Moursund, D.G. (September/October 1993). Networking the world. The Computing Teacher. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
I believe I have a reasonably accurate vision of the future of computer-related technology. It is a vision of worldwide, broad band, digital connectivity among people, information, aids to processing the information, and aids to using the information. Broad band means fiber optics or equivalentwe will have interactive television. The connectivity will be intelligentthat is, it will include a great deal of built-in artificial intelligence. From a user point of view, there will be intelligent agents that can carry on a communication with the user and aid the user in accomplishing tasks. Computers will be able to solve more and more problems. Computerized machinery will be able to accomplish more and more tasks.
Intelligent, digital connectivity is a very brief way of summarizing a major change that is going on in our world. The word digital is important. Pictures and graphics, video, sound, text, sets of instructions, and so forth are all represented in a digital format that allows for uniform methods of storage, transmission, and processing. We will have standards for interchangability that will allow information to be stored for many years, and then be retrievable by the (then current) retrieval devices.
The word intelligent is also important. Artificial intelligence has had its ups and downs. Certainly, AI has not lived up to early expectations. However, steady progress continues to occur. Examples include the pen-based computers that are just now beginning to proliferate, the thousands of expert systems that have come into everyday use, voice input systems, and language translation systems.
Intelligent, digital connectivity has many meanings. In an office, it means that the computer, fax, photocopier, and personal communication devices all talk to each other. If a person needs multiple hard copies of a document that they are creating on their computer, they can print to the photocopier. A document can be edited using a personal communications device, and a fax of it sent off from the handheld device. A person participating in a meeting can use a personal communications device to access remotely located files.
In information storage and retrieval, it means a distributed dynamic library with components located at diverse places throughout the world, with contents continually changing. It means a library that is continually interacting with its patrons, gathering information that helps it to better meet their needs.
In tasks that require teams, digital connectivity means remotely located team members may simultaneously view each other, the results of each others work, and the current version of the joint project.
In problem solving, it means that a great deal of the accumulated knowledge of the human race is available to any person or group of people who are identifying a problem and working to solve it. Moreover, it means that such people will have available machines such as computers, robots, and automated factories that can carry out tasks needed to help solve a problem. The problem-solving capabilities of an individual or a team are greatly enhanced by such computer systems.
In entertainment, it means that high-definition television of much of the programming a person might want to watch is available at the precise time they want to watch it. Of course, time-shifting doesnt work if a person wants to participate live in an audience participation show.
The list is easily extended. Virtual realities. Telecommuting. Routine interaction with people of like interests no matter where they are located. More and more artificially intelligent systems that provide intelligent help in solving problems and accomplishing tasks.
The Driving Forces
It is evident that intelligent digital connectivity benefits a lot of people. One measure of the strength of a nation is the capacity of its information highways. A worker and the workers company can gain a competitive advantage through such connectivity. A person can be entertained by and/or through such a system. A persons life is enriched through improved connectivity with friends and colleagues. Thus, there are strong national, commercial, and consumer forces driving the development and implementation of this connectivity.
Moreover, the technology and knowledge to achieve intelligent digital connectivity exists now and is steadily improving. Research and development needed to achieve the vision is going on at a large number of places located throughout the world. The progress continues to be rapid. We are a long way from being constrained by technological limits.
Thus, it seems likely that the world will move steadily toward this connectivity. What will all of this do for education and what will it do to education?
It is obvious that education is not currently a driving force in connectivity. Education lags in implementation, learning to make effective use of the technology, and preparing students to make effective use of the technology. Indeed, it appears that education may be falling still further behind, year after year.
Probably most people reading this article believe it would be desirable to narrow the time lag between the widespread implementation of connection technology, and what is going on in our schools. Thus we ask, what can each of us do to help narrow that gap? This is the first of eight short articles that are motivated by this question.
Connectivity is increasing at a rapid rate. Quite likely you know of a school, university, community, or company that has installed fiber optics. Our telephone companies are making steady progress in increasing their carrying capacity.
