for these audiences include understanding teacher goals and constraints, reuse and adaptation tasks, and the barriers that teachers encounter when trying to reuse and adapt interactive online resources. Also crucial is identifying the structures manipulated when designing online instruction and creating effective representations for working with those structures.

My dissertation study focused on the development of a theory to guide the design of authoring tools that support middle school math teacher reuse and adaptation of interactive online activities (Duffin, 2004). The theory, called TATSTAM, identifies and describes teacher goals, tasks, and barriers that should be considered and specifies design guidelines for authoring tools. TATSTAM includes a model of reuse that extends the LCMS model of digital library resource reuse (Sumner & Dawe, 2001) by identifying teacher goals that should be considered, adding use and assess to the activities included in the model, and emphasizing the importance of considering resource grain size when studying reuse.

As part of my dissertation study I iteratively developed and evaluated an authoring tool called TADRIOLA that teachers can use to find, understand, modify, use, and share interactive online resources (see The tool allows teachers to draw interactive resources from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM) or any other website.

Instructional Design Theory

During my studies at Utah State University I participated with Dr. Gibbons in the development of an instructional design theory called Model Centered Instruction (MCI) (Gibbons, Lawless, Anderson, & Duffin, 2001). MCI puts at the center of analysis and design, models of environments, systems, performance, and learning. MCI proposes using a layered view of design in which model, problem, instructional strategy, message, representation, and media logic structures are considered separately (Duffin & Gibbons, in preparation). Different design languages are used to analyze and design different layers. Emphasis is given to identifying the types of decisions made at each level of design, ways of representing those decisions, and understanding how those decisions affect and constrain decisions at other levels of design. As part of my work with Dr. Gibbons on MCI we conducted experimental research on feedback following extended problem solving in a simulation environment (Gibbons, Robertson, Duffin, & Thompson, 2001). As part of this study I created an instructional simulation and an expert feedback system that delivered the treatments used in the study. I will continue to help develop MCI by writing about the theory, creating examples of applying it, create tools to facilitate its application, and experimentally testing it.

Other instructional design theories that I have studied and am interested in conducting research on include: Merrill’s Component Display and Instructional Transaction Theories (Merrill & Twitchell, 1994), Elaboration Theory (Reigeluth & Stein, 1983), and van Merrienboer’s 4 Component Instructional Design (4C/ID) model (van Merrienboer, 1996). Related to the 4C/ID model, during an online course that I taught, I conducted a research study investigating problem sequencing and the use of part-task and whole-task problems in instruction. I have done a thorough review of the intelligent tutoring systems and instructional design theory literature on problem sequencing and plan to conduct research in this area.

Math and Science Education

For the past three years I have worked with mathematicians and math educators at Utah State University on an NSF funded project called the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (see While working on this project I have helped design, develop, evaluate, and revise Java applets, activities, and a website for K-8 mathematics. The primary goal of this project has been to create tightly focused interactive programs that support student acquisition of conceptual understanding. We have attempted to accomplish this goal by creating focused applets and activities that cover important content, take minimal time to learn to use, and allow teachers and students to visualize and dynamically manipulate mathematical models. As the project has matured I have begun investigating how teachers actually use NLVM and similar resources and how we can tailor the NLVM to better meet teacher and student needs. Part of this work has been to study the ways that teachers want to be able to adapt NLVM resources and to create tools that make that easily possible. I am a principal investigator on a pending NSF grant proposal to work with teachers to develop a number of online modules that utilize NVLM resources, target objectives specified in state core curriculum, and utilize NLVM resources for assessment purposes. During those projects I will investigate ways to include teachers in the development process and ways of using interactive online learning resources such as those in the NLVM for assessment.

Prior to working on the NLVM project I worked on a similar project to create CD-ROM based materials for Precalculus. As part of that project I created problem solving environments that included expert systems that could give hints, elaborated demonstrations, and feedback (Duffin, 1997). My interests in these types of systems has led me to study the ACT-R theory of human cognition (Anderson, & Libiere, 1998) and the intelligent tutoring systems that have been built based on that theory. I attended a week long workshop at Carnegie Mellon where researchers taught us about the processes and tools they use to create intelligent tutors and gave us the opportunity to begin building some ourselves. I plan to continue studying and to conduct research on the design and use of intelligent tutoring systems.

Integrating Technology into the Classroom

I am interested in supporting the appropriate use of technology in science and math education. As part of my dissertation work I conducted focus groups and user tests with approximately 100 math teachers in different locations across the United States. In addition, I worked with a teacher to develop online instruction to teach transformations and symmetry and spent a week in a computer lab helping her use it to teach two 9th grade geometry classes.

While at Utah State University I have worked with math professors to investigate ways of integrating technology into the entry level college math classes taught here. In order to better understand the requirements and content of those classes I taught two semesters of College Algebra. During one of those classes I used a curriculum that utilizes Intelligent Tutoring Systems that were developed at Carnegie Mellon.


Anderson, J. R, Corbett, A. T., Koedinger, K. R., & Pelletier, R. (1995). Cognitive tutors: Lessons learned. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4(2), 167-207.

Anderson, J. R., & Libiere, C. (1998). The atomic components of thought. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Duffin, J. W. (1997). Instructional math testing software. Unpublished master degree project proposal and summary. Utah State University. Available at:

Duffin, J. (2004). Theory for authoring tools that support teacher adaptation of mathlets. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Utah State University. Available at:

Duffin, J., & Gibbons, A. S. (in preparation). Decompressing and aligning the layers of CBI design. Available at:

Gibbons, A. S., Lawless, K. A., Anderson, T. A., & Duffin, J. (2001). The web and model-centered instruction. In B. H. Khan (Ed.), Web-based training (pp. 137-146) Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Gibbons, A. S., Robertson, D. J., Duffin, J., & Thompson, B. (2001). Effects of administering feedback following extended problem solving. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 25(4). Amityville, New York: Baywood Publishing Company.

Merrill, M. D. & Twitchell, D. G. (Ed.) (1994). Instructional design theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Reigeluth, C. & Stein, F. (1983). The elaboration theory of instruction. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.

Sumner, T., & Dawe, M. (2001). Looking at digital library usability from a reuse perspective. Proceedings of the First ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (pp. 416-425).

Van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (1997). Training complex cognitive skills. A four component instructional design model for technical training. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.