Moursund's IT in Education Home Page

Editorials

Volume 23 1995-96 Editorial (with Retrospective Comments)

Reprinted with permission from Learning and Leading with Technology (c) 2000-2001, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education. 800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777, cust_svc@iste.org, http://www.iste.org/. Reprint permission does not constitute an endorsement by ISTE of the product, training, or course.

1. Aug.-Sept. 1995 The Basics Do Change
2. October 1995 Distributed Intelligence
3. November 1995 Effective Practices (Part 1): Computers in Schools
4. Dec./Jan. 1995/96 Effective Practices (Part 2): Productivity Tools
5. February 1996 Effective Practices (Part 3): Technology - Enhanced Learning
6. March 1996 Effective Practices (Part 4): Problem Solving
7. April 1996 Effective Practices (Part 5): The Future
8. May 1996 The Connectivity-Based Revolution

The Basics Do Change

Moursund, D.G. (September 1995). The Basics Do Change. Learning and Leading with Technology.

Q. How do you respond to people who argue against computers in schools by speaking about the importance of the "basics"?

I begin by agreeing that the basics are really important. Many people agree about what constitutes the basics in education, and a number of the basics can be combined into an overall goal for education such as the following:

All students should gain a working knowledge of speaking and listening, observing (which includes visual literacy), reading and writing, arithmetic, logic, and storing and retrieving information. All students should learn to solve problems, accomplish tasks, and carry out other higher order cognitive activities that make use of these basic skills.

There are three important ideas here. First, the list is often summarized as "the three Rs," even though it contains more than three items. Second, the goal has an emphasis on performance at a level requiring higher order skills. Third, all students should achieve the goal.

Ten thousand years ago, the basics of education were quite different. Reading and writing had not been invented. Information was stored and passed on mainly through a combination of oral tradition and artifacts such as tools. The development of reading and writing clearly brought with it a significant addition to the basics.

Thus, the basics themselves can and do change. However, they do not change very often. The three Rs have been with us for thousands of years. We have no indication that they will suddenly disappear.

The higher order thinking skills associated with the basics have also stood the test of time. When we say "read and write" we mean that there should be intelligent, higher order processing of information through reading and writing. Indeed, we mean that people should be able to meet contemporary standards in the use of these basics. For example, a few thousand years ago nobody was expected to be able to read a bus or train schedule. Now, however, a lack of high performance on such a task is taken as evidence that our schools are failing. The emphasis is on performance-on being able to read and process the information in order to meet contemporary standards.

The idea that all students should master the basics is an important part of our educational goals. If we were to go back just a few hundred years, we would find ourselves in a time when many people received no formal education in reading and writing. Of those who did, the highest proportion received fewer than three years of formal Instruction. Contemporary standards were not very high. Standards do change.

Tools and Contemporary Standards

There is another dimension to the basics: the tools we use. The tools and the basics aft so intertwined that in many cases we do not attempt to separate them. For example, the abacus has been used for about 5,000 years. Over the past few hundred years, paper-and-pencil arithmetic replaced the abacus in many educational systems. Both the abacus and the paper and pencil are tools-they are physical artifacts developed by people. Other artifacts that have proven very useful in arithmetic and mathematics include me slide rule, the calculator, and the computer.

Similarly, consider writing. At one time students had to learn how to select an appropriate quill, cut its point property, and gather and mix the ingredients for ink. These were part of the basics of writing. Later, pencils were developed-and then the typewriter and then the ball point pen. Still more recently, the word processor was developed.

We have nearly universal agreement that arithmetic and writing are basics in education. However, we lack agreement on which tools should be embedded in the basics and how those tools should affect the basics.

Obviously, there is no single right answer. It is both appropriate and desirable that people should argue about which tools to embed into the definitions of the basics. These discussions need to include a focus on contemporary standards of expected performance in using the basics.

To take a simple example, when I was in high school all students taking algebra learned to calculate square roots by using a paper-and-pencil technique that bears some resemblance to long division. This is a rather laborious process, and it is easy to make mistakes. Now, however, this computational technique has largely disappeared from the curriculum. It has been replaced because students now have easy access to handheld calculators. The hand-held calculator can calculate square roots much faster and more accurately than students doing the calculations by hand. Moreover it does not take very long to learn to use a calculator to calculate a square root. The learning time that is saved can be devoted to other tasks.