The Internet is one of the best known examples of computer connectivity. Its growth appears to be exponential. It consists of more than 10,000 computer networks, more that 15,000,000 users, thousands of searchable databases, thousands of newsgroups, and a steadily increasing number of electronic journals and other periodicals.
Many students already have access to the Internet. This is a good beginning. Ask yourself what an educational system would look like in which all students were logged on to the Internet all the time, so they could use it at their convenience. Then increase your efforts to bring such an educational system into existence.
Moursund, D.G. (October 1993). A brief historical analysis of education. The Computing Teacher. Eugene ,OR: ISTE.
The current pace of technological change is outstripping the ability of our educational system to accommodate change. Our educational system is falling further and further behind in meeting the needs of the children of our society.
Of course, our educational system has changed a great deal over the years. This article presents a very brief overview of the history of education. The goal is to bring a fresh perspective to the difficulties that technology is bringing to that system.
Up until about 10,000 years ago, all people on earth were hunter-gatherers. Knowledge was preserved and passed on from generation to generation in two basic ways: 1) oral tradition; and 2) how to make and use tools. We can think of the educational system in those days as being an informal apprenticeship system. Most of the responsibility for education of children rested with the extended family and/or clan.
This early type of educational system had two important characteristics. First, it was a hands-on and practical. Knowledge and skills that were being learned tended to be of immediate use. Second, there was a relatively low student-to-teacher ratio.
Agriculture supported increasing concentrations of people and increasing specialization. A person might become quite skilled at making and using just a few specialized tools, and might gain a livelihood through such skill and knowledge. A more formal, crafts-type of apprenticeship educational system developed. A formal apprenticeship might extend over many years, but usually the apprentice was making useful contributions to the work of the "master" quite early on. The student-to-teacher ratio remained low.
After the agricultural age had existed for a few thousand years, the early rudiments of writing began to be developed. Initially, a typical city/state didn't need very many people who could read, write, and do formal arithmetic. The vast majority of the earth's population remained illiterate. While a crafts type of apprenticeship educational system continued to suffice, the seeds of change were being sown. The apprenticeship in reading and writing is long, and the apprentice is not of much productive value to the master in the early years.
Over the centuries, knowledge continued to accumulate. This led to increased specialization. It also, very gradually, led to an increased value in learning the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Finally, in our current millennium, came the great breakthrough. The development of movable metal type for the printing press and relatively inexpensive paper led to an explosion in the availability of books. (As an interesting aside, it is estimated that 20 million copies of books were printed during the first 50 years after Gutenberg. Contrast that with the 60 million or so general purpose microcomputers in use in the US today. Worldwide production of microcomputers in 1993 is estimated by various sources to be about 40-45 million.)
It takes many years of study and practice to become functionally literate in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Time spent teaching a child to read and write is time that both the child and the teacher cannot spend milking the cow or tilling the crops. It can be argued that a search for more cost effective ways to help children learn the three Rs led to our current educational system. The current design facilitates a relatively high student-to-teacher ratio.
A very important aspect of this emerging formal educational system was the growing level of formal education in families. Family members could aid their children in learning the three Rs. This allowed the family to continue to play an apprenticeship role in education.
This brings us up to relatively modem time. The historical patterns of knowledge accumulation have continued and there has been a steady acceleration in this rate of accumulation of knowledge.
In addition, several major changes have added to the difficulties of our educational system. First, in certain countries such as in the United States, there has been a substantial change in the nature of the family makeup and its time structuring. Single parent families and families in which both parents work long hours outside the home decrease the educational apprenticeship role of the family. Second, computer-related technology has come into our society very rapidly. Thus, relatively few parents have the computer-related knowledge and skills that their children are being exposed to in schools. Third, computer hardware and software are relatively expensive and have great diversity. Thus, even when the family has needed knowledge and skills, it may lack the appropriate hardware and software to fit well with the educational needs of the child.
