by FREDERICK BENNETT
Contents (publication schedule)
Chapter 9: Tutoring Individuals
Chapter 10: Educating the Disadvantaged
Chapter 11: Educating Brighter Students
Chapter 12: Fulfilling the Need to Succeed
Chapter 13: Using Educational Research
Chapter 14: Using Multimedia
Chapter 15: Eliminating Prejudice
Chapter 16: Eliminating Substitute Teachers
Chapter 17: Additional Advantages
First Monday is publishing, in two parts, Frederick Bennett's book "Computers as Tutors." The first three sections of the book appeared in the December 1996 issue. Sections four, five, and six appear in this issue. This book primarily focuses on the American education system and its use of computing technology. Even though Dr. Bennett's analysis concentrates on policy and practices in the United States, we feel that his overall discussion of computers and education is of global importance. We welcome the opportunity to publish this book for the first time in First Monday. We look forward to comments from our readers on Dr. Bennett's monograph, as well as on First Monday's first effort at serial publication of a book.
Edward J. Valauskas
Rishab Aiyer Ghosh
Summary (First Monday, December 1996)
Prologue (First Monday, December 1996)
Section I: A Prophecy and a Solution (First Monday, December 1996)
Chapter 1: A Prophecy FulfilledSection II: Foundation (First Monday, December 1996)
Chapter 2: A True Solution
Chapter 3: Crisis and Suggested AnswersSection III: Why Computers are Ineffective Today (First Monday, December 1996)
Chapter 4: Basics of Education
Chapter 5: Pleasure in Learning
Chapter 6: Computers - The Answer
Chapter 7: Problems Confronting TeachersSection IV: Computer Advantages (First Monday, January 1997)
Chapter 8: Problems Confronting Programmers
Chapter 9: Tutoring IndividualsSection V : New Teachers and Schools (First Monday, January 1997)
Chapter 10: Educating the Disadvantaged
Chapter 11: Educating Brighter Students
Chapter 12: Fulfilling the Need to Succeed
Chapter 13: Using Educational Research
Chapter 14: Using Multimedia
Chapter 15: Eliminating Prejudice
Chapter 16: Eliminating Substitute Teachers
Chapter 17: Additional Advantages
Chapter 18: Future Teachers - Part OneSection VI: Additional Considerations (First Monday, January 1997)
Chapter 19: Future Teachers - Part Two
Chapter 20: October 17, 2006
Chapter 21: Future Schools
Chapter 22: Grades
Chapter 23: Better Thinking
Chapter 24: Paying for Computerized Education
Chapter 25: Replication
Chapter 26: Inner-City Schools
Chapter 27: Inclusion
Chapter 28: Foreign Nations
Chapter 29: The Milieu of Change
Chapter 30: Answering Objections
Epilogue (First Monday, January 1997)
Some would argue that crime is tearing the United States apart. There is evidence that criminal activity is related to illiteracy, which will never be reduced appreciably while hundreds of thousands of illiterate students are leaving schools each year (Chapter 1). Computers could teach every child in the country to read and write in a short time. That would be a mere beginning because these machines could function in schools as private tutors (Chapter 9), building on the innate desire to learn present in everyone (Chapter 5). With computerized education, learning by all students, from the very brightest to the slowest, would improve dramatically (Chapters 10 & 11).
Computers thus far have been little more than a new gimmick in education. Despite a few examples of noteworthy computing by a tiny number of teachers, overall classroom gains with computers have been negligible. There are cogent reasons why computers, if they continue to be used as they are today, can never change education (Chapters 7 & 8).
The solution to present educational woes requires that computers be allowed to instruct children without a teacher interposed between the machine and the child. There are examples of the use of these machines in this capacity and the results have been excellent (Chapter 2).
Using computers as true instructors would change the way teachers function in education, but would not lesson their numbers nor their importance. Improved use of technology would relieve them of many of the time-consuming chores that now burden their lives. Computers would allow them to achieve much greater success in reaching their basic goal of educating children (Chapters 18, 19, & 20).
Many other benefits would flow from computerized education including fulfillment, in all students, of the basic and universal need to succeed (Chapter 12), effective use of educational research (Chapter 13), dramatic reduction of racial and sexual prejudices (Chapter 15), and elimination of substitute teaching (Chapter 16). Moreover, computerized education would allow and foster smaller, neighborhood schools and make busing anachronistic (Chapter 21) .
Full use of computers in education would also provide ancillary advantages: grades could be eliminated (Chapter 22) , better thinking by students would be enhanced (Chapter 23) , new and
successful approaches in education could be easily replicated (Chapter 24), and many of the difficulties connected with Inclusion would be resolved (Chapter 27) .
Finally, computerized education, once accepted, would make it possible to eliminate illiteracy, not only in the United States, but in every nation in the world (Chapter 28).
Alexander the Great benefited by having a king, Philip of Macedon, as his father. The king was astute and had the power and foresight to recruit the brightest person in the known world, Aristotle, as the private tutor for his son. No one knows how much Alexander gained by having this unique instructor, but his teacher provided a solid foundation for his accomplishments later in life. Not everyone can have a king for a father, but each student today can have a private tutor with even more knowledge than Aristotle. This tutor is a computer. Of all the advantages that computers will deliver to education, foremost will be their capacity to act as individual tutors.
An ideal tutor can provide exceptional advantages for learning. Let's suppose that each of us could choose a perfect mentor for our child. We would select one who was knowledgeable in all subjects and who could tailor courses to the individual needs of a child. We would want a tutor who would be aware of precisely what the child knew to prevent undue repetition, while ensuring that all necessary instruction was provided. We would want a tutor with enough time to give the pupil individual attention whenever needed, without holding up other students. We would want this idealized teacher to have the flexibility to instruct a little differently sometimes when the child forgot something or had difficulty in grasping a point. Our child, of course, would never fall behind because of sickness or absence. The private tutor would always start the next class exactly where the previous one had ended.
We would want an additional virtue in our ideal tutor: an encouraging attitude. A story told by President John Kennedy illustrates how his father used this trait to help him to develop his self-confidence. Kennedy spoke about his father shortly after the first of his famous television debates with Richard Nixon. He said that if he had walked out on the stage that night and had stumbled, falling flat on his face before forty million viewers, his father's only comment would have been, "The way you picked yourself up off the floor was spectacular!"
The story may have been fabricated but we recognize in it that psychologically, our development is greatly helped when we work with someone eager to praise, hesitant to find fault. Unfortunately, avoiding criticism is often difficult. A tone of voice or body language may sometimes unconsciously betray feelings. When a teacher finds that a student has forgotten something that has been repeated many times, reacting slightly and almost imperceptibly is an understandable human response. Somehow the pupil often interprets these signals to mean, "You must remember. We've been over that again and again and again!"
Our model private tutor would never chastise us when we were less than perfect, including the inevitable occasions when we stumble and fall. Our hypothetical paragon, while pointing out our mistakes, would be forever congratulating us on our accomplishments and encouraging us to proceed further.
All these powerful characteristics we would choose for our child's private tutor are those that make a non-critical and eminently patient computer, endowed with almost unlimited knowledge, the ideal instructor. This teaching marvel can repeat and review a lesson as often as necessary and never betray the slightest feeling of exasperation, while simultaneously praising each forward step. Above all, the computer tutor can adapt to the needs of each student instead of requiring individuals to fit into a mold based on the average capabilities of many students.
Teaching to differing levels of ability, background, and interests has posed an eternal dilemma to educators. Instruction that is appropriate and beneficial for one student may have a negative effect on another. Teachers with a classroom of children know it is impractical to try to tailor lessons to each student. Personal attention, however, would be immensely helpful because of the varied needs of pupils. Some students require additional explanations, while others have grasped the material and are ready to go on. Since having forty million private instructors - for all of the students in the U. S. - is impossible, compromises are necessary and teaching usually progresses at the average level of the class. Poorer students are left hanging in their confusion, and the brightest students miss exciting challenges. With computers as tutors, the learning of one individual will never be hindered by the abilities or weaknesses of others. Each student will move at his or her own pace, unaffected by the rate of learning of any other student.
Lack of intelligence may be the reason a student is unable to grasp material when it is first presented, but a host of other causes are also possible: previous learning, background, physical condition, or simply a personality conflict with the teacher. The results, however are the same: whenever a student fails to learn new material, he or she falls behind.
Difficulties compound afterwards for the individual, but also for teachers who have the student in subsequent grades. Pupils who lack a foundation in basic mathematics are helpless trying to understand advanced math. Students who don't know basic grammar will benefit little from a class in advanced writing.
Theoretically, any student can ask questions in today's classes. In reality, students who are confused may not know enough to make an inquiry. Even when pupils know they need help, they are often embarrassed and don't wish to reveal their ignorance. Often only the most intelligent students dare to ask questions because they know that if they don't understand, neither does anybody else.
With individualized computer instruction, students can always and immediately request help if something is unclear. They can continue to show their lack of understanding until the problem is resolved without fear of appearing dumb before their peers. After the request for help, the computer can help pinpoint where the flaw lies. Then it can explain again the precise part of the lesson that bears on the student's weakness. Sometimes the computer may find a different explanation in its memory and present the material to the student in another way. Computers can always go back as far as necessary to ensure the student has a solid foundation on which to build.