The point is that the calculator supports an increase in contemporary standards in arithmetic and mathematics. To a large extent, contemporary standards in education are based on levels of performance expected of people working in business and industry Business and industry are less constrained by the weight of history than are schools, and people working in business and industry select tools that help them solve problems and carry out tasks. Thus, business and industry set contemporary standards based on the use of available, effective tools.

This type of analysis should help us to understand the nature of the basics issue. I strongly support the importance of the basics. But I want students to learn to meet contemporary adult standards of performance, too. Thus, I strongly feel that students need to be educated in the environment of the tools that adults use as they define their own contemporary standards. Computers are now part of the basics!

[Send your questions for this column to Learning and Leading With Technology, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923; fax 503/346-5890; e-mail tsfe@oregon.wregon.edu. You can e-mail Dr. Moursund directly at moursund@oregon.uoregon.edu.]

Distributed Intelligence

Moursund, D.G. (October 1995). Distributed Intelligence. Learning and Leading with Technology.

Q. It seems like every time I talk to you, you have come up with some new far out idea. What's your latest?

Recently I read the book Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence, by David Perkins (New York: The Free Press, 1995). This book discusses a number of different definitions of intelligence. It examines these definitions in terms of whether various types of intelligence can be increased by things such as drug avoidance, proper nutrition, exposure to a rich intellectual environment, appropriate schooling, and so on. As might be expected from the title of the book, the author believes intelligence can be increased. His specific approach is closely related to the idea of high-road transfer, a theory of transfer of learning that he helped develop nearly a decade ago.

The last part of Perkins' book is futuristic. He speculates about the inadequacies of individual human intelligence to effectively deal with many of the complex problems faced by the societies of our world. This speculation serves as an introduction to discussing distributed intelligence.

Distributed intelligence is defined as a combination of people and computers networked together and supported by software designed to help the overall system carry out activities that require intelligence. The individual computers as well as the networking system include artificial intelligence software and groupware-software specifically designed to enhance collaborative work by the people on the network. The system may include access to massive databases and to huge amounts of computing power.

Two things strike me as particularly important about distributed intelligence

  1. Research conducted using a variety of different approaches supports the need for and value of distributed intelligence systems.
  2. The various components of the system can all become more “intelligent.''

There has been quite a bit of research on problem solving done by collaborative groups versus individuals. The research supports the value of collaborative groups in a wide range of different problem-solving situations. Access to information and access to computer tools to help process the information are important aids to problem solving. Perhaps most important, however, is that many of the problems that people want to solve and tasks that people want to accomplish are too large to be carried out by a single person. Collaborative efforts are necessary.

Consider the following points about how each of the individual components of a distributed system can grow in the contributions it makes to the overall intelligence of the system.

  1. Research by Perkins and many others assures us that we can significantly increase the "effective" intelligence of a person functioning in rather general problem-solving environments, such as in a distributed intelligence system. If you have worked with cooperative learning groups in your own teaching, you know that students can learn to be more effective in such groups. And, of course, it is obvious that training and experience in problem solving making use of a distributed intelligence system will help a participant to get better at such an activity.
  2. The hardware components of computer networks are getting better. Eventually it will be common to use networks that allow high-definition, two-way interactive audio and video.
  3. Significant progress is continuing in the development of groupware.
  4. The field of artificial intelligence continues to make progress, and it is producing useful problem-solving aids, such as expert systems and agents.
  5. More and more of the collected knowledge of the human race is being digitized and stored in computer databases. The capabilities of the hardware and software needed to store, retrieve, and make effective use of this information is increasing at a rapid pace.

It is clear to me that distributed intelligence systems are a wave of the future whose time is rapidly approaching in the area of education. Of course, this presents educators and our educational system with still another challenge. Our educational system does not have in place the full-blown distributed intelligence systems that are just now coming into use in many businesses.

However, there are many different things that schools can do now to help their students become better prepared to function well in distributed intelligence systems. Examples include:

  • An increased emphasis on cooperative learning and cooperative problem solving.
  • Use of e-mail and other forms of communication systems as an aid to collaborative activities. A project carried out by students located in two different classrooms in a school or in two different school buildings in a city can be a useful learning experience.
  • Increased emphasis on learning to represent, communicate about, and solve complex problems in all disciplines.
  • Increased emphasis on learning to use the power of computer tools such as databases, spreadsheets, graphics, and word processing to represent and solve problems.
  • Increased emphasis on powerful aids to problem solving, such as those found in computer-assisted design and mathematics packages.

The work of Perkins and other cognitive scientists suggests ways that we can help individual people become more "intelligent." The potential gains are real, but modest in size. They pale to insignificance when compared to the potentials of distributed intelligence.