There are still other major difficulties that computer technology has brought to education. The pace of change has far outstripped the resources of the inservice teacher training system. The mechanism for making major changes to curriculum is not designed for rapid change. The assessment system is not designed for rapid change. Budgeting processing and equipment replacement processes are not designed for rapid change.
The net result is that we have had a simultaneous breakdown in the abilities of both the home and the school to help children obtain the computer-related technology education that they need.
No Simple Solutions
While the problem seems clear, solutions do not. It is evident that the rapid pace of computer-related technological change will continue for many years to come. Thus the dual problems of the family apprenticeship system-knowledge and facilities-will continue. The problems faced by teachers and the formal educational system will also continue.
However, there are many things that we can be doing. Some will be discussed in future articles in this series. As food for thought, think about the idea that parents and teachers might be apprenticed to children-the children might play the role of masters!
Moursund, D.G. (November 1993). Top-down and bottom-up educational change. The computing Teacher. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
We are living in a time of rapid technological change. However, change is a relative thing. Our parents and their parents also lived in times of rapid technological change. Changes such as the telephone, automobile, airplane, and television seem mind-boggling to me. In any case, it is the adults who are stressed by the change- not the children.
Top-down Decision Making
In the past, educational change was dealt with in a top-down manner. There are many reasons for this. Among them are that there were relatively few well-educated people, access to information was limited, and transportation and communication systems were relatively slow. The top-down approach is still being used in much of the world today. The people in power-definitely not the children being educated-decide on the solutions to be applied to the current educational problems.
A top-down approach to dealing with educational problems has many strengths. Some of these strengths are illustrated in the following simple-minded example. Suppose that every first-grade student in the country used the same reading books and was taught using the same theory of how to teach reading. Suppose that this approach continued for many years, with no changes in the books or methodologies. Eventually all new teachers and all parents of first graders would have received the same initial reading instruction. As they became teachers-informally at home, or formally at school-they would teach the way they were taught, using the materials that they had used as children. This would seem to be both efficient and egalitarian.
In such a system, a change in either content or teaching methodology needs to be given very careful thought. A large change drastically affects both the parents as teachers of their children, and people who are preparing to become teachers. There are other major considerations, such as the cost of preparing new materials and articulation with other grade levels. A change in first grade content or methodology might necessitate changes at every grade level.
Weaknesses of a Top-down Approach
There are many potential weaknesses in having a uniform educational system with changes occurring through a top-down approach. These weaknesses are exacerbated by the basic changes in our world that are summarized by the words "Information Age." In the Information Age, many people are well educated. Information flows freely throughout much of the world. Transportation and communication are much improved. Computer technology is contributing to very rapid change in all areas of technology.
The technology and the research into teaching and learning are combining to contribute to potential change in education. For a really current example, suppose that hypermedia and voice input to computers prove to be superior aids to first-grade students learning to read. Suppose that first graders who learn to read in such an environment prove to have received a far superior education as compared with similar students in other educational environments.
In a bottom-up educational decision making system, many schools might adopt such changes in just a few years. Parents and teachers would be aware of the effectiveness of the new approach, and they would want the best for their children/students. In a top-down approach to educational decision making, such a radical change might take many decades.
Governments, businesses, and education systems through the world are struggling with the top-down versus bottom-up approach to change. Each institution is faced by the changes that the Information Age is bringing to our world and its societies.
Clearly, the greatest changes have occurred in the business world. However, we have also seen immense change in political structures, such as in the Soviet Union. Interestingly, we have seen relatively little change in education. While there have been experiments with school site-based management, for the most part these have been on a modest scale. Most countries are clinging to the educational system design and change process mechanisms that they have employed for many decades.
