Design and Development of an Interactive Web-Based Curriculum
for Science, Math, Engineering and Technology:
Texas Aerospace Scholars

Rita Karl
Universities Space Research Association
NASA Johnson Space Center
United States

Abstract: This paper provides an account of the instructional design and development process used to create the Texas Aerospace Scholars curriculum, an interactive multimedia web-based distance education course for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration's (NASA) Johnson Space Center. It is intended that this paper serve as an instructional design blueprint for other curriculum designers and educators to use, should they encounter a similar need for interactive web-based curriculum for students studying science, math, engineering or technology, which incorporates a variety of emerging technologies, Internet tools, and innovative instructional strategies.


Texas Aerospace Scholars (TAS) ( is an educational outreach program between the State of Texas and the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) that encourages high school juniors to consider careers in science, math, engineering and technology.  TAS involves over 300 students in a web-based distance-learning course comprised of a dozen separate assignments that culminates in a series of on-line mentoring discussions with NASA engineers. The interactive on-line learning experience is highlighted by a week-long summer workshop in which selected high school juniors attend a series of briefings, tours, field trips at the NASA Johnson Space Center and work on a team project with NASA mentors to design a human mission to Mars.

Scholars apply to their state legislators each fall and are nominated into the program based on their academic standing and an interest in science, math, engineering and technology.  Scholars participate in the on-line distance education program from November through May that includes completing 12 research and design projects, attending on-line discussion groups, and participating in a virtual scholar community (bulletin board).  This participation involves scholars from two-four hours a week.

The TAS curriculum ( encourages higher-order thinking skills, problem solving, creative design, teamwork and mentoring with NASA engineers.  The one-week summer workshop at the NASA Johnson Space Center utilizes the knowledge and experience gained from the distance education curriculum in the design of a human mission to the planet Mars.  The summer program places scholars in teams with NASA engineering mentors to provide positive career models in technical fields.  24 teachers from across Texas are selected to work as counselors for the summer program and six teachers are hired to review all of the scholar on-line assignments.

Johnson Space Center (JSC) is famous throughout the world as "Mission Control" and has served as the command center for NASA's human space flights since 1965. JSC's mission is to expand the human presence in space through its exploration and utilization, which it achieves through the vital role it plays in many important and highly visible NASA programs. These include the Space Shuttle Program, the International Space Station (ISS) Program, Space Operations Management, the Biomedical Research and Countermeasures Program, and the Advanced Human Support Technology Program. In addition, JSC is home to the Nation's astronaut corps and selects and trains the teams of astronauts. JSC is also responsible for the care and study of lunar and planetary material. The space center houses more than 840 pounds of lunar material gathered by astronauts during the six missions to the Moon's surface and the meteorites believed to be from Mars.

JSC's assignments include extravehicular activity (spacewalks), robotics technology associated with human activities, space medicine, technology utilization on the ISS, and exploration mission planning and design. The space center is a major participant in the ISS program with its development of a crew return vehicle and the conceptual development of a habitation element. An advanced life support system being developed may be the ultimate in recycling and regeneration, supplying crews with food, water, and oxygen indefinitely and perhaps becoming a vital element in long-duration space flight.

In support of NASA's goal to provide educators and students access to on-line interactive activities, Universities Space Research Association, in partnership with JSC provided instructional designers to design and develop two on-line multimedia courses, Shuttle-Station-Moon and Earth to Mars. Utilizing the expertise of the engineers and scientists at the space center, 12 interactive web-based instructional units have been developed focusing on the Space Shuttle program, the International Space Station, the Moon and the planet Mars. The units are accessed by the scholars during their seven-month distance education program, and are a part of the education programs available for high school educators and students accessing the JSC Education Web page (

The web-based materials are in their second year, and have been formatively and summatively evaluated by the program’s year one scholars. This paper outlines the process used by the instructional designers as they began to systematically design and develop this web-based curriculum. The curriculum designers will explain how they used learner and context analysis data to guide them as they identified the most appropriate instructional theory to use as a basis for their curriculum development. The designers will illustrate how an instructional analysis of the subject matter impacted their selection of instructional strategies. And, the design team will describe their development of the web interface and page layout. It is intended that this paper will serve as an instructional design blueprint for other curriculum designers and educators to use, should they encounter a similar need for an interactive web-based curriculum, based on scientific theory and data, which incorporates a variety of emerging technologies, Internet tools, and innovative instructional strategies.

The Instructional Design Process

Given the fact that the instructional designers had experience using the Dick and Carey model (Dick & Carey, 1996), they agreed to base the project's instructional design process on these steps and processes as they created the curriculum. All decisions regarding instructional strategies were based on NASA-JSC instructional analysis data. The process steps followed by the designers are outlined in sequential order below:

The instructional designers were the contact points for all NASA-JSC resources, such as scientists and engineers (also referred to as subject matter experts), digital images, animation, logos, and instructional analysis data already compiled.  The designers reviewed a proposal for a Mars curriculum design for program aimed at grade 5 through 12 that had already been developed by USRA’s Lunar and Planetary Institute Education Staff (Karl & Clifford, 1999). From this proposed curriculum, the designers decided on six instructional modules to begin with: Mars of the Mind, Mars Rocks!, Robo-nautics, The Human Factor, Mission: Possible and Mars Live!  The designers worked on content development and the web-based interface concurrently. They selected the philosophical foundation for the curriculum, created the instructional strategies and content, and the web interface was then coordinated to maintain consistency between the modules. A second set of activities was developed six-months later focusing on the space Shuttle, the International Space Station and the Moon: All Systems Go!, On-Orbit Ops, Some Assembly Required, Space Station Science, Back to the Moon and Moon Base Alpha.