Effective Practices (Part 1): Computers in Schools

Moursund, D.G. (November 1995). Effective Practices (Part 1): Computers in Schools. Learning and Leading with Technology. ISTE.

Q. I am planning to make a presentation to our school board. What are some really good arguments that computers make a difference in education?

This is a frequently asked question. I am currently involved in a research project that is designed to summarize some of the answers. This column and my columns in the subsequent four issues of Learning and Leading With Technology' provide a five-part answer summarizing some of what my research group is finding as well as my own current thinking on this question,

Handle-Assisted Hammering

Listen in on a hypothetical conversation from several hundred thousand years ago:

J: Hi, Tarz, I heard you working. I see you are using a hand ax to break up the mastodon bones.

T: Right, Jane. The marrow will go great in the stew.

J: Say, Tarz, let me try out my new ax.

T: Interesting-you have used a leather thong to tie a stick to a stone ax. Why would you want to do that?

J: I call the stick a "handle." With a handle, I can get a harder hit and it doesn't take as much strength. Also, I am less apt to mash my fingers when I hammer on a bone. You know, that happens pretty often when you use a hand ax.

T: True, but I don't like your idea. I can't imagine how you can hammer where you want to hammer. It looks awkward. And it is dangerous. The stone ax could fly off the handle. Furthermore, what if you are out in a desert and there are no branches or thongs available? I don't like your idea. I don't want you teaching that idea to our children!

Of course. Jane had invented the better tool. She eventually overcame Tarz's objections, and the new tool came into common use.

The Better Tool

A short answer to the question given at the beginning of this month's column is that computers are "better tools." Contemporary standards for solving problems and accomplishing tasks are steadily becoming more demanding. People need better tools in order to meet these higher standards.

A longer answer is that there has been a great deal of research on computers and their uses in education, and this research strongly supports the contention that computers are a better tool and that students benefit substantially by the thorough integration of computers into their educational system.

This first column in this series focuses on some general issues about research on computer technology in education. The next three columns will discuss effective practices in three different areas of computer technology use in education. The final column will discuss the future of educational technology.

Effective Practices

The history of computer use in K-12 classrooms goes back to before 1960. Time-shared computer systems made instructional computing available to many students well before the invention of the microcomputer. Microcomputers began to come into the classrooms in the late 1970s and are now the dominant computer technology being used in K-12 classrooms.

The past 35 years of computer use in schools have given us a vast amount of accumulated knowledge about computers in education. Figure 1 shows how information from the research literature, from practitioners, and from experts in the field contribute to effective practices in the use of computer technology in education.

Figure 1. Inputs to information on effective practices.

A Research Question

You might wonder why it is necessary to draw on such diverse sources of information in order to identify effective practices. Why not just design and conduct high-quality research that will provide the needed answers? This section illustrates some of the difficulties of a pure research approach.

Consider the following research question: "Do students who receive at least half of their writing instruction and practice in a computer-based writing environment learn to write better than students who receive all their writing instruction and practice in a pencil-and-paper environment?"

Superficially this seems like a good research question. Of course, it would be difficult to actually carry out such research. Presumably, such a project would need to be carried out for many years. Two groups of students would be required, with all students closely matched in all characteristics except the writing "treatment" they received. The teachers of the computer-based writing components would need to be as well qualified at the teachers of the pencil-and-paper writing component. Assessment instruments would need to be developed that could compare somewhat unlike activities-writing in a pencil-and-paper environment versus writing in a computer environment.

Actually, this is not a good research question. There are certain types of writing that are new to the computer field-they do not exist in a pencil-and-paper writing mode. What weight should be given to a method in which student learn to communicate in an e-mail environment, perhaps one in which students from widely dispersed locations work collaboratively on a project? (To maintain the integrity of the study we presumably would not allow the students writing with pencil and paper to use e-mail.) What weight should be given to a process in which students learn to create hypermedia documents? What role does a spell checker play in this experiment? What weight should we give to the development of desktop publishing skills?

Some students have physical handicaps that prohibit them from learning to write with pencil and paper. Other students may be developmentally delayed in the fine muscle controls needed to write with a pencil. How could one justify prohibiting these students from gaining any expoure to these new modes of.computer-assisted communication throughout the many years that this research would be carried out?

Although the amount of space that I have available in this short column prohibits me from thoroughly discussing research issues, you can begin to see the difficulties. In terms of this specific example, it is becoming increasingly valuable for a person to know how to communicate effectively in both a pencil-and-paper mode and in a computer-assisted mode. These two modes of communication are not the same. In certain communication situations, pencil and paper is the better tool. In others, a computer is the better tool. Our educational system should not frame this as an either-or question. Rather, we should look for effective ways to use both tools.