This is surprising, because it seems so obvious that these mechanisms are no longer viable. Seymour Sarason has spent his professional lifetime analyzing some of the problems of education. His conclusion is that the essence of the problem is who has power. Throughout the world, educational decision-making power is held by groups of people who wield their power in a top-down manner. Thus, the only types of solutions that they can conceptualize and consider implementing are those that are consistent with a top-down approach.
Sarason argues that the only solution to the problems that education faces is to empower the students, parents, and teachers. However, it is not enough just to turn over the power to these groups. They need the education and the support to be able to make good decisions that can be successfully implemented. The analogy of bringing capitalism to people who have spent their entire lives in a controlled economy is relevant. It takes a lot of learning and support for a person to learn to deal with such change.
Many teachers welcome the idea of empowering teachers. But, are they willing to empower their students and the students' parents? When was the last time that you began a class by asking your students what they wanted to learn, and by facilitating them in developing answers that were meaningful to them and their parents? Are your students learning to be independent, self-sufficient learners who can decide what they want to learn, and then learn it?
Sarason, S. (1990). The predictable failure of educational reform. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Moursund, D.G. (December/January, 1993-94). The technology in education problem: Schools can't solve it alone. The Computing Teacher. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
This year's editorials all focus on one specific problemthe inability of our educational system to adequately deal with the very rapid Information Age changes that are occurring throughout the world.
Formal and Informal Education
We all know that much of what a person needs to know in order to function well in our society is not covered in our formal system of schooling. Historically, schools were designed to focus on the types of knowledge and skills that could not be readily learned through being a member of a family, church, and community.
Over a period of many years, a balance developed between what was expected that children would learn in school and what was expected that they would learn outside of school. This balance worked reasonably well for many years, and it is only in recent years that it has fallen apart.
A key component of the balance was the roles that the family unit could play. Rapid changes in technology and rapid changes in our social structure have dealt the family-as-educator component two serious blows. The family unit itself has changed significantly, and the technological knowledge of the average family unit has not kept pace with changes in technology. (The great majority of adults cannot program the VCR or the microwave oven in their homes.)
As the informal component of our educational system has become less able to carry its share of the load, more of the load has been transferred to our formal educational system. However, for the most part, our teachers are ill equipped to deal with the problem. It is one thing for a parent to acknowledge that they cannot program a VCR. It is another thing entirely for a teacher to acknowledge that they lack the knowledge and skills to help their students learn vital components of the curriculum. But, that is exactly the situation we are in. (How many of your fellow teachers know how to use the memory features of a handheld calculator? Can they carry on a learned discussion on the capabilities and limitations of computers in solving the problems in the discipline areas that they teach? Can they work effectively with students who want to learn to communicate in a hypermedia environment?)
Our educational system has dealt with considerable change in the past. Here are eight standard approaches that arc often used. These approaches are not specific just to technology.
Likely you can name other approaches, but these eight suffice for the discussion at hand. Each can be examined for its potential in helping schools cope with the technology-oriented learning needs of their students. Each can be analyzed for cost effectiveness in producing the results we want.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this list is that individually and in various combinations, all of these approaches have been tried. Depending on the standards for student outcomes that one wants to set in the field of computer-related technology, it can be argued that seldom has there been success. I am unaware of any place where there has been success that has been achieved in a cost-effective manner and in a manner that can be scaled up to meet the needs of a state, province, or nation.
This is not surprising. The computer is a general-purpose tool, with many similarities to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Schools have been designed to help students gain a functional level of knowledge and skills in the three Rs. The home and other informal educational systems have been able to contribute substantially in this endeavor. There is nothing comparable to this for technology in education.
Don't Give Up
It can be argued that the schools, by themselves, will never be able to provide a satisfactory solution to the technology in education problem. Certainly, if the problem is going to be solved by the schools alone, the solution lies many decades in the future.
That does not mean that we should give up on the approaches 1-8 given above. Indeed, many of these are crucial to ultimate success. However, what it means is that we need to place a great deal of attention on what our informal educational system can contribute. We need to seek out components of our informal educational system that are particularly suited to addressing the technology in education problem. We need to develop additions to our informal educational system. These ideas will be discussed in a future article.