When students are unaware of their poor learning or may not know the questions to ask, the computer itself will recognize their weakness through its constant evaluations and assessments. Whenever a pupil has not grasped a major point the computer will automatically review or repeat whatever is necessary. No student will feel disgraced or even embarrassed. Other pupils will be unaware of who requires more attention at a particular level, or when a hurdle is slowing a fellow learner.
In today's classes, an individual student who falls behind often stays there. This inability to catch up is the crux of the dilemma of students, after years in schools, knowing little when they leave. They falter early, and additional classes only add to their confusion. They never have another opportunity to get the essential foundation they missed. Lacking the basics, they are unable to profit from advanced subjects.
With computers as tutors, no student will be overwhelmed because he or she is missing fundamentals. The computer will repeat material until each lesson has been sufficiently mastered; only then will it move forward. Since some of today's computers have speech synthesis capability, they can start any place, even at the educational beginning, teaching pupils to read at a pace that is appropriate for each individual.
Computers will assist even before a course commences. They can test and evaluate the underlying knowledge of each student before the first lesson. For example, at the beginning of calculus, pupils can be tested on their understanding of basic math and algebra, necessary to master the subject. If anyone has a deficiency, the computer will provide a remedial lesson or course for that individual. The review can be given for as short or as extended a period as is necessary to bring the student up to standard. Lengthy reviews will be needed primarily at the onset of computerized education since later, the machines will ensure that pupils have mastered the prerequisites before they enter a new class. They might, however, need brushing up on material forgotten since the previous course was completed. The computer can easily provide help. No student will ever have to enter a class with a lack of basic knowledge. No one will find his or her class delayed because of a few students who need a refresher on previous material. The computer will not demand perfection, but it will require that the fundamentals necessary for the course be present before continuing. No student will ever again be shoved into a hopeless struggle trying to learn without the needed foundation.
As beneficial as individualized instruction will be for the poorer and average students, it will often be even more valuable for the brighter students. These have unique capabilities, and special attention and challenges often help them reach their intellectual limits. These students will be discussed further in Chapter 11.
All students, whether breathtakingly brilliant or woefully dull, or anywhere between these extremes, will benefit from individualized instruction. The immense power and versatility of computers as tutors will aid and simplify all learning for all students in all classes.
While individualized teaching represents the foremost advantage of computerized education, it is also the foundation for many other enhancements of learning that will follow when computers are allowed to operate without hindrances. The next eight chapters will detail some added benefits.
A frightening aspect of the current crisis in education in America is that it has generated only a modicum of national anxiety and very little is being done. There are estimates of at least twenty-five million illiterates in the United States, and this figure is increasing continually.
Strange as it seems in a country that has made many of its greatest advances in the face of adversity, this crisis is worsening. With apologies to Browning, it may be apt to paraphrase him to describe the outlook for the American educational system today. "Grow sick along with me. The worst is yet to be." That appalling certainty stems from population predictions. The U. S. Census Bureau now estimates that the population of the United States will rise to 383 million by 2050 - a fifty percent increase in less than sixty years. Today, a little more than twenty percent of the population is from African-American or Hispanic backgrounds. In 2050, over forty percent of the population will come from these same groups. These groups suffer the worst deprivation in current schools. Unless some truly revolutionary action is taken, there will be a parallel increase in illiteracy by 2050, especially in those communities that are hurt most by educational failures.
Since everyone in the U. S. must go to school, at first glance it might be argued that anyone in America can have an education. This assumption is only partially true. Hordes of children come from disadvantaged living environments. They grow up in families where adults can't read well, where books are scarce or non-existent, and where an appreciation of education is lacking. Naturally, these children grow up without any true affection or even interest for scholarship.
Young people from these families may attend the same schools as other children. Their chance to gain an education and to develop their own desire for learning is lessened because of their home environments. This deficiency debilitates students. These intellectually impoverished youths are behind the day they enter school. Few ever manage the excruciating feat of catching up. Most remain always behind, with ever diminishing self esteem. In turn, their pitiful schooling ensures that the cycle will continue in the next generation.
Children who come from these impoverished households are in an inferior position when they enter school. They are branded as "slow" students from the beginning of their educational experiences. Although programs such as Head Start have helped to alleviate these problems and need to be expanded, the basic impediments remain.
These "slow" students begin with handicaps that they didn't cause. When they attend school, additional obstacles, also beyond their control, intensify their difficult position. Even barriers that are quickly denied may be involved. Few educators today would dare admit publicly to a belief that certain students are genetically inferior, but Lewis Terman, a leading psychologist and designer of intelligence tests, was less hesitant. He said of immigrants, "Their dullness seems to be racial ... Children of this group should be segregated in special classes [ 37 ]." Terman was basing his judgment on what he had seen.
Some educators today may also base their judgments on what they perceive. When they observe that slower students come from certain races, their conclusions on inferiority may be similar, if unspoken, to those of Terman who saw poorer students coming from immigrant families. If so, add another obstacle for children from disadvantaged homes.
Realistically, even if administrators were completely impartial, slower students exceed the capabilities of schools today. Since classes must proceed at a pace that is faster than some students can grasp, these poorer students fall further and further behind. They are passed on to the next grade because research indicates that holding students back is harmful to them. They enter a new grade without mastering the lessons of the previous one. The gap widens. Hope of catching up vanishes. Worse still, they quickly begin to feel that they cannot learn, and their fellow students feel the same about them because they are always behind.
These students who are confronted by so many innate hindrances often face yet another barrier. They get caught in a practice, widespread throughout school systems, called "tracking" where students are grouped by perceived ability. Instructors feel strongly and vigorously defend this pattern because it is much easier and perhaps in some ways, more effective, to teach students who are in these "tracks." Groups with widely diverse abilities present multiple hindrances not present when students have more equal talents.
One supposed benefit of tracking is that students in lower tracks avoid classes where they will be compared with better students. Theoretically that avoids damage to their self-perception. Reality is different. Slower students and brighter students are fully aware of discrepancies between tracked classes, between those labeled in one way or another as "dumb" and those identified as "smart." Everyone - students, teachers, and administrators - concludes that those marked as "dumb" are indeed inferior. The contention that tracking is an aid to developing or protecting the self-esteem of bottom-track students is simple nonsense.
In actuality, the worst effects of this program fall on slower students, whose educational problems are intensified under tracking. Their education is different from, and perceived as inferior to, that of students in other tracks.
Moreover, some teachers look with disdain on students in the lower tracks. They are not alone in their dismal opinions. Even at the highest level, evidence of disparagement is available. Thomas Toch, who has studied and written extensively about education, quotes from school catalogs that denigrate these students with devastating descriptions: "English 284-285: for sophomores who are very slow learners and poor readers" and "English 283: for sophomores of below average ability [ 38 ]."
In tracked classes today, both the caliber of courses and the quality of teachers are manifestly inferior for slower students. These conditions are understandable. Since slower students are already the weakest academically, it doesn't seem prudent or cost effective to administrators to burden them with material that they are perceived to be unable to absorb. Therefore, schools provide less challenging classes for these pupils. Moreover, schools carry this reduction of standards to its logical conclusion and give them truly insipid subject matter. Poorer teachers can also be expected, because instructing slower students provides less personal satisfaction. Consequently teachers who have a choice will usually opt for classes with brighter pupils. Substitute teachers, or teachers who are only marginally qualified, are often forced into classes populated by those identified as "slower."
Pupils in bottom tracks enter a situation where little is expected of them. Then in a form of self fulfilling prophecy, these students are given pathetic and inadequate education. Evidence in recent years has accumulated, pointing out the evils of tracking [ 39 ]. Both the National Governors Association and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement and Support of Teaching oppose tracking [ 40 ]. Despite this powerful opposition the system remains virtually intact in most school districts [ 41 ]. Tracking has had widespread use in schools for at least sixty years making the chances of eliminating tracking, under the present educational system, slim.
For the sake of argument, however, imagine that the teachers who support tracking suddenly allowed the system to vanish. What then? Opponents seem to suggest that if tracking were ended, poor education of slower students would also be eliminated. This contention is simply false. The problems are much deeper. Railing against the acknowledged disorder of tracking is like residents of Pompeii complaining about the rumblings of Vesuvius. Neither those volcanic rumblings nor tracking are the critical destructive force. Eliminating tracking would leave the underlying tragedy in place.
At present, no way out of the miasma exists for these disadvantaged students. If children who are lagging hope to catch up, they need help to begin again, wherever they got behind. That solution, however, requires individualized teaching, or alternatively, students returning to classes where their deficiencies first appeared. Neither option is realistic.
There never will be sufficient funds for private tutoring to all who need it. Returning young people to those classes where they initially fell behind is even less realistic. They were passed to the next grade because it was assumed that their self-esteem would suffer. To force them to go back to a level with students in a different age group would be even worse.
No one is surprised that, in some schools, discipline problems are rampant and cause disorder in classrooms. These problems are a result of students expressing their utter contempt for education and, in a way, preserving their own egos. If, for these students, education is perceived as valueless, then failing the educational system will not impinge on their own self-esteem. Unfortunately, these students who use this disruptive strategy will need to find employment when they leave school. These pupils stumble from classrooms without skills and with few prospects, except for menial jobs. These students in turn may fail to find work, and become dependent on the state for assistance. In turn, their children are confronted with the same dilemmas. Without a fundamental revamping of education, the results will be the same, generation after generation.
Some reformers, outside education, talk about the need for social changes, with suggestions of replacing welfare with "workfare." Under "workfare," those receiving assistance will be required to take a job after an initial period. For some, it will be impossible to work under this system with inadequate education. Today's quandary is simply not that people want to avoid work, but that they cannot find a job.