[Send your questions/or this column to Learning and Leading With Technology, International Society for Technology' in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923; fax 503/346-5890: e-mail iste@oregon.uoregon.edu. You can e-mail Dr. Moursund directly at moursund@oregon.uoregon.edu]

Note: The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) has received funding from Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates to carry out a project titled "The Road Ahead." NFIE is a nonprofit educational foundation created by the National Educational Association in 1969. NFIE has subcontracted with ISTE to conduct research and evaluation on this project. Some of the ideas in this series of columns on computers and effective practices are based on this research.

Effective Practices (Part 2) Productivity Tools

Moursund, D.G. (December-January 1995-96). Effective Practices (Part 2) Productivity Tools. The Computing Teacher.

Q. I am planning to make a presentation to our school board. Are there some really good arguments that computers make a difference in education?

We grow up surrounded by human produced artifacts-aids to the mind and aids to the body. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are examples of human produced aids to the mind; binoculars, bicycles, and telephones are examples of aids to the body.

All of these human produced artifacts (let's agree to call them tools) extend the capabilities of individuals and groups of people. Those who have learned to use these tools effectively have increased their ability to solve problems, accomplish tasks, and learn about the world.

On a historical time scale measured in hundreds of thousands of years, the development of society-changing tools has proceeded at a moderate pace. Thus, historically, most people have faced very few of these technological changes during their lifetime.

However, the pace of change has quickened over the past few hundred years, and it continues to quicken. Now we have new tools being piled on new tools in a never ending onslaught. Each year we see a number of new, potentially society-changing tools.

Many of the new tools make use of computer technology. Thus, our educational system is faced by the challenge of how to deal with computers as tools.

Generic Computer Tools

Many people simply "throw up their hands" at the pace of change of computer technology. They suggest that the rate of change is so great that there is no sense in helping students learn about the technologies in school. They argue that "it all will have changed in six months."

However, many new technologies are well worth learning. For example, the microcomputer with a word processor began to be readily available more than 15 years ago. The difference between writing by hand and writing in a word processing environment is considerable, and is probably larger than the difference between writing with a word processor developed in 1980 and writing with a present day word processor

The point is, we have a new tool for writing. It is not particularly easy to learn to use this writing tool, but once one learns to use it effectively, it is relatively easy to adapt to the changes this tool continually undergoes.

A word processor is a generic tool. It has general use across many different disciplines and can be used to accomplish many different writing tasks. It is not a tool that will disappear one year or five years from now. We can integrate the use of word processors into our K12 educational system with confidence that students just now entering kindergarten that the word processor will be a useful and routinely used tool in their adult lives.

There are many such generic tools. Following is a list of some of these tools, each of which has the characteristics of widespread applicability and a long life expectancy. Of course, each tool will change significantly over time, growing ever more powerful and versatile. However, each has the characteristic that once a person masters it as a basic tool, it will not be overly difficult to adapt to the changes the tool undergoes.

Computer assisted design (CAD). CAD software is used to produce architectural and engineering drawings. It has replaced the ruler, compasses, protractors, and other tools the draftsperson formerly used.

Database. A database is an organized collection of information, such as a telephone book or encyclopedia. A computerized database is much easier to edit (add entries, make corrections, delete entries) and use than a printed database.

Desktop presentation (to accompany oral presentations). The overhead projector; filmstrip projector, movie projector, tape recorder, and video projector have gradually merged into a computer-based presentation system.

Hypermedia. A hypermedia document, which contains text, sound, graphics, and video, is desired to be used interactively. Hypermedia is a new form of communication.

Spreadsheet. An electronic spreadsheet, which allows users to manipulate and make computations using numbers and formulas, is a standard tool in modem.

Telecommunications. This covers a variety of software used to link people and computers across distances.

Word processor. Electronic text editors have become the norm for all professional writing because of the power they offer for formatting and changing documents.

Each of these generic tools can be integrated into the K-12 curriculum in a manner that will significantly help students as they move into the adult world.

[Send your questions/or this column to Learning and Leading With Technology, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923; fax 541/346-5890; iste@oregon.uoregon.edu. You can e-mail Dr. Moursund directly at moursund@oregon.uoregon.edu.]