Moursund, D.G. (February 1994). Technology education in the home. Learning and Leading with Technology. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
This year's editorials all focus on one specific problem-the inability of our educational system to adequately deal with the very rapid Information Age changes that are occurring throughout the world. Previous articles have suggested that our formal schooling system needs increased help from our informal educational system in coping with this problem.
How Do You Spell "Print?"
Several years ago, I heard a story that has stuck in my mind. The story is about a child whose parents are both educators with substantial interests in computers. The child was about five years old and was demonstrating his computer prowess to a visitor who was about 10 years older. The parents were in another room, but they could overhear the conversation. They were impressed as their child turned on the computer, loaded different pieces of software from floppy disks, and demonstrated a variety of games and other computer activities to the older visitor. At one point, their young child decided to demonstrate how to output materials to the printer. They overhead their child asking, "How do you spell Print?'" The young child knew that using the word "Print" was the way to achieve a particular goal with the computer system, but had not yet learned to spell that word. Interestingly, the young child knew that older people, such as the visitor, know how to spell such words.
This story is both remarkable and increasingly commonplace. A child growing up in a computer-rich environment learns to use computers. With appropriate encouragement and help from parents, such a child can gain a wide range of computer skills before entering school.
Coloring Using Crayons
Many years ago, I was baby-sitting for a young married couple who had a four-year old child. When I noticed that there was a box of crayons and a coloring book sitting on the shelf, I decided to engage the child in coloring some pictures.
I remember being surprised that the borders of many of the pictures in the coloring book had been traced over using various colors of crayons. But, none of the pictures themselves had been colored in.
Later in life, as my own children were learning to color, I made sure that they learned to fill in the entire picture! Surely, that is the main concept of coloring books.
What does this have to do with technology education in the home? A coloring book and crayons are a type of technology. My concept of appropriate use of the technology was coloring in the pictures, perhaps staying within the lines and using colors appropriate to the picture. As my own children were growing up, I helped them to learn what I considered to be the "correct" concepts of using this technology.
Computer Technology in the Home
The total installed base of microcomputers in the United States is now one microcomputer per four people-about half the density of installed telephone lines. While the majority of these microcomputers are used in business and government, home use has been growing very rapidly. The home market is being targeted by most of the major computer manufactures with the expectation that it will soon surpass the business and government market.
Thus, an increasing number of homes of school age children have both computer facilities and one or more parents who use computers on the job. This sets the scene for a rapidly increasing amount of home education in use of the technology. The question is, what will children actually learn?
There are a variety of possible answers. The "How do you spell Print?" example illustrates the fact that many parents have both the knowledge of technology and the knowledge of education to help their children learn a great deal about use of the technology. It is clear that we now have many students in school who have grown up in a computer-rich home environment and whose knowledge of this technology far exceeds that of most of their teachers.
At the same time, we have many students in school who have had excellent access to computers as they grew up, but who have not had appropriate guidance in learning to make use of this access. In the same sense that coloring is more than tracing the outline of a picture, using computers is far more than playing games or making use of drill and practice programs.
But, how is a parent who is not an educator supposed to know this? Many parents feel that they are making a major contribution to their children's education if they provide the children with a computer, some educational software, and some computer tools such as a word processor. They lack the personal knowledge of use of computers in education to provide appropriate guidance and help to their children.
Making Better Use of Home Technology
This suggests one possible way to improve education. We need to develop a support structure for parents who have computers in their homes and who want to help their children learn to use them.
This support structure might be parents helping each other. It might be teachers working with parents. It might be students working with parents and with other students.
ISTE is exploring these and other options. One of the options is the possibility of ISTE starting a publication and/or a Special Interest Group for parents. Such a SIG might have local school-based clubs or chapters. If you have experience in this area and would like to help in the start of such a publication or SIG, please contact me.