NASA-JSC’s education staff presented the instructional design team with instructional analysis information that was critical to the development of sound, systematically-design curriculum. This information included the purpose statement for educational partnership between NASA-JSC and the State of Texas:

The designers then reviewed the educational mission and goals of the Texas Aerospace Scholars Program: In addition, NASA-JSC provided the following guidance regarding its preferences for the instructional context and content. “The TAS interactive web-based learning experience will include: And, lastly, a description of the target learners states, each scholar “must be a U.S. citizen, at least 16 years of age, a Texas resident, currently in his/her junior year of high school (rising senior), have an interest in and an aptitude for math, science, engineering, or computer science, be able to commit to a one-year relationship with JSC, including a designated one-week residential experience during the summer access to the Internet (home, school, or public library)” (TAS web-site, 1999).

Based on a review of this information, the instructional designers were able to construct goal statements for each of the instructional modules. For example, the Mars of the Mind module goal translated into: At the end of this lesson, students will be able to explain how advancements in technology helped shape our human view of Mars over the course of history. Students will model these experiences either first hand or via the on-line curriculum. Specifically, students will be able to describe,

With these instructional goals and the instructional analysis data from NASA-JSC before them, the designers decided to use a constructivist approach as the philosophical foundation for their module and lesson designs. Designers of constructivist learning environments subscribe to instructional methods which provide students with experience in the knowledge construction process and appreciation for multiple perspectives, embed learning in realistic and relevant contexts, encourage ownership and voice in the learning process, embed learning in social experiences, encourage use of multiple modes of representation, and encourage self-awareness of the knowledge construction process (Wilson, 1996, pp. 11-12). Constructivism seemed an excellent approach given the exploration- and discovery-based theme of these instructional goals, the inquisitive nature of the gifted and talented students, and the web-based delivery method.


Each instructional module was broken up into four sections, with the first section including an introduction to the unit and background information that students need in order to proceed with the activity. It also provided the heart of the instruction where students engaged in web-based interactivities. In the second section, students were asked to construct new meaning out of their experiences in the lesson and provide some type of evidence of their new knowledge. This would be a research or design activity to be submitted to NASA for review and would be based on the lesson objectives.  For example, the activity for the second lesson, Mars Rocks! had students constructing three science questions about Mars (climate, geology and possibility of life) and researching their answers. The third section included additional activities and research links for them to explore on their own, and the fourth section was an interactive quiz that students could take and receive immediate feedback on.

With the instructional objectives in hand for each lesson, the design team began to formulate the instructional strategies, which would ensure that learning occurs as students move through the modules. For example, in Mars of the Mind the designers would begin by providing students with an example of how the evolution of telescopes changed man's view of Mars throughout history. Students would be taken on a web voyage to explore how the technological improvements in the telescope changed our perceptions of the red planet.  Students would then be asked to locate Mars in the night sky on their own and compare their view with the view of early telescopes, observatories and spacecraft views of the planet.


The curriculum interface consists of module logos and a navigation bar. Module logos were created using NASA and TAS graphics. After imposing an image map over the customized logos, "launching pads" were established for the students to access the three parts of each lesson. The navigation bars were constructed in a similar fashion. Generic "Home" and "Lesson" buttons were created from the logos. The designers flowcharted their sites and drew up storyboards for each lesson. The next step, identifying and selecting digital enhancements for each web page, was simple given the vast repository of NASA-JSC resources. Narrative content was then written and instructional activities detailed.

A support network was designed for the students that included e-mail links to several NASA educators and staff members, a weekly homework help chat session with a NASA educator, a community Bulletin Board so students could interact and provide support for each other, and a NASA educator responsible for feedback on the scholar’s activities.  In addition, a NASA engineering mentor was assigned to each scholar who reviews the student’s final project posted on the website.  Scholars are placed into teams before their summer internship and have on-line dialogues with their NASA mentor before arriving for the summer on-site component. Finally, a series of chat sessions with NASA engineers and scientists were hosted during the year as special events scholars could participate in.

The Earth to Mars web pages were authored with FrontPage and Active Server Pages. The activities can be accessed at these locations:

Earth to Mars,


Summative evaluation of the first six lessons occurred via an on-line evaluation instrument that was completed by every participating scholar in the first year of the program.  Students rated the lesson content, assignment difficulty, web-site navigation, the time each lesson took, and offered suggestions for improvement.  Student responses were compiled and evaluated and used to redesign each Earth to Mars lesson for the second year of the program

The second series of lessons, Shuttle-Station-Moon were formatively evaluated by a small group of first year scholars before being released to the second years’ group of scholars.  The formative evaluation assessed the difficulty level of the content, the interactive components and the length each lesson took to complete. Student responses were compiled and evaluated and used to redesign each lesson before it was released.

At the completion of the second year scholars will complete a summative evaluation of the on-line course that will help designers make important choices for course redesign for the third year of the program.  Areas of redesign based on scholar assessment have included, more links to required plug-ins, shortening some lessons and lengthening others, including more multimedia links, and the inclusion of mathematics problems in each lesson.


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    Karl, R. & Clifford, S. (1999). [Water on Mars educational curriculum: In development]. Unpublished raw data.  Houston, TX: Lunar and Planetary Institute.
    Kincaid, M.  (2000).  Texas Aerospace Scholars: education initiatives, phase II, 2001-2003 (brochure).  Houston, TX:  NASA Johnson Space Center.
    Kincaid, M., & Karl, R. (2000). [Texas Aerospace Scholars: A Curriculum outline]. Unpublished raw data.  Houston, TX:  NASA Johnson Space Center.
    Texas Aerospace Scholars web-site. (2000). (
    Wilson, B. G. (Ed.) (1996). Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design. (pp. 11-12). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
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