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Introductory activities help you to understand the underlying purposes and concepts of the Virtual Design Center and to plan your progress through the six steps. The basic structure of the six steps is derived from Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe (2001). They suggest specifying goals and designing your assessment before planning the activities. This helps to set clear priorities and purposes of the learning activities.


Each step of the Virtual Design Center helps you prepare deliverables that form the design document for an inquiry-based learning activity. Inquiry activities are multifaceted and involve posing questions; examining resources; planning investigations; using tools to gather, analyze, and interpret data; and proposing explanations and predictions (National Research Council, 1996). By following the steps, you lay the framework for developing a learning environment that supports learner inquiry and is built upon sound, research-based best practices.

This activity models the structure of each step of the Virtual Design Center. In the six steps this structure will be broken into different pages. Familiarize yourself with the structure and key elements of each step:

About this step. You will begin each step with an introduction to its activities and outcomes and how it fits with the big picture of the design, based on the Virtual Design Center’s three underlying principles:

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Alignment in design space. Within the virtual design space, you will define and align six parameters as faces of a cube, which become the core of your design ideas.

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NASA product development overview. The NASA product development and education products review were designed to ensure high standards of the products distributed by NASA Education. This page will help you understand all of the steps for developing a NASA product and also how each Virtual Design Center step aligns with the product review criteria.

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Dimensions of inspiration.  NASA has the mission of inspiring the next generation of explorers. There are five dimensions of inspiration, and each step will help you incorporate them into your design.

Activities. Each step includes one or more activities and resulting deliverables.

  • Design principles. These principles guide your design of an inquiry-based activity in the Virtual Design Center. Some steps will guide you to read the research summaries about these principles.

  • Deliverables. A deliverable is the product you are expected to produce after each activity. The collection of deliverables makes your design document of your proposed inquiry-based activity.

  • Examples. We provide you with the examples based on deliverables developed by Virtual Design Center contributors and previous participants. Read the overview of each project.

Debriefing. At the end of each step, you should think about what you accomplished, what you might revise from the previous deliverables, and how you will build upon them in the next step.

Through these elements each step of the Virtual Design Center will take you closer to developing a design document for a high-quality, inquiry-based product that will meet NASA’s standard for approved products. Using the links provided above, read more about each element to become familiar with the recurring themes of the Virtual Design Center steps.


If you have not done so, download a blank copy of the work plan agreement. Discuss it with your team and your facilitator to complete it. Go to the Overview page to read our suggestions for your team. Your facilitator will provide a user name and password that give you access to the discussion board so that you can share documents among your team members, with your facilitators, and possibly with other Virtual Design Center participants.

To improve the Virtual Design Center steps and to increase knowledge within the instructional design profession, we study the effects of the Virtual Design Center’s structure and design principles on design practice and products. You can find out more about the Virtual Design Center research effort from your facilitator.


Through this step you learned about the basic concepts of the Virtual Design Center and the structure of each step, and you finalized your initial work plan.

Once you receive your user name and password for the discussion board, log in and find the discussion forum for your team's project. Provide a brief introduction of yourself and your team and discuss your expectations and what motivated you to participate in the Virtual Design Center. 

The next step (step 1) will guide you to think and write about your target audience and the importance of your project for them and their educators.


National Research Council. (1996). National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2001). Understanding by design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.


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