Reformers within education tout a solution: excellence. The report, "A Nation At Risk," supported the need for "excellence" in education. This has been a constant rallying point among reform minded educators in recent years. They maintain that all students must participate in improved schooling, and that standards for everybody must be raised, including those of slower pupils. Unfortunately that ideal isn't being met. Bottom-track students are being included, but in name only. School authorities have changed the types of courses making it appear that the poorer students are gaining. In their zeal to have students progress through the system and then to graduate, schools are playing semantic games with class names, instead of making real and beneficial changes. The result is a mishmash of virtually worthless courses, many sufficiently anemic that even students who cannot read can pass them. For these courses, schools spew out credits with as much value toward graduation as those given for advanced mathematics or science. By this subterfuge, students accumulate enough credits to graduate, an "accomplishment" that delights administrators.
Consequently, slow students stumble along and continue to take poor courses. Many drop out, sometimes because of their own discouragement at being called or labeled "dumb." Even when they manage to finish school, they are woefully undereducated. Consequently, even though they have "earned" a high school diploma, they have learned little. This ridiculous practice allows American schools to graduate a higher percentage of students from high schools than nearly any other country, including Germany and Japan. When these "graduates" enter the job market, however, industry finds them hopelessly unprepared. Corporations are forced to provide remedial education for employees, employees who have been in a system supposedly dedicated completely to their education for at least twelve years. The necessity of these remedial courses is a condemnation of schools. Unfortunately, even the present remedial education programs cannot possibly educate all of the illiterate youths and adults that schools are producing. The numbers are too massive.
Computerized education will bring an improvement of gargantuan value in the United States and for millions of individuals. This solution will bring improved education for slower students, those who endure the worst trials under the present system.
Supporting the theoretical conclusion that computerized education can alleviate the monstrous problems of tracking are the results of the programs for "at- risk" students in Florida schools. Although no one has analyzed the tracks of these students, many were probably in the bottom tracks, at least toward the end of their regular school careers. Students can't enter these programs unless they are behind appreciably in academic achievement.
An overriding difficulty in American schools today is that millions of students are unable to read at a seventh grade level. Even in the dropout programs in Florida, many potential candidates fail to qualify because of an inability to read well enough.
Computers can teach almost every child to read, even those who are severely handicapped. When every student in every classroom can read, American education will have undergone a monumental metamorphosis.
Computers are being used in a few adult programs to teach reading with excellent results. For example, Annabell Thomas was unable to read, despite her years in the New York City school system. After leaving school, she had been taught by tutors and had enrolled in library literacy programs and adult education classes in order to overcome her handicap. Nonetheless, she never learned to read. Finally, Ms. Thomas, now 56, enrolled in a computer program and was taught to read and write by a computer [ 42 ].
Computers are notably effective with slower students because the machines have the vital characteristic of unlimited patience. This trait is necessary in someone teaching a subject demanding frequent repetition and painstaking attention to details that are unnoticed by readers, but frustrate non-readers. Computers can teach reading using either phonics or whole language learning, or both, if one doesn't work well.
An unbiased onlooker, uninvolved in education, has to wonder. Why are millions of students like Jimmy Wedmore, the General Motors employee mentioned in Chapter 3 (in the December, 1996 issue of First Monday), and Annabell Thomas unable to master basic skills, when subsequent results prove they can learn? Why aren't schools using effective methods of instruction? Why are only a handful of "at-risk" students profiting from what computers can accomplish, while millions of others remain uneducated? Why are our schools ignoring computers and trashing the lives of millions, by allowing them to remain illiterate?
Since computers can teach reading and basic language skills to students at every level and with any background, they can go far toward overcoming the years that intellectually deprived students have spent in school with few results. Computers could do what is now unthinkable, and could do it rapidly and effectively: wipe out illiteracy.
When this happens, poor students will have made a beginning. When computers are finally allowed to teach, "dumb" kids will begin to understand that they can learn and can become "smart" kids. With that transformation, schools will be totally unlike present institutions. Not only will the current group of students profit, but their children will be the foremost beneficiaries. That future generation will grow up in totally different environments, both at home and in school. They won't begin school burdened by a belief that education is only for others. Children will know that their parents received an education and they can do the same. Their educated parents will insist on it.
Thomas Edison had an unusual academic career. He started school when he was seven years old. Three months later, the schoolmaster expelled him. "Retarded" was the master's chilling diagnosis. Fortunately for that school dropout, a private tutor was available - his mother. She took on the task of trying to impart some knowledge to this apparent failure. For three years she was his teacher. Edison in later years said of his mother that "she instilled in me the love and purpose of learning."
When he was ten, this tutor gave him an elementary physical science book. Young Edison read it avidly, and the world was forever changed.
Edison's experience in education was extreme. He wasn't, however, the first nor the last talented youth to appear out of step with ordinary procedures and to cause consternation among teachers.
Since bright students can master lessons easily, they should have little difficulty. Learning should be enjoyable for everyone, but should be particularly pleasurable for those who are unusually intelligent. Buoyed by their strong curiosity, they should pass through their schooling with few snags. This doesn't always happen. Many highly intelligent students fail to achieve their academic potential. A surprising number of those who drop out of school are above average in intelligence and are capable of doing the work necessary to graduate. At times, up to forty percent of dropouts are enrolled in college-preparation courses. Their elders find it easy to issue platitudes and to say they should remain in school, but tens of thousands of brighter students aren't listening. They leave school before graduating.
Other talented students face other obstacles. Like Edison, their good qualities are unappreciated. They can be difficult to teach, and sometimes instructors find it easier to avoid stimulating their intellectual powers. Moreover, teachers often lack sufficient time to fathom the real strengths and weaknesses of their pupils.
Many smarter students are easily bored. They find that learning is an intriguing challenge and they work diligently to succeed. When they reach one goal, they need another, or tedium will follow. Often subsequent challenges are delayed because other students in the class need more time to learn. The interest of those who have immediately understood wanes rapidly. This ability of bright pupils to grasp new material quickly can be used positively, if sufficient challenges can be provided. Boredom is distasteful, and bright students will avoid it by taking up new undertakings. Keeping these pupils gainfully occupied is difficult, however, when thirty other students in the same class also need the attention of the teacher.
This propensity to become bored can be a decided negative. Sometimes their failure to progress rapidly hinders only themselves. At times, however, they turn their talents to disruption, and others also suffer. These bright youths find an antidote for their boredom by baiting and upsetting their teachers.
Slower students use disruptions to defend their self-worth when they fall behind. They act out to cover their frustration. Bright students use disruptions to dispel their boredom when they can't go ahead. They act out to offset their ennui. Just as schools must often bear some responsibility for episodes of acting out by slower students, schools must also take some blame for bright students who become discipline problems. Intelligent pupils crave interesting projects, and by provoking teachers, they fill that need.
Unfortunately for schools, the native ability of bright students often helps them devise ingenious ways to disrupt classes and upset teachers. Authorities, faced with unacceptable behavior, tend to blame the pupil. Edison's schoolmaster felt completely justified in his appraisal of this baffling student.
Of course, not every child with higher intelligence is a problem for teachers. Nonetheless, many bright students who conform to the system do not meet their potential because they are seldom challenged in ordinary courses. Schools must establish curriculum requirements at a level that most students can reach, but below the capabilities of truly bright students. Their talents lie unused. They suffer and their community also suffers.
"Honors" programs are often set up for these pupils. Nonetheless, American schools lag behind schools in other nations as shown in Chapter 3 (in the December, 1996 issue of First Monday). Therefore, many of these "Honors" programs probably fail to carry all bright students to their full potential. These programs can be improved.
Honors courses have additional problems. Acceptance into them is often based on success with an intelligence test, or some similar accomplishment. Intelligence is not a unitary trait that is easily quantified, despite the ease of scoring standard I.Q. tests.
Even after being accepted into Honors courses, students may fail to reach their full potential. Certain students with extraordinary talents in one area may be held back in that subject by other bright students with different talents or interests. Also, teachers may be ill equipped to help those with superior qualities. One education official told me that the major problem in her highly respected Honors Program was the school's inability to provide more training for instructors.
Even with exceptionally fine Honors programs, other difficulties can still thwart very talented students. They may be overlooked when their outstanding qualities are focused specifically in one discipline. A unique brilliance in one area may receive less attention than a series of high grades. Sometimes, real genius can be well hidden and require unbiased judgment and patience to bring it out. Disguised, it is easily overlooked, and even lost. Who knows if Thomas Edison would have been successful, had his mother contested the opinion of the schoolmaster? In any case, his self esteem probably would have been injured.
Computers can be programmed to spot exceptional talent in one subject, or in many. They can compare age and subject matter finished at the conclusion of every section. These devices can note when a student goes through a subject faster than expected. Both these accomplishments are easily quantified and recorded by computers. The results could represent outstanding talent or at least identify that additional investigation is warranted. Students with great abilities need to be located, encouraged, and given the chance to proceed as far as their talents can take them.
Even a student identified as "slow" may be a "bright" student, one whose intelligence has been misunderstood. Being bright doesn't eliminate psychological scars that may have been inflicted at home or elsewhere. Students with those sorts of traumas may have difficulties in displaying their talents. Teachers in computer schools will have more time to assess students more accurately. In "at-risk" programs in Florida, an invaluable part of the programs seems to be the personal attention that teachers can provide to students.