Note: The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) has received funding from Microsoft founder and CEO William Gates III to carry out a project titled “The Road Ahead.” NFIE is a non-profit educational foundation created by the National Educational Association in 1969. NFIE has subcontracted with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to do research and evaluation on this project. Some of the ideas in this series of columns on computers and effective practices are based on this research.

Effective Practices (Part 3): Technology - Enhanced Learning.

Moursund, D.G. (February 1996). Effective Practices (Part 3): Technology - Enhanced Learning. The Computing Teacher.

Q. I am planning to make a presentation to our school board. What are some really good arguments that computers make a difference in education?

I am currently involved in a research project designed to investigate this issue and find some answers to this frequently asked question. This column is the third in a five-part series of columns summarizing some of what my research group is finding and explaining my own current thinking on this question.

Lifelong Learners

One of the widely accepted goals of education is that all students should make significant progress toward becoming independent, self-sufficient, lifelong learners. This is important because the totality of human knowledge is growing so rapidly To become responsible adult citizens, young people will need to acquire a combination of knowledge and skills that do not yet exist.

This means that our educational system needs to place increased emphasis on learning how to learn. Research tells us that learning is a constructive process-that learners build on their previous knowledge and skills. Each learner has individual differences in learning styles and learning abilities, background knowledge, and experiences. Thus, learners can benefit by learning more about their own specific learning characteristics and how to improve their knowledge and skills as learners.

Traditional education helps students learn how to learn in a formal school environment. However, this is not the learning environment adults experience as they become lifelong learners. The learning environments adults face at home, at work, and at play tend to be quite different than the structured classroom settings of our formal educational system.

Technology-Enhanced Learning

In recent years we have seen great strides in the development of a number of powerful new technology-based aids to learning. Five key examples include:

  1. Computer-Assisted, Instruction (CAI). This includes drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, and microworlds. Increasingly, CAI is avail- able in a hypermedia environment that includes text, sound, graphics, and video. CAI uses research-based principles of cognitive learning theories and includes the use of built-in generic tools such as word processors and computer-based calculators.
  2. Computer-Managed Instruction (CMI). This system uses record keeping, self-assessment, and feedback to provide guidance in a learning task. The learning itself may take place via a variety of learning aids, such as CAI, distance education, and books.
  3. Distance Education. This may involve real-time interaction, perhaps including both two-way audio and two-way video; it may be time- delayed to fit the time convenience of the learner and/or the instructor. Interaction between the learner and the instructor, as well as among learners, may be by e-mail, telephone, or audio or video conferencing. Both the learners and the instructor may routinely use desktop presentation facilities.
  4. Electronic Interaction. Electronic interaction involves access to and interaction with individual people and groups of people. The interaction may be in real time or it may be time-delayed.
  5. Electronic Information-Gathering. Electronic access to information and computer tools, which now routinely contain built-in, context- sensitive help features and tutorials, help process information. That is, computer tools and CAI are merging. A type of "just in time" learning occurs in environments where computer tools are used.

The combination of all of these electronic aids to learning is called technology-enhanced learning (TEL).

The Future of TEL

TEL is in its infancy. It is growing and changing, and ever increasing in the services it offers. Increasingly TEL will provide:

  • Learning that can occur at a time and place that fits the needs of the learner, whether this is at home, at work, or at school.
  • Learning aids that account for individual differences among learners. For example, materials will be available in different languages; at various reading, listening and viewing levels; and in formats based on different prerequisite assumptions.
  • Learning that covers a broad range of topics-in essence, whatever a person wants to learn.
  • Interaction among learners from all parts of the world rather than from a limited geographical area. Participants in this type of interactivity will be learners, but they will also help each other to learn. The knowledge and skills of multiple learners will be valuable to everyone.

Students spend many years in our formal education system trying to learn how to learn in a formal setting. We now need to broaden the system's "learning how to learn" goals to include teaching students how to learn in a TEL environment. We can do this by actually giving them the experience of learning in this environment. They need instruction in how to use TEL effectively and how to tailor their own learning environments to best fit their individual learning needs and strengths.

Schools currently have widely varying levels of access to the components of TEL. However, almost all have sufficient access to provide students with training and experience in using TEL. For example, individuals and/or small teams of students could assume responsibility for re- searching and learning a topic such as how to use a particular piece of software. In the process students become learning facilitators-they help other students to learn the material. This type of learning/teaching activity can be used over and over again, at all grade levels and in all subject areas. It is an excellent way to help students become independent, self- sufficient, lifelong learners and teachers.