Dave Moursund, ISTE, 1787 Agate St., Eugene, OR 97403-1923; 503/346-2401. moursund@oregon,uoregon. edu.
Moursund, D.G. (March 1994). Fat pencils. The Computing Teacher. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
This year's editorials all focus on one specific problem-the inability of our educational system to adequately deal with the very rapid Information Age changes that are occurring throughout the world. Previous articles have suggested that our formal schooling system needs increased help from our informal educational system.
This article focuses on the idea of providing students and teachers with a general-purpose set of productivity tools.
Before my first day of school, my parents were given a list of school supplies they were to provide for me. One of the items was a "fat" pencil. This type of pencil is much fatter than the pencils that adults use. The lead doesn't break as easily, and it is easier for young children to hold and use.
Of course, a fat pencil will do pretty much the same things as a regular pencil. Also, young children were weaned from fat pencils as soon as their fine muscle control proved adequate.
The fat pencil idea raises some interesting ideas in terms of computer tools for students. Should we provide special hardware and software for young students? How soon should we wean students from the special hardware and software?
These are hard questions, and I am not aware of much research in this area. However, lots of my friends are using the regular computer hardware with their very young children. Children can learn to make use of a computer mouse and keyboard well before they begin kindergarten.
Young children can also learn to make use of a hard drive and a CD-ROM. It is clear that there is a strong trend toward the CD-ROM drive becoming commonplace. (Many of the newer computer games are only available on CD-ROM, although that is not the only reason for the rapid proliferation of CD-ROM drives.)
The remainder of this article focuses on software. There are lots of nice software packages designed for very young children.
However, by and large, the applications software designed for very young children lack many of the features that they will find useful as they grow older. Some versions of Logo provide exceptions to this rule.
Thus, parents and educators are faced by the problem of when to begin the weaning process and what to wean to.
Generic Productivity Tools for Students
A word processor is an example of a generic productivity tool. It is useful over a wide range of academic disciplines, both in school and outside of school.
A word processor can be contrasted with professional desktop publishing software. While the latter software has many uses, one can think of it as being designed for specialists or professionals.
If you were designing a generic set of software for students and teachers, what would you include? Clearly you would want the usual tools such as word processor, database, spreadsheet, graphics, paint, draw, and telecommunications.
You would want some multimedia and hypermedia tools. This is because you would want students to learn to create nonlinear, multimedia documents.
Next you might think about each specific discipline. Surely you would want a mathematics package and productivity tools aimed towards other specific disciplines. Thus, you would want a music package, an art package, and so on. In each of these areas you would likely distinguish between an introductory or generic tool and a professional tool.
You would also want a set of multimedia reference materials such as an encyclopedia, atlas, common quotations, and so on. Here, we are using a rather broad interpretation of the meaning of "tool" in the computer field. This is consistent with the trend toward building productivity aids into software, such as a including a thesaurus or dictionary in a word processor.
To further extend the example, you might like a basic reference library, perhaps consisting of about 30-40 reference books, in each of the disciplines that are included in the precollege curriculum.
In total, the generic productivity tools described in this section might fill four or five CD-ROMs. Thus, aside from issues of copyright, mass production of millions of copies would cost well under $10 per set.
Wean Students to a Generic Library
The productivity tools discussed in the previous section can be thought of as one component of a Generic Library for students and teachers. There are many other possible components. For example, one might consider the possibility of providing students with computer-assisted learning materials that are appropriate to their academic development levels and that cover the entire curriculum. One might think of providing teachers with a wide range of curriculum materials. And, of course, one wants to provide students access to current materials whose contents change on a day-today basis.
I can easily visualize a future in which all students have routine access to a computer with a CD-ROM drive. Moreover, I can easily visualize that the storage density on a CD-ROM will be 10-20 times what it is today. This would allow a huge library to reside on a single disk. Thus, I can easily contemplate the idea that all students could be provided with a generic library of productivity tools. I do not need to stretch my imagination to believe that such a generic library might be updated every year.