Bright students may encounter another hindrance. Sometimes topics intrigue them before they reach the classes in school. On their own, they will delve into subjects without a coordinated plan for learning. They stumble around and fail to become truly knowledgeable in the subject. Being bright, however, they can be totally bored when they encounter the same subject matter in school. With computers, students who finish one area can move on to another immediately. This opportunity to advance rapidly allows students to explore many studies at a much earlier age. As challenges continue in their ongoing courses, they will be less likely to go off into other subjects by themselves. Even if they do, they can pass rapidly through the basic material when they finally encounter it in school. Computers will be unconcerned by the numbers of days or hours spent in classes. They can present new challenges and advanced material on demand. In turn, the powerful and innate desire to learn - obvious in bright children - will trigger vast gains through the full use of computers.
With computer instruction, learning possibilities for students can be expanded beyond what is conceivable in present courses. Since classes can be individualized for each student according to interest and ability, many limits will vanish. Students will have the prodigious resources of constantly developing computer programs. Moreover, as software is being developed, scholars in various fields can join programmers to provide avenues for exceptional learning for the brightest pupils.
Many other learning opportunities will also flourish. An example is study of foreign languages. One prominent shortcoming of American education has always been the weakness in teaching a second or third language when students are very young and more adept at learning linguistic skills. Not only is language learning usually available only in later years, they are often taught by those who are not native speakers. With computerized foreign language instruction, lessons can begin at an early age, even as early as kindergarten. This kind of instruction can utilize native speakers, who know and understand a given language intimately.
For highly intelligent students, computers will provide ideal conditions. These pupils will be able to advance at their individual pace, from the moment they start their work on basic subjects. This capability alone will mean incredible advances over present time schedules. The "at-risk" students in Florida dropout programs sometimes finish two or three years of work in one year. Imagine what highly intelligent students could accomplish in one year or five years with complete computerized education! Without the constraints found in present classrooms, many bright students could finish their basic class materials in fewer than the twelve years they squander in schools today. They would then spend the remaining years in other studies. If schools, today, advanced their better students more rapidly, they would face a jarring dilemma: nothing would remain for the pupils after completing the requirements of even an upgraded curriculum. In computerized education, advanced lessons will always be available. When they are ready, students will have almost unlimited access to additional learning. Few boundaries will hinder their curiosity and intellectual prowess. Brighter students are also those who will take fullest advantage of the capacity of computers to foster self directed learning. Consequently, many will find an area that corresponds to their talents as Edison found his book on physical sciences.
Despite their advanced learning, maturation of their social skills will continue in the usual way. These children will remain with others in their age group.
Brighter students will also benefit because teachers will have more time in computer schools. Instructors enjoy interacting with intelligent pupils, which is one reason the better ones gravitate to teaching these pupils in the Tracking system. In computer schools, teachers will not only be able to interact, but will be able to generate new learning experiences for top students. Enthusiasm of teachers about their subjects will continue to rub off on pupils, and especially on the smarter ones. With their additional time, mentors will be better able to emulate Edison's mother, and instill more powerfully "the love and purpose of learning."
I will show in Chapter 19 that a vital and enormously productive part of computerized education will be seminars and workshops that teachers will conduct. These learning activities will be further enhanced because regular classes will not require uninterrupted attendance. Groups of brighter students from different schools will be able to attend workshops or seminars for a week or longer. The whole emphasis could be centered on a specific area intriguing to participants. Some new methods that creative teachers will devise to aid bright children can't even be imagined now.
Since many computers have modems, students will further their education by interacting with their peers throughout the nation and world. They will have access to the Internet and to vast stores of information in today's databases. When pupils have reached a defined level in their own schools, they will be able to enter regional or national groups through the phone lines or other connections. These opportunities will provide them with additional stimuli to advance, and ideas on which to build. All students will find new and enhancing enticements for continued learning from these exchanges, but the brightest will profit most.
Even games can be used by brighter students to sharpen some skills [ 43 ]. New games requiring intellectual acumen are already being developed for computers. Students will participate, but only if they keep up with their other scholastic activities. Interscholastic competitions based on intellectual endeavors might someday take place, and excite other pupils to watch play action through their computers. The interest that was generated by the chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1992 may have presaged that possibility. Thousands of subscribers to Prodigy, a national computer network, followed a move by move account accompanied by a commentary by chess experts. In 1996, the chess match between Gary Kasparov and Deep Blue, the IBM computer, was again carried to thousands of fans, this time through the Internet.
Chess is viewed by some as a tediously slow game that could never develop a major following in America as a sport. In Russia, where widespread knowledge of the game exists, there is a great deal of fascination in public chess matches. Perhaps new computer games might be developed that could rival the excitement of watching a football game, for at least some students.
Certain students will find exciting challenges in writing computer programs. Competition will add a further stimulus. Students could be presented with a problem, unsolved until then, and asked to find a programming solution. At other times, they will be presented with software in existence and asked to develop an improvement. Criteria for success might be speed or reduced numbers of instructions. Students will submit their solutions, which will be judged by computers. These competitions could be local, regional, national, or international. They will present additional learning opportunities because all solutions will be available to all of the participants. Students can investigate how others attacked and unraveled the problem.
In computerized education few limits will impede advanced students. Vast reservoirs of knowledge will be readily available. Computers will not only provide access to those storehouses of learning, but will guide and prepare students to use them well.
Although all students will benefit from computerized education, bright students will probably reap the most impressive gains.
Actors and actresses, as artists, need success. When they don't achieve it, the outcome is predictable. Visualize an actor giving a solo performance before a live audience. Imagine that at the conclusion the spectators fail to applaud and parade out of the theater, unconcerned with what they had seen. The actor would be devastated. If smaller and smaller audiences showed up on the following nights, and the reaction was always the same - dead silence - only an unusual performer would dare to continue. Incidentally, it would be useless for the authorities of the theater to exhort the artist to try harder.
Making a protracted effort, without a prospect of achievement, is guaranteed to bring discouragement and frustration. This principle may be apparent with actors and actresses, but applies to everyone, everywhere, at every age level. Definitions of success and acceptable time frames may differ. Nonetheless, the basic need to succeed is present in everyone. If it is never fulfilled in a specific endeavor, any further attempts in that area will eventually cease.
Students who had learned in school, but then suffered an injury that lessened their intellectual powers, can remember that they once learned. Despite difficult odds, they may continue to make efforts to learn again because they have experienced earlier successes.
Adults can sometimes strive for long-range goals without immediate gratification. They have reached earlier objectives. Consequently, they believe they can again succeed even if the reward is delayed. If, however, they lose that hope, they will find it impossible to continue striving. They won't even begin, in the absence of any opportunity for success.
Millions of students have never succeeded. They are, and have always been behind. If they ever thought they could learn, they lost that idea quickly. Teachers are faced with the impossible problem of getting them to work at their studies, but the pupils can't do this until they know they can succeed. An unending cycle cripples their schooling. They don't succeed; this failure destroys their will to keep trying; they can't succeed if they don't try.
No exit from this cycle is possible for most of these failing students today. It is useless for authorities to exhort them to try harder. The result is frustration for teachers, students, and administrators.
Instructors know the value of success and want to find some way to make slow students succeed. They can't be faulted if they don't achieve their goal. Their time is limited, and they must attempt to help all students at the same time. Sometimes they have students who are unable to read, with no hope at all.
It is counter-productive for a teacher to try to encourage poor students by telling them that they have done well, but give a D or F at the end of the semester. Students realize they are deficient when they see their grade, and will consider their instructor untruthful.
This inability of schools to enable poor students to succeed is one crucial reason educational reforms have had only minimal effect, despite monumental efforts in the past decade.
Role of Computers
Computers can break this impasse. They will enable every student, without exception, to attain success in school. They will provide one small achievement, followed by another and another. Each accomplishment, no matter how insignificant it may seem to onlookers, is vital to that one individual, and encourages him or her to continue.
Computers can provide universal success by dividing lessons into segments - as small as needed to guarantee that every student can always accomplish something. Pupils who are unfamiliar with success in academic activities tend to disbelieve even the possibility that they can do well. They need to be told immediately when they have succeeded. Computers can do this easily because they will tutor children individually.
Knowledge of personal success is rewarding to the student, and a well documented psychological principle says, "Whatever is rewarded tends to be repeated." Each activity that is rewarded will lead to another effort, and the computer can ensure that this additional effort will again result in success.
Although segments can be as small as necessary to assure that every student can accomplish something, they will differ according to student needs. Software can adjust lessons according to many variables including the rate of progression of the pupil. Bright students will remain stimulated though they can speed through sections that might be difficult for slower students. They will quickly reach challenges appropriate for their abilities and will be encouraged to go further. Success energizes everyone.
Computers can be programmed to enhance rewards further by adding a bit of pizzazz when appropriate. Rewards are part of the success of video and computer games. When a player makes a spectacular laser shot and destroys the dastardly incoming alien space ship, the machine may acknowledge the feat in many ways. These rewards may seem unsophisticated, but properly used, they are important elements in the fascination with video games. I remember waiting in an out-of-the-way airport many years ago in the early days of video games. Flight delays were extended, and ways to kill time were scarce in that airport. As a result, businessmen began to try to help Mario rescue a princess. They quickly became entranced by the game, and a line formed. Delivering an imaginary princess from an equally unreal adversary was insignificant in the lives of the players. Nonetheless, those supposedly unsophisticated rewards were enough to keep the business men pumping quarters into a hunk of inanimate machinery. They seemed chagrined when they ran out of quarters and had to hand the machine on to the next one in line. I know I was, when my horde of coins was exhausted. Many school programs would delight if they could develop a similar intensity by students to master academic subjects even for brief periods of time.