[Send your questions/or this column to Learning and Leading With Technology, International Society/or Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923; fax 541/346-5890;
iste@oregon.uoregon.edu. You can e-mail Dr. Moursund directly at moursund@oregon.uoregon.edu]

Note: The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) has received funding from Microsoft founder and CEO William Gates III to carry out a project titled "The Road Ahead." NFIE is a non- profit educational foundation created by the National Educational Association in 1969. NFIE has subcontracted with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to do research and evaluation on this project. Some of the ideas in this series of columns on computers and effective practices are based on this research.

Effective Practices (Part 4): Problem Solving

Moursund, D.G. (March 1996). Effective Practices (Part 4): Problem Solving. The Computing Teacher.

Q. I am planning to make a presentation to our school board. What are some really good arguments that computers make a difference in education?

1 am currently involved in a research project designed to investigate this issue and provide some answers to this frequently asked question. This column is the fourth in a five-part series of columns summarizing some of what my research group is finding as well as explaining my own current thinking on this question.

Key Ideas in Problem Solving

Here are two of the most important ideas in problem solving:

  1. Build on your own previous work and on the work of others. (Don't reinvent the wheel.)
  2. Represent the problem-solving work you do in a way that makes it easy for you and others to build on it.

Any tool you use represents some stored work and knowledge of its inventors and developers. Thus, whether you are using a hammer to drive a nail or a computer to do word processing, you are using the previous work of others.

Some of the previous work of people can be stored in written form. Words and pictures can describe a hammer and how to make a hammer, even down to the level of smelting the metal ores for the hammer head. However, it is evident that most people find it more convenient to directly access a hammer when they need one rather than access a description of how to make a hammer.

Computer and Information Science

In a great many instances, computerized equipment can both store the information about how to solve a particular kind of problem and can actually do the work to solve the problem. You can think of this as a major step forward in the automation of building on the previous work of others. In some sense, it is like storing the description of a hammer in a form so that the computer can build a hammer and then use it to solve a "hammering" problem.

Computer scientists have coined the term effective procedure to represent a detailed, step-by-step set of instructions that can be mechanically interpreted and carried out by a computer. Procedures and procedural thinking are two of the most important ideas that have come out of the field of computer and information science. These ideas are fundamental to developing computer systems that can help people solve problems.

Templates and Artificially Intelligent Agents

Computer scientists are continuing to make significant progress in developing aids to problem solving. Thus, there is a steady flow of increasingly powerful computer tools. Two ideas are particularly important in this regard: (a) templates and (b) artificially intelligent agents and expert systems.

A template can be thought of as sample design for a particular type of document or procedure. For example, suppose you want to develop a slide show using desktop presentation software. The software will likely contain a number of different templates, each adhering to good design principles. One design might be best for a formal report to a school board while a different design may be best for a humorous after-dinner presentation. The built-in templates store the knowledge and experience of experts in the design of slides.

It is now common for major pieces of application software to include a number of built-in templates that often contain detailed instructions on how to use the templates and how to modify them to better fit the user's specific needs. And, of course, the computer system makes it easy to create your own templates for your own use and for use by others. For example, in a word processor you can save a document as Stationery and then use the styles and parameters of that document again and again on future files.

Steady progress is also being made in the field of artificial intelligence. A wide range of intelligent agents have been developed. They can do such things as screen incoming telephone calls or search a variety of information sources for specific types of information. Expert systems have been designed to solve or help solve a wide range of problems that humans find intellectually challenging. Thus, expert systems exist to help make decisions about such things as loan applications, medical diagnoses, and car repair procedures.

Applications in Education

One goal many schools have is for all of their students to become computer literate. Computer literacy has many components, including learning to use a wide range of generic computer tools (word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and others) and learning to use a computer effectively as an aid to problem solving.

It is relatively easy to learn the mechanics of using a generic computer tool at a rudimentary level. It is much more difficult to learn to think, represent problems, and solve problems in the environment of a computer tool. The difficulty is magnified when the problem requires simultaneous use of several tools. Learning to deal with procedures and procedural thinking in problem solving does not come easily
Various software developers have packaged a number of the generic computer tools into integrated packages. An integrated package may contain a half-dozen generic tools, all designed for simultaneous work on a single problem. For example, two widely used integrated packages are ClarisWorks and Microsoft Works. Any integrated package can be used to help students learn the two key ideas about problem solving discussed at the beginning of this article. An integrated package can also be used as a computer environment to learn about procedures and procedural thinking. Many schools are now using integrated packages throughout their curricula. This is a worthy and achievable goal for all schools.