It is such a generic library that I would wean students to.
While the generic library of productivity tools that I have described does not yet exist, large parts of it do. An integrated "works" package contains a good start on the needed software. There are a variety of CD-ROM-based libraries of resource materials. Many new computers are now being sold with a combination of an integrated package of software and a collection of such CD-ROMs. If I were a parent of young children currently in school, I would wean my children to such resources.
Moursund, D.G. (April 1994). Pain versus gain. The Computing Teacher. Eugene, OR: ISTE
This year's editorials all focus on one specific problem-the inability of our educational system to adequately deal with the worldwide Information Age changes.
Previous articles have suggested that our formal schooling system needs increased help from our informal educational system. This article explores how making education more "fun" might decrease some of the burden faced by formal education. If students willingly devoted more of their non-school time to relevant learning activities, that would reduce some of the pressure on the schools.
The word "fun" is closely related to play-like, enjoyable, entertaining, and so on. If an environment has such characteristics for a particular person, the person is inclined by intrinsic motivation to want to spend time engaged in that environment. Of course, what is fun for one person may not be fun for another.
Work or Play
Some people feel that learning requires hard work. "No pain, no gain."
Some people feel that learning can be fun. Seymour Papert, who is well known for his work both in Logo and in Artificial Intelligence, is a strong proponent of designing "fun" learning environments.
The human brain is designed so that it is both naturally curious and so that it automatically learns when it is engaged. Many people have noted that a tremendous amount of learning occurs with little formal instruction or formal study before students start school. They also note that many students spend immense amounts of time becoming experts in various fields-for example, in role-playing games or a particular type of dancing-that don't happen to be part of our current school curriculum.
We know, of course, that the academic disciplines are broad and deep. Many years of sustained, hard effort are required to achieve a reasonable level of mastery in even a single discipline. For example, our educational system includes mathematics as a core subject that students are to study year after year. This leads to a modest number of students getting through a year of calculus-a level of mathematics that is only a couple of hundred years old.
One might argue that this is precisely the case for "no pain, no gain." For example, unless you are willing to put in a great many years of hard work in mathematics, you will never even get near the frontiers of knowledge in this field.
Perhaps the key issue is that attaining a substantial amount of knowledge and skills in any area requires a great deal of time and effort extending over many years. A combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation moves a person toward making and sustaining such a commitment of time and effort. If the knowledge and skills to be learned are highly intrinsically motivating (fun), for a particular individual, this may lead the individual to make the necessary commitments.
Many people devote a great deal of time and effort to mastering a sport such as basketball or ice skating. They put in thousands of hours of time over a period of years. This may be done in an informal environment with little or no formal coaching. Or, it may be done in a formal educational setting with an intense amount of coaching.
In either case, a great deal of learning occurs-there is development of the body and the mind. Moreover, it is clear that quite a bit of transfer of learning occurs. For example, general physical fitness, teamwork, leadership, self reliance, and self esteem are apt to transfer.
Thus, sports can be held up as a model of "fun" activities in which important learning occurs.
Discussions similar to those we are pursuing in this article may lead to considering entertainment versus education. The combination is sometimes called "edutainment." Can and should education attempt to compete with entertainment? Can we design educational environments that are as intrinsically motivating as the various entertainment environments that are common in our society? Will the edutainment industry prosper?
The idea in edutainment is that we may be able to create environments that have three characteristics:
There is no longer any doubt that edutainment materials can be developed that satisfy conditions 1 and 2. The developers of edutainment environments need to be putting more thought and effort into the issue of transfer of learning to the real-world application areas and to more advanced studies.
While I can conceive of having fun learning environments at the beginning levels in almost any field, it is harder to believe that such fun learning environments will be created that will carry the learner to the higher levels and to the frontiers of each discipline. Thus, at some stage, the learner will be faced by the "no pain, no gain" environment.