One element of rewards can multiply or diminish their value: the speed with which they are delivered. The closer the connection between the action and the reward, the more valuable and more effective is the reward. Conversely, the value is diminished as the time between the action and its outcome is extended.
In today's schools, immediate rewards are infrequent. Whenever teachers give a written test, it must be collected and corrected before the student knows the result. Prolonged delay of rewards is evident in grades given at the end of a semester. Students must work toward their grades for weeks before they learn the results.
In class recitations, an immediate acknowledgment of a correct answer meets the criterion for speed. Ordinarily, however, only a few students can seize the available opportunities on any single occasion. Except for these public sessions, an interval always interrupts the action and its effect.
Just as in video games, the reward for succeeding in a segment in computerized education is rapid. A computer can test frequently with no difficulty. The machine evaluates answers instantaneously and immediately notifies students of their accomplishments. Delays are virtually nonexistent. If the results are unfavorable, the computer might even legitimately accept blame for failing to explain the material well. It can also emphasize any small accomplishments of the student. Then it will begin to teach again what the student missed. As students learn more, praise will always follow quickly.
Accolades bestowed by the machine can be augmented by another important reward: the approval of a human teacher. Although not as prompt as that of the machine, it will add a valuable human element. This will be discussed in Chapter 19 (see Section 5, this issue).
Rewards and Goals
Teachers have always understood the importance of rewards in classrooms. They hang good papers on the wall for everyone to see. They add well-deserved compliments on a composition before they return it. They are delighted when they can give a high grade. Computers will add nothing new since rewards have always been an integral part of education. Computers, however, will make them more frequent and more closely connected with their cause. They will allow them to be universal and available to everyone. Rewards will have different degrees of subtlety, but they will be frequent, legitimate, and rapid. That combination will always generate results.
Some hope that the mere objective of being educated will stimulate hard work by students. However, the status of this goal is unable to induce efforts. Many of us might find the prospect of being a highly paid athlete an inspiring goal. If, however, the local Little League baseball club has only used us as a third-string replacement, and the high school team had spurned our ardent advances, our enthusiasm would dissipate. Long range goals need intermediate successes to endure.
When students are unable to get passing grades, they are understandably unmoved by the contention that good grades will mean more pay later. As I noted above, in the Florida "at-risk" programs students were indifferent about graduation before using computers. The potential benefits were meaningless. Even if they wanted to qualify, they couldn't. When they began to learn in the computer classes and felt they might be able to graduate, their outlook changed dramatically. They began to work zealously toward that goal. Future potential gain from a diploma became a driving motivation because it was coupled with present achievements.
Continual lack of classroom accomplishment weighs heavily on youngsters, and they revolt against the school system. Success has different forms. To a school administrator, academic accomplishments are the hallmarks of achievement. Some students find success through their athletic abilities. Those who have neither athletic nor academic achievements still crave success. They seek it elsewhere. Their inclinations can run counter to what authorities believe is ideal. Graffiti sprayed on a clean wall may appear ugly to a neat and prim authority figure. It might be beautiful to a youth who is rewarded when he sees an immediate and dramatic change in the blank wall, caused by his efforts. Watching a disliked teacher become irritated and exasperated can be a form of reward. The upset teacher might reject it as an admirable accomplishment, but the reactions of the teacher and fellow students could be highly stimulating for the perpetrator. The immediacy of that reward makes it a more effective prod for future actions, aimed at a similar result. Society, schools, and teachers will benefit when students achieve success by school work rather than by creating disturbances.
In the Florida "at-risk" programs, teachers are unanimous in their appreciation of the value of success to students. Accomplishment of a task is vital in changing bored, disruptive, and seemingly unconcerned classroom occupants into determined learners. Once students find they can achieve some success, they seek and find other avenues of academic accomplishment. The "at-risk" students keep close track of how many segments they have finished each day. Teachers can even encourage a bit of bragging, and listen attentively. They can honestly add their own praise for these accomplishments, and these compliments delight and further stimulate the students.
While computerized education can assure that every student without exception can succeed, our present system can never achieve that ideal. Until pupils can enjoy accomplishments in their studies, Herculean efforts by millions of dedicated teachers and school officials to make them appreciate education will remain futile.
Those who are attempting to improve education face a difficulty that has afflicted schools long before the current crisis: successful research has generated only tepid follow-up. Many studies have been carried out by scientists to unearth more effective ways of teaching. Better methodologies have been uncovered, but they have resulted in little change in instruction by teachers and thus few improvements in education.
Some classic examples illustrate this phenomenon. As far back as 1924, the value of examinations, as a learning tool, was discovered. Tests can have a more important role, than merely ascertaining the amount of lesson material that a student has retained. Testing, effectively used, can also serve as a valuable teaching aid. Despite a lapse of about seventy years since the first study (and follow-up reports indicating the same outcome), many teachers think of testing only in a traditional way. Instructors have good reasons why they hesitate to make broader use of exams. It places an additional burden on them because they must not only devise the tests, but also spend precious hours of their limited time correcting them. This expenditure obviously becomes more burdensome than can be justified at some point, whatever the intrinsic benefit from testing.
Evidence for the value of another methodology can be traced back even further than that of testing. This finding has been known for over a century, and has apparently been used in the Russia. It has never generated much enthusiasm in American schools. This technique is the so-called "Spacing Effect." Studies have shown that presentations of material are much more effective if the information and lessons are spaced, rather than massed. For an equal amount of study time, a lesson taught in small sections, instead of in massed amounts, is more effective. Many teachers are unaware of this phenomenon and its corroborating research [ 44 ].
These two examples illustrate a fundamental difficulty for education: research findings are unused in classrooms. This lack of follow through is understandable. If classroom instruction is to incorporate research, the new method must be carried out by each individual instructor. Once again, the unique characteristics and teaching agendas found in millions of teachers create insurmountable roadblocks. This problem has been pointed out in the difficulties of creating software and audio-visual materials for teachers to use in individual classrooms. It will arise again with the difficulties of replication in Chapter 25 (see Section 6, this issue). Teachers have their own way of teaching. They must evaluate new methods in the context of their individual instruction. These, however, are not the only impediments to the use of research.
Before any teacher can use a finding, he or she must know of its existence and must be convinced of its efficacy. Neither is automatic. Many teachers are not aware of a great deal of educational research. Even when they do know of a new study, its suitability may be elusive, since research often brings results that can be interpreted differently when used under alternative conditions, by teachers with a variety of skills.
Even if teachers think new ideas will help, they also must know how to apply the findings in the classroom. They must remember the research when the proper circumstances to apply it are present. Inertia is yet another problem in the way. It is easier to do something as it has been done before, instead of undertaking a new procedure.
Research results will be easily brought into classrooms with computerized education. The two examples of frequent testing and spacing will pose no problems for computer programmers. Software developers will build a series of tests into their programs. Computers will test to make sure that the student understands the material and will also use testing to enhance learning. Neither testing nor correction of the exercises will be difficult for the machines. Spacing, also, can be easily put in place through software.
Computer programmers can use present research and incorporate future findings, as they occur. Millions of individual teachers will not be required to learn about it nor to try to put it into practice in their unique situations with their special talents. Only scholars and other experts, employed by software companies, will need to be aware of it. These educational advisors to software developers can study research to decide how to use it effectively. They can then pass their conclusions with suggestions for implementation to programmers, who will incorporate the ideas in software and present the results for further comments and evaluation.
When this analysis is completed, new advancements will be made available immediately, in new versions of programs to schools everywhere. This rapid updating will enhance educational opportunities for every student working on a specific subject. As pupils use the new programs, the familiar computer feedback will again provide benefits. Learning results will be returned, via modems, to programmers and educational experts. After sufficient data have been received, the results will be used to assist programmers in deciding if new methodologies are effective.
Where results are less than absolutely positive, changes can be made easily and quickly. Under present conditions, when a new technique is devised, a researcher will try it out in a limited area. After the necessary trials, results can be published in a journal. This procedure may have consumed years from the first idea to its publication, when other researchers receive the information. If the results seem promising, other researchers may embark on their own studies of the new method. They will often try variations. Their results may corroborate the first studies or may add other questions. More time has passed. A slow process then becomes even less effective because results have little impact in classrooms.
In computerized education, when programmers have different possible approaches, they will be able to try one method in some schools, and simultaneously, another in equivalent locations. Results can be compared to find the better teaching method. Companies producing software can be continually upgrading their programming. Students will be the beneficiaries.
Computers will be the source of new investigations because researchers will accumulate vast quantities of valuable data with little additional expenditure of computer time. They will pass their conclusions to programmers who will be able to upgrade and improve their software.
Since computers, under the direction of organizations and corporations developing software, will be responsible for research, the numbers of individuals working in separate schools and developing research projects will be lessened. That may be thought of by some as a regrettable result, but is no different from what happens frequently in scientific fields today.