[Send your questions/or this column to Learning and Leading With Technology, International Society for Technology in Education, 1787 Agate Street, Eugene, OR 97403-1923; fax 541/346-5890; iste@oregon.uoregon.edu. You can e-mail Dr. Moursund directly at moursund@oregon. uoregon. edu.]

Note: The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) has received funding from Microsoft founder and CEO William Gates III to carry out a project titled “The Road Ahead.” NFIE is a non-profit educational foundation created by the National Educational Association in 1969. NFIE has subcontracted with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to do research and evaluation on this project. Some of the ideas in this series of columns on computers and effective practices are based on this research.

Effective Practices (Part 5): The Future

Moursund, D.G. (May 1996). Effective Practices (Part 5): The Future. Learning and Leading with Technology.

Q. I am planning to make a presentation to our school board. What are some really good arguments that computers can make a difference in education?

I am currently involved in a research project designed to investigate this issue and provide some answers to this frequently asked question. This column is the fifth in a five-part series of columns summarizing some of what my research group is finding, as well as explaining my own current thinking on this question.

Forecasts for Computer Technology

Computer technology continues to change at a rapid pace. However, it is possible to anticipate much of this change-and to make forecasts that are useful to planners and decision makers. The following forecasts describe the computer systems that will be used routinely a decade from now.

  • Hardware. Processor speed will continue to increase. A decade from now, mid-priced microcomputers will be 10-20 times faster than today's mid-priced machines.
  • Primary and secondary memory. A decade from now, mid-priced microcomputers will have 10 times as much primary memory and 25 times as much secondary storage as today's mid-priced machines.
  • Software. The strong trend toward seamlessness among the various software tools will continue. Software will increasingly have built-in help features, and the human-machine interface will continue to be improved.
  • Connectivity. There will continue to be a very rapid increase in connectivity. A decade from now it will be routine for teams of people located throughout the world to be connected by computer-based, two- way video as they work together on solving complex problems.
  • Digitization of information. Increasingly, everything that can be digitized into computer-readable form is being digitized. A decade from now, resources in online libraries will far surpass the resources available in any individual physical library, such as the Library of Congress.
  • Artificial intelligence. There will continue to be slow but steady progress in this area. Progress is already occurring in many everyday uses and products. Voice input is improving, and a decade from now it will be commonplace. Intelligent agents and expert systems are improving in their capabilities and will also be commonplace.
  • Merger of media. The capabilities of telecommunications, television, and the computer are rapidly being integrated. We are already seeing a strong movement toward a product that is a combination of a computer, a television set, and an interactive communications device.

These forecasts paint a picture of increasingly powerful computer systems becoming available at reasonable prices. Such changes suggest that students and teachers need to learn to use a wide range of generic computer tools (word processors, databases, spreadsheets, telecommunications, and others) as an aid to representing and solving problems in the various disciplines. Such tools need to be thoroughly integrated throughout the curriculum and should be readily available to students and teachers throughout the school day and for use at home.

In addition, technology-enhanced learning (TEL), which includes computer-assisted instruction, computer-managed instruction, and distance education, needs to become a standard component of the educational system. One part of learning involves learning to be an independent, self-sufficient, lifelong learner.

What Will It Cost?

At the current time, schools in the United States spend about 1.3% of their budgets on computer hardware, software, networks, infrastructure, and support systems. Already, however, some schools spend 5% of their budgets in these areas. Over the long run, even this 5% figure will prove inadequate.

To understand why this is so, imagine a school of the future in which every student has a combination computer-television-telecommunications system networked to people and information sources throughout the world. TEL resources are available to the student at school and at home. These resources are further strengthened by a well-maintained infrastructure and support system. The support system provides teachers with the inservice education and technical support they need to continue to grow on the job.

The average cost of public education in the United States is currently about $6,000 per student per year. Ten percent of this amount is about $600 per student per year. Now, imagine how far $600 per student per year would go in terms of providing:

  • Every student and teacher with a powerful portable computer and a full range of applications software.
  • Every classroom with a technology infrastructure that includes scanners, printers, camcorders, desktop presentation software, and network connections.
  • Every student and teacher with good access to the full range of TEL facilities both in and outside of school,
  • Maintenance and repair staff, as well as other technical support.
  • Continuing inservice education and support for teachers.
  • Ongoing curriculum revision and curriculum development to keep pace with the continued change in technology.

Even 10% of the school budget is not enough to provide all these facilities and services. Thus, over the next decade we will see a steady rise in the average percentage of the K-12 educational budget going toward technology. A decade from now we will see a number of schools spending more than 10% of their budgets for such technology.