Meanwhile, I look forward to more and better edutainment materials becoming available. Clearly such materials will have a major impact on our formal educational system.
[Dave Moursund, ISTE, 1787Agate St., Eugene. OR 97403-1923; 503/346-2401; firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Moursund, D.G. (May 1994). Computers and human intelligence. The Computing Teacher. Eugene, OR:ISTE.
This year's editorials all focus on one specific problem-the inability of our educational system to adequately deal with the worldwide Information Age changes.
When people talk about the Information Age, they are usually thinking about computer-related technologies such as computer hardware and software, hypermedia and multimedia, and so on. However, the Information Age is also fueled by progress in any area that relates to the processing and use of information. For example, progress in the cognitive sciences, including brain theory and learning theory, is a significant factor in our Information Age.
All of the previous articles in this series have focused on computer-related technology. This article focuses on Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner's ideas are analyzed for how they relate to uses of computers in education.
Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Howard Gardner is a cognitive scientist who has written about 30 books. One of the best known is Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, first published by Basic Books in 1983. In this book, he argues that each person has at least seven distinct categories or types of intelligence. Gardner thinks of intelligence as being able to solve problems and to create (make, perform, etc.) a product. A person may be quite talented in one intelligence area and have little talent in another. Each person has their own profile of intelligences. The seven categories proposed by Gardner are:
Gardner and others have noted that the great majority of problems that are presented to students in school, and the products they are expected to create, tend to fall into the Linguistic and the Logical/mathematical areas. These two intelligences play a dominant role in our educational system.
Solving Problems and Creating Products
Gardner's definition of intelligence focuses on solving problems and creating products. Products include an, dance, music, poetry, and so on.
There are many tools that people use as they solve problems and create products. A musician may use both musical notation and musical instruments. A sculptor may make use of both hand and power tools. A mathematician uses paper, pencil, mathematical notation, and the work of previous mathematicians.
Thus, it is clear that when we talk about a person having a high level of intelligence of a particular type, we take it for granted that the person has access to tools that are used to solve problems and create products in that intellectual area.
This leads us to consideration of computer-related tools. Think of these tools in terms of how they help a person to solve problems and create product. That is, think of them in terms of their ability to enhance or facilitate intelligence.
There are a variety of ways to do this. In a class that I recently taught, I provided my students with the following table:
The exercise was for each student to give their opinions on the extent to which computer-related tools contribute to each type of intelligence. The rating scale is from 1 (very little) to 3 (a medium amount) to 5 (a great deal).
Such ratings are subjective and also dependent on individual rater's knowledge of the range and nature of computer applications. Thus, there is no one set of correct answers.
However, all of my students agreed that computers add substantially to Linguistic and Logical/mathematical intelligence. There were lesser levels of agreement in the other areas.
This is very interesting! Computers add considerably to intelligence in the areas that are particularly important to success in school.
Let's translate these insights into a simple-minded example. We encounter a student in school whose greatest levels of intelligence lie outside the Linguistic and Logical/mathematical categories. The student does poorly in school. School does little to enhance the student's natural abilities in the other intelligences. Perhaps the student eventually drops out of school.
Now consider an alternative. The student is provided with good access to computer facilities and instruction in their use as an aid to solving problems and creating product in the areas making use of Linguistic and Logical/mathematical intelligence. The student and the educational system agree on goals for appropriate levels of performance. Simultaneously, a great deal of the student's schooling focuses in areas where the student is more naturally gifted. The student experiences success and finds that school is relevant. Perhaps the student stays in school and eventually becomes an artist, dancer, or musician.
Howard Gardner and his associates are developing schools based on his theory of multiple intelligences. It seems clear that all schools could benefit by understanding this theory and its implications for individual students. It seems clear that this theory provides guidance in finding appropriate educational uses of computers.
[Dave Moursund, ISTE, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923.]