In other industries, technical research is carried out in large companies with ample staffs. Sometimes, more people create additional chances that a detrimental bureaucracy will arise and hinder research. Nonetheless, well trained staffs working on a coordinated project can hasten scientific advances. Benefits are apparent from the technological advances that are made continually in companies throughout America and other nations. Relatively few individuals working alone make major scientific breakthroughs today. Research can be done more efficiently and can be carried out more readily as a group effort. Ideas of individuals will always be essential, but they will be carried forward by larger staffs with greater resources. Software companies will employ educational researchers exactly as other technological companies employ experts in their fields.
As a result of improved research, teaching will become more of a science than an art. Education will assume its rightful position among the sciences.
Computers can add another element that is connected with research. The machines can use individual methods with different students. Teaching styles can vary according to the needs of pupils. The speed of computers will enable analysis to be made not only of patterns of learning throughout school systems, but also of individuals. They can keep track of what type of teaching is effective in a specific environment and watch for similar circumstances. When these conditions appear, the method that is probably the best can be used. If it is unsuccessful with an individual student, other varieties of computer teaching can be tried until an effective one is found. The students will always be treated as unique individuals, but their similarities are also important.
The speed and analytical capability of computers can also be used to discover and address basic shortcomings in any lesson. Computers can be programmed to detect problems and to allow students to make their difficulties known to research staff who can carry out further study. Improvements in software will again result.
Computerized education will mark the beginning of massive new study into teaching methods that are impossible today. The final and more important outcome will be that improved and expanded research in education will not lie fallow in technical journals, but will make the transition from a purely theoretical activity, to classrooms where it can affect learning. In the future, research results will bring better teaching, and students and schools will benefit.
Some teachers make lessons interesting; some don't. Those who are skilled in theatrics have an advantage. They can conduct classes that grab and hold the attention of their students. Since no one can require teachers to add a flair for drama to their teaching repertoire, schools have to adopt the attitude that children must accept teaching as it is, even if it is sometimes uninteresting. After all, students are the ones benefiting from education. They ought to be willing to put up with a little discomfort.
This idealistic - but naive - attitude means little in a classroom. Whenever students are bored, learning is lessened appreciably. In the mass media world of today, instructors face an additional obstacle when they try to keep the attention of students. They indirectly compete with highly talented actors and writers who bombard pupils with entertaining films and television programs outside school hours. These shows keep the attention of pupils with material that is cleverly written and superbly delivered. The contrast between these professional media presentations and normal classes increases the apathy that students suffer in classrooms. Children have grown accustomed to being entertained. They are not at fault because they are presented with a constant outpouring of technically magnificent programs outside school.
Nor is it the fault of teachers when their attempts to compete fall short. They chose to be teachers, not actors or actresses. They can't be criticized for failing to excel in knowledge and in delivery skills at the same time. Even writers and actors aren't skilled in both. Nonetheless, teaching must contend against these clever shows that students see daily on television and in movies.
Use of Audio-Visual Programs
Teachers sometimes improve their classes by incorporating audio-visual, or A-V, materials into their lessons. These programs make use of films, recordings, and video productions to instruct. Many of these displays can compete technically with the media fare that students see outside the classroom. A-V lessons can enhance education, but this technology furnishes the same difficult challenges to teachers that bedevil them when they use computers:
Teachers who have difficulties are not alone. Companies that produce audiovisual materials for schools labor under the same handicaps that confront firms developing computer programs for schools today. Their products must be filtered through the instructional agenda of individual teachers, and must fit these unique teaching styles. Purchase of audiovisual programs is dependent upon the desires and requirements of teachers, not on the inherent worth of the program. It is of little value to producers to design superb A-V teaching tools if teachers don't buy them.
- They must schedule specific times to show films or videos.
- They must ensure that the necessary teaching materials and equipment will be available.
- They must contend with mechanical problems in projectors or video machines.
- They must harmonize the audio-visual lesson with their teaching skills, and integrate it with requirements of the curriculum.
- They must provide the audiovisual display simultaneously to all their students, although the pupils are unequally prepared to learn.
- They can't identify the individual needs of all their pupils and some of their students might learn more if certain parts were repeated.
- They can't repeat the showing for part of the class while the rest moves on to other lessons, and they can't provide the same show for all pupils without boring many of them.
- Another difficulty that is absolutely insurmountable often occurs: on the day that the presentation is made, some students may be ill or absent, missing the film or video.
The consequence of these difficulties for teachers and manufacturers of audio-visual materials is inevitable. Despite their many valuable features, A-V presentations have been unable to make significant improvements in education after many years of use.
Multimedia - the New Audio-Visual Experience
When personal computers first appeared, writing and figures on the screen could only be in one color. Users chose among white, green, or amber when they selected their monitor. Forever afterward, the color of their characters on the eternal black background of that screen was unchanged.
The history of computers is replete with rapid improvements. Those original restrictions with displays lasted only briefly. Manufacturers quickly introduced full color monitors, and viewing became more pleasant and less tiring to eyes. Some movement was always possible on computer screens, but often it was restricted, usually to simple creations like stick figures or bouncing balls. As computer memories grew, color images of photographic quality were practical and movement of images improved dramatically. The addition of sound provided a further enhancement. Computers can today display regular films at a high resolution. The displays of graphics are continually improving.
Color, sound, and movement under the total direction of a computer are the components of multimedia. As an educational tool, it can make learning more appealing and more effective than ever previously imagined. It will enable education to compete with the kinds of shows produced for television and theaters. Computers can control multimedia for each student on his or her own screen, and can use and integrate the technology into lessons. Multimedia has all the valuable features of traditional audio-visual technology, but it adds at least three additional benefits for education:
1. Individualized Instruction
Many difficulties that teachers now confront when they use A-V shows will disappear because of a computer's ability to provide lessons geared to the precise needs of each student. This individualizing will begin before the presentation is made. Computers will often be able to determine what type of multimedia presentation is appropriate for a particular student. The material will be delivered when the student is prepared to receive it. Either during or immediately after a presentation, the machine will test the student and evaluate results. If the pupil missed something important, all or part of the presentation can be repeated. Sometimes computers will be able to provide a different exhibit to overcome the deficiency.
2. Use of Presentations of Varying Lengths
A major advantage of multimedia over today's audio-visual format is the ease with which it can be employed in lessons. Basically, teachers today are unable to interject short film clips to accentuate a point. Scheduling and setting up the equipment waste too much valuable teaching time. With multimedia, however, it will be equally possible for the computer to provide anywhere from one minute to one hour of instruction using films or clips, and to use them as frequently as will be helpful. No tedious delays will bore students while separate equipment is set up, and no distracting transitions from one medium to another will hinder learning.
3. Interaction Between Student and Computer
Despite the use of moving pictures, audiovisual materials have a static feature. The content of a movie or a video is unchangeable in the classroom and students cannot interact with it, except in a passive role. Computers eliminate these constraints. The sequence of multimedia displays can easily be altered. Computers are able to adjust programs according to the reactions of pupils. Students and machines will respond to each other, and each response will stimulate further interaction.
Computerized presentations will never be fixed and unchanging. A student will be able to ask questions about almost anything pertinent to the material being taught. The machine will answer, and perhaps use the question and its response to make or enhance a point with a different display or film clip or demonstration. The machine may propose questions of its own to involve the student more fully during the show. The reactions of the pupil will determine the direction the computer will take to reach the goal of teaching the essential material while the graphics entice and involve the student. Interchange between student and computer will allow pupils to participate intensely while they learn. This capability, of course, differs from today's audio-visual presentations where interaction between students and the teacher must occur before or after the show. At either time, the teacher is forced to confront the always present difficulty of interacting with thirty different students simultaneously.
This interactive capability of multimedia will open many new avenues to learning. Lessons incorporating and using the latest equipment can be provided and students will feel as if they were operating the machines. They will receive responses from the computer simulation as they would from the actual gear.
Imagine the use of electronic telescopes or microscopes, which will behave as if they were the actual instruments present on the student's desk. Pupils will be able to focus and zoom with these devices on their computers, while following on-screen explanations.
Additional pertinent benefits will follow. Instruments will always be up-to-date, and every student will have an individual piece of equipment. Today, the expense of many instructional devices precludes those possibilities. Even if some schools could afford hardware - real telescopes and microscopes, for example - for each pupil, finding and retaining qualified teachers to use these devices would be impossible. Moreover, computers will have their usual advantage of personal attention and instruction of each student.
In the U. S. government itself, there has been extensive use of the interactive features of computers in education. The conclusion of one review by the U. S. Department of Defense is worth noting. Researchers examined forty- seven studies and noted that
"Interactive videodisc instruction was more effective the more the interactive features of the medium were used. It was equally effective for knowledge and performance outcomes. It was less costly than conventional instruction. Overall, interactive videodisc instruction demonstrated sufficient utility in terms of effectiveness, cost, and acceptance to recommend that it now be routinely considered and used in Defense training and education [ 45 ]."
Multimedia is in its infancy, but is advancing rapidly. In January 1993, IBM emphasized the increasing importance of this new approach by forming a separate unit within the company to direct future developments. They named the new unit Fireworks Partners, an unusual name, but appropriate as an indication of the possibilities in this field.
Multimedia programs available today give glimpses into the educational possibilities of the technology. Microsoft's program called Beethoven, an in-depth study of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, is complete with music and measure-by-measure commentary. Explanations appear on the screen, as the music is heard through earphones. There is also an introduction to the musical structure of the symphony and to the instruments used in the rendition. These features are enhanced with a history lesson on the social, cultural, and political events that were taking place and influencing Beethoven as he composed this musical work. Viewers can move about in the program, in the absence of a predetermined arrangement. By adding appropriate testing, the program could allow great flexibility to a student's approach to learning, but ensure that all important matter was covered. The interest generated when students follow their inclinations aids retention. Although this disk is intended for the general public, it could easily fit into many school programs on music appreciation or history.