[Dave Moursund: moursund@oregon.uoregon.edu]

Note: The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) has received funding from Microsoft founder and CEO William Gates III to carry out a project titled "The Road Ahead." NFIE is a non- profit educational foundation created by the National Educational Association in 1969. NFIE has subcontracted with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to do research and evaluation on this project. Some of the ideas in this series of columns on computers and effective practices are based on this research.

The Connectivity-Based Revolution

Moursund, D.G. (May 1996). The Connectivity-Based Revolution. Learning and Leading with Technology.

Steve Jobs is known for being a founder of the Apple and NeXT Corporations, and for his contributions to the success of Pixar Corporation. He has been a major player in the microcomputer revolution; therefore, his visions of the future are well worth considering. The February 1996 issue of Wired magazine contained an interview with Steve Jobs conducted by Gary Wolf. One of the topics discussed was how connectivity is changing the world. Here is a brief quote from Steve Jobs in that interview:

I don't store anything anymore, really I use a lot of e-mail and the Web, and with both of these I don't have to ever manage storage. As a matter of fact, my favorite way of reminding myself to do something is to send myself e-mail. That's my storage.

What strikes me about this statement is that it points to a whole new way of thinking that comes along with good connectivity. Jobs takes for granted the connectivity that will eventually become commonplace for many of us. So, let's look a little deeper into what Jobs is saying.

Many visionaries such as Jobs see computer networks as producing a revolutionary change-a change at least as large as that brought on by microcomputers. Such people now think of e-mail and the Web as being a gigantic storage and communication system. The bandwidth of the various links in this storage and communication system is steadily growing. Moreover, the bandwidth of the connectivity of people's personal computing devices (for example, their personal computers or battery-powered personal digital assistants hooked to a cellular telephone) is also growing.

Future Conveniences, Future Problems

I can imagine that someday I will have a networked desktop computer at work, a modem-equipped desktop computer at home, a laptop computer for use on trips, and a palmtop computer with built-in portable telephone for true portability. This creates two major problems:

  1. Data (documents). As I shift from machine to machine, how do I get copies of my most recent version of the documents to the machine I am currently using?
  2. Software. Do I need copies of each of my software applications on each of my machines? How can I maintain complete compatibility among these different software applications on the four different computers?

The first problem is solved by using the network as the storage device. The most recent versions of all of my documents are stored on the network. It doesn't make any difference where I am or what device I am using to access the network. I always have access to the most recent versions of my documents. Moreover, backups are created and saved by the network system. How good a solution this is depends on both the bandwidth of the connectivity and the size of the documents.

The software problem can also be solved by using the network as the storage device. However, this is a more complex problem. First, there is the difficulty that the various computing devices may consist of varying "platforms" that do not all use the same machine language code. Some of these platforms may not have enough memory to store a large operating system.

This problem is being solved by the use of Java and/or other equivalent programming languages. In the future, personal computing and communications devices will contain software (an interpreter, which can be downloaded from the network or built into the machine) that can run the application software provided from the network. A personal device need not have a large and complex operating system in order to run the interpreter. Computing devices with different machine languages will use different interpreters, so they can all run the exact same application program stored on the network.

Second, there is the difficulty that many of the applications I want to use are very large. Downloading the entire application would take a quite a bit of time and a large amount of storage space. There are two approaches to handling this difficulty. One is to use relatively small and quite specific application programs. These may be designed to do quite specific tasks, such as writing and sending an e-mail message. Such specific pieces of applications software are called applets.

The second approach is to design software so that it functions well under the conditions where only small parts of the software get downloaded at any one time and the rest of the software resides on the network. This is roughly the equivalent to a situation in which you use a large application stored on your floppy drive but only part of it will fit in the primary memory of your machine. These solutions will require more reliable networks with huge amounts of storage space, as well as reliable backup systems.

Educational Implications

Steve Jobs and many others believe that the future of the Information Age lies with steadily increasing use of networks for storage and communication, and with Java-like interpreters. The educational implications are challenging. We want our students to learn to solve problems and accomplish tasks in a world of ever-increasing connectivity. We need to help students develop the necessary skills and approaches to problem solving, even in schools currently having relatively little connectivity. This suggests that we should work to thoroughly integrate computer use and networked computer use into the curriculum. Even if no networking is available, we can expect that problem-solving skills that are suitable to non-networked computer systems will have a high degree of transferability to problem solving using networks.

[Dave Moursund, moursund@oregon.uoregon.edu]