Although schools can adapt many programs for their use, most manufacturers direct their sales efforts at other markets, such as families. Companies thereby avoid the problems that software producers have encountered when they created software specifically for classrooms. Nonetheless, many firms are aware of the educational possibilities of this technology. Microsoft, in their promotion for their multimedia encyclopedia, maintains that
"It brings learning to life with words, images, animations, and sounds that work together to create a fascinating universe of knowledge. [It] sparks curiosity, opens the door to wonder, and starts a learning adventure that never ends."
Later, the brochure adds, "It helps you find the joy of learning."
Other Possible Uses of Multimedia
The full potential of interactive multimedia presentations is awesome. Even an old standby that has existed in various forms in education for centuries - lectures - can partake of its power. Although only a few people can speak with sufficient force, appeal, and wit to keep listeners spellbound, a few modern versions of that renowned orator of ancient times, Demosthenes, can be found among professional actors. They could be employed in education, with their scripts written by experts, educators, and others.
Students will watch these presentations on their screens enhanced by a professional delivery of an accompanying text, that they will hear on their earphones. These professional lectures could be valuable learning experiences. This technique is seldom used today in A-V displays. It would seem superfluous; teachers give oral presentations and might justifiably view use of professional speakers as unfair competition. These market limitations lessen the monetary incentives of corporations to develop dramatic talks.
Those listening to the modern counterparts of the orators of old will enjoy added features undreamed of by the original speakers, or their audiences. These modern lecturers will be integrated with the interactive capability of computers.
A lecture can be carried for a short time, and then pertinent film clips could be interjected to maintain interest. The computer will then return to the lecture. If the student doesn't understand something, he or she can interrupt the lecture or the film clip to ask a question or request more information. The computer will either provide information that was requested, or retain the question and return to it later. For a teacher to individualize a lecture in this way is impossible; for a computer it is simple.
The powerful features of multimedia will be used in many subjects. A geography class can give pictures of the country and interviews with the people as ongoing parts of the presentation. These additions can be as frequent as helpful and will be integrated completely into the lesson.
History courses can provide accurate portrayals on film to accompany the bare facts of dates and events. Parts of historical movies could be culled, always under the direction of historians who could choose only the episodes that were accurate. As we sometimes have seen, Hollywood has access to magnificent technologies, but has a tendency to take liberties with history. Multimedia presentations in schools will adopt only scenes that are accurate and helpful.
Science lessons will be able to provide pictures to go with the scientific material that is taught. For example, on a lesson on electromagnetic forces, a film could reenact the original discovery of the phenomenon. Additional clips then could show actual uses of electromagnetic forces in everyday situations. At the end, current research into electromagnetic forces could be discussed, to generate additional interest by the students.
Multimedia learning, along with the rest of computerized education, will reach its full potential only when computers can understand spoken language better. That capability is now weak, but is improving rapidly. The vast profits that will flow from computerized speech recognition in business will hasten advances in this area. Ultimately, its effects will accrue also to education.
Through these improvements, multimedia can eliminate the many shortcomings of A-V materials and present a new learning experience. Coming technical improvements in multimedia will dwarf even today's notable successes. The future will bring not only simple upgrades, but new eras. Learning and retention will improve appreciably for all youngsters because the material will be presented in an engaging form.
The elements that make up multimedia - sound, pictures, and animation - are the same elements that have always been present in audio-visual materials in classes. When A-V displays were first made available to schools, the potential value to learning seemed to be immense. The final result fell short of original hopes, and education improved only slightly with this new technology. The same danger could sabotage multimedia. If schools try to use multimedia without complete computerized education, they will waste one more potent educational assistant. Without this computer direction, multimedia, despite its potential for education, must remain in the same position as audiovisual materials today - a powerful tool with little effect in classrooms.
When, however, computers are allowed to direct multimedia, a new age in education will appear. This technology will make lessons come vibrantly alive through sound and pictures. Future generations may look back on present teaching as we look back on the single room "little red schoolhouse." For some, those impoverished learning environments were the only educational possibility. Computers manipulating multimedia presentations were fantasies, until recently. The old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse is now an anachronism. Schools without integrated computing and multimedia capabilities will be thought of as like the old fashioned little red schoolhouse.
Since computerized education can captivate students, it would be wise to recall what Plato said many centuries ago:
"knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.... do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to find out the natural bent [ 46 ]."
Plato would have been delighted by education capitalizing on the advantages of multimedia, which can amuse and fascinate students beyond anything he could have imagined.
The differences between the memories in computers and those of humans are never more striking than when considering the genesis of prejudice or bigotry. Computers store only information; human memories keep much more, including feelings. Software must tell computers what to retain. Any happening that occurs within the sensory range of humans may remain willy-nilly. Anything in a computer memory can be easily and completely erased. Information in minds can only be "forgotten." This forgetting may leave an influence on future actions, a hidden residual, which can be a cause of prejudice and a deterrent to its elimination.
The memories of young people are especially receptive. Children absorb and retain learning, which remains immediately available to them throughout their lives. An adult requires no thought to answer "What is five times two?" No one has to think about how to ride a bicycle many years after first learning. Unfortunately, no conscious thought is needed to act on acquired prejudices either.
During their early years, if persons or events suggest to children that people with other characteristics are inferior, they may carry those ideas permanently because they cannot erase their memories. Years later, their actions may be influenced by what they originally learned, or thought they learned, about different kinds of people.
Prejudiced adults may be unaware that anything is askew with their thinking. Almost everybody acknowledges that prejudice exists, but seldom does anyone admit that he or she is infected. Lewis Terman was cited earlier with his comments about the genetic inferiority of immigrants. Terman would have denied that he was bigoted toward immigrants. He thought that he was merely stating the "facts." Supposed "facts" form an almost impermeable shield that hides prejudice and enables bigots to deny personal culpability. Denial is intensified because of the origin of the prejudice - happenings long forgotten, but not completely erased.
Fervent and sincere disavowal of prejudice by those who are tainted is neither uncommon nor surprising, but the denial changes neither the condition nor the consequences. Teachers resent accusations of prejudice since they recognize how detrimental it is for pupils. Nonetheless, with millions of teachers from diverse backgrounds and training, bigotry interferes in our schools. The extent of prejudice may be debatable; its existence is not.
Bigotry is hidden not only from those who are infected, but sometimes even from others who watch their actions. Rather than wearing a sign saying "I am prejudiced," most people try to avoid giving any indication that they are infected. A destructive force is no less damaging just because it is hidden.
An incident that was supposed to have happened in the life of playwright turned diplomat, Clare Booth Luce, was described in press reports in 1954. Her biographers downplay the event, but it provides an analogy to illustrate the problems of prejudice. In 1954, President Eisenhower named Ms. Luce as the American ambassador to Italy. Although she had been in good health when she began her duties, she became seriously ill after a few months in her position. Extensive testing discovered that she was being poisoned. Nobody could understand how or why. Investigators finally determined that paint from the ceiling in the dining room of the old Italian villa that she had leased was flaking in microscopic amounts. These particles dropped into her food and, over time, sickened her. Hidden prejudice is an evil that also poisons. Though it may occur in tiny amounts and be hard to detect, it is lethal. Its disguised nature makes it even harder to discover and remove.
Prejudice has another powerful impact in schools. It is self-perpetuating, because its casualties are those who are already behind. When a bigoted teacher subtly treats a weak student with some disdain, the victim is pushed down even further. The possibility of success by the child becomes even more difficult. The instructor thereby sees an additional failure by this pupil, and has another of Terman's "facts" to justify, and perhaps increase, the existing prejudice. A destructive negative cycle results. Prejudice exists; prejudice increases the likelihood that the objects of prejudice will do poorly; poor performance then increases prejudice. Unfortunately, another and still worse consequence follows: this inferior progress is witnessed by other students.
Any rational examination of the evils of prejudice shows that it must be eliminated, but especially in schools. Computerized education will reduce prejudice as no other system can. Since computers are not influenced by what takes place around them, they lack prejudice, bias, or bigotry. Computers are unconcerned about the ethnic identity or gender of a given student. It is even irrelevant to computers whether a pupil is bright or dull. The machines, through their programming, merely adjust their teaching to meet needs of the individual learner. Computers can teach children at their own level, without regard to any of the multiple concerns that could trigger prejudice by a regular teacher.
Computerized education will eliminate bias and prejudice in teaching, but it will go further. It also will destroy the basis of future prejudice among students who are influenced by seeing their fellow classmates always classified among the poorest students. This benefit will develop in two ways.
First, those who are less adept at academic subjects will not stand out prominently. Each student will be working at his or her individual computer. Students will cease competing with each other as frequently as today. They will be concentrating on their own learning. This will appreciably reduce derogatory comparisons with other groups of students. Pupils will work together in seminars and workshops, as I will show later, but they will be better able to do the work because they will not enter the cooperative projects until they are sufficiently prepared.
The more important way that computers will reduce future prejudice is by ensuring that all students can and will learn. As academic achievement improves for certain students, especially minority groups, the seeds of prejudice in the minds of other pupils will be lessened.
Computers, of course, cannot eliminate all prejudice. Some bigoted instructors who have been influenced by their early learning will remain. With computerized education, however, attitudes of these teachers will be less damaging. In Chapter 19 (see Section 5, this issue) I will show how each student will have an individual Leader teacher. Students will have only one teacher for at least a year at a time, and will be able to choose whom they wish. They will be better able to select teachers without prejudice toward them. In turn, bigoted teachers will be less likely to deal with students who are objects of their prejudice.
Bias or prejudice against different races, religions, and patterns of ethnic customs is often glaring, but a more subtle form also exists. It is directed against girls in certain subjects, but particularly mathematics and science.
Some think that bias against women has been eliminated. The American Association of University Women, however, issued a scathing report in 1992 [ 47 ]. This study concluded that hindrances to the scholastic success of girls have not been eliminated or even begun to be addressed properly.
Before girls begin school, they test higher than boys. By the time they graduate from high school they are behind. Myra and David Sadker, in their book "Failing at Fairness," complain that,
"Sitting in the same classroom, reading the same textbook, listening to the same teacher, boys and girls receive very different educations [ 48 ]."
In their extensive studies of schools, these authors found repeated problems. Girls are given less time to answer; boys are offered more detailed and constructive criticism. Teachers interact with boys eight times more frequently than with girls. Often when boys shout out an answer, it is accepted, but girls in the same class are reprimanded for that type of spontaneity.
Many, perhaps most teachers, even if they are unaware of their bias and deny it emphatically, are infected. Their negative attitudes may have begun when they, themselves, were students.
Girls, subject to this discrimination may develop hesitations about their own talents. This self-doubt may explain why females are often the first to say that they have no ability in math and science, although girls consistently get grades equal or better than boys in these subjects. It explains why only three percent of science and engineering graduates are female. If they become teachers, they will in turn communicate these basic, but hidden, ideas to their students.
Boys, seeing discrimination against girls, easily pick up the idea that males are superior in academics. Thereafter, they don't like to be equaled by females in subjects where feel they are, or should be, better. Sometimes, they are so brazenly protective of their position that they intimidate girls into accepting it. Years later, as adults, the actions of these males may be unknowingly influenced by what they originally learned, or thought they learned, about females.
Girls, therefore, confront a huge hurdle in education. Massive numbers of instructors teach with some form of bias. Even under ideal conditions, changing teachers' attitudes would take many years. Since most teachers don't know they are affected, simply telling them to change won't solve the plight for girls. Another answer is needed or sexist teaching will remain in schools.
Many difficulties that girls face in classrooms can be addressed more easily by learning through computers than by any other means. Girls will have, for the first time, equal opportunity in all basic learning. Computerized education also will destroy a basis of future prejudice among students who might be influenced by the belittling of female classmates, however subtly, in today's classes.
Girls will be learning all their basics through computers. Later, when their foundation is secure, they will join in cooperative projects with boys. The danger that females will again be demeaned in these cooperative undertakings will diminish appreciably. Girls will understand their own abilities and will have developed a basic confidence in their own talents.
Traditionalists might object that girls will feel uncomfortable with computers. That is a foolish objection, reminiscent of the ideas in earlier times that girls should not go to school. Neither girls nor boys will be intimidated by computers. The machines will teach all children to feel at ease with this form of education.
Prejudice, whatever its form, is a cancer that eats away at the structure of a community and a nation. Computerized education is essential in its eventual elimination in America.
Education today requires the extensive use of substitute teachers. A teacher, absent from a class, must be replaced by someone to fill the void, but with little knowledge of the students in a given class, and often with less skill than the regular instructor. Alternatives don't exist.
Most do not regard the use of substitute teachers, or subs, as unusual. Like other educational tragedies, the use of subs is ignored largely because many have grown accustomed to their use in schools. However, substitute teachers are an acute obstacle to improving education.
The number of classes requiring substitutes has been increasing sharply in recent years. The number of sick days, allocated for regular teachers, has increased, together with absences for other reasons by teachers. This growth may have several explanations, but may result largely from the stress that teaching places on teachers.
With increased absenteeism, greater numbers of subs are needed and the overall quality of substitutes decreases. Schools are forced to grapple with the enormous demand of locating temporary replacements to meet their requirements. In some case, schools have no alternative but to lower their standards. Toch complains of
" ... the lax credentialing standards that most states have for day-to-day substitutes. Only a handful of states require the same subject matter background of secondary school substitutes as they do of regular teachers, while many issue licenses that allow substitutes to teach any high school subject, and many more set no standards for substitute teachers at all. Of the states that do issue licenses to daily substitutes, half don't require a bachelor's degree, according to the [National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification] survey. Such standards are troublesome because teacher absenteeism is a tremendous problem in the public schools. It's not uncommon to find high schools with 10 percent, 15 percent, or even 20 percent of their teachers absent each day. As a result, thousands of the nation's public school classrooms are staffed by ill-trained substitutes daily [ 47 ]."
Even allowing for some outstanding subs, the poor quality of these teachers is understandable. In part, the problem begins with funding. Substitute teachers are paid less than regular teachers, a sign that many substitute teachers may be poorly trained and less effective in classrooms than permanent teachers.
Even if a substitute teacher happens to be talented and capable, effective teaching is not assured. Qualifications are only the beginning of the difficulties. The sheer process by which a school district acquires the services of a typical substitute teacher illuminates some of the problems. Subs sign up with a central office in the school system, providing a record of credits and teaching endorsements. A potential substitute with good qualifications in one subject may be allowed to be posted on other lists for many more subjects. School systems are in a bind of needing substitutes, and require as many subs as possible. The school system itself loses nothing if a particular sub is never used. If the day comes when a given substitute is unavailable, the principal suddenly confronts a formidable problem. Classes must be covered, and almost any person may be acceptable under the circumstances. No class can be left unattended. I know a sub who was once assigned to a photography class because she was certified for chemistry; she knew nothing about photography.
The actual process of signing up is usually the beginning and the ending of a substitute's preparatory work. Some morning at the bright hour of 6 AM, the phone rings and rouses the sub from sleep. The necessary information is communicated to the substitute: the school, its location, and the subjects for which the permanent teacher is responsible. The day's saga for the temporary instructor and the students is about to begin. Frequently, it is a true adventure for both teacher and students.
The substitute hopes to find a lesson plan for that day, prepared by the regular teacher. Under ideal circumstances, the regular teacher has provided a detailed plan. Sometimes it happens, often it does not. On occasion, the teacher not only fails to leave a suitable lesson plan, but may leave only the barest outline. On occasion, no lesson plan can be found. From the perspective of the regular teacher, the sub will accomplish little. The normal instructor will have to repeat the lesson. Under these conditions, teachers have little incentive to spend a lot of extra effort in preparing a detailed lesson plan for the substitute. Motivation for the teacher to prepare the students for the sub is also lacking. Substitutes are often referred to by regular faculty members as "expensive baby-sitters."
There are times when regular teachers know that they will be absent, to attend, for example, a conference. In these cases, teachers are more likely to leave detailed instructions for the substitute. There are other times when a teacher is ill and the principal must arrange for a sub quickly. Without a detailed lesson plan, the substitute teacher enters that class at an intimidating disadvantage.
The biggest problem confronting substitute teachers is the attitude of class members. I know of one teacher who did some subbing while working on an advanced degree. An excellent teacher, she never had difficulties with discipline as a full-time instructor. As a substitute teacher, she wasted an undue amount of her time trying to establish discipline. She described her experiences that year as providing students with a "license to raise hell."
The substitute is unfamiliar with the class, unaware of what has taken place, and unprepared for difficult students. When the sub arrives, students know that their relationship with this instructor is temporary. Their grade will be unaffected by their behavior with this teacher. Even skilled substitute teachers find this a difficult predicament. Maintaining discipline is more important than teaching. Without discipline, everything else is futile.
Frequently the classes that require many substitutes are those that have the poorest discipline, even while the regular teacher is present. Teachers indeed suffer psychological stress, especially in those unruly classes, where teaching is agonizingly difficult. Under these conditions, teachers will need frequent relief from the rigors of a classroom. A substitute going into a poorly managed class will encounter horrendous conditions.
If substitutes are forced to teach in classes outside their academic expertise, students will spot their deficiencies quickly. A few students will pounce on any signs of a teacher's weakness, putting some students in a position of strength and intimidation.
This reliance on subs creates an immediate and obvious difficulty. About eight percent of teachers across the United States are absent on any given day; almost one school day in twelve may be less than ideal. How can anyone, who seriously considers the stress that use of substitutes inflicts on education, airily dismiss the practice?
The problem is not new, only worsening. Substitute teachers have meant poorer education for students for many years. A study in New York schools found that substitute teachers were significantly less effective in teaching than regular teachers [ 48 ].
Many educators understand these problems. There have been suggestions to improve substitute teaching [ 49 ]. Making substantial changes is challenging, however, because of many inherent problems such as the high turnover rate. Subbing is an unpleasant job and pays poorly. Why keep on if you can find another job? There have been suggestions on improving the lot of substitute teachers with more training. Unfortunately, if schools develop an elaborate system for training substitute teachers, the effort may be wasted when the substitute departs to a better job.
The practice of utilizing substitutes is nearly unchangeable in the present system of education. Why? Instruction is totally dependent upon an individual teacher, an individual with complete responsibility for education of a group of students in a specific subject. In computerized education, the need for substitute teachers disappears with the use of the computer. A human monitor will be required in most computerized classrooms, but this monitor does not need to be all knowledgeable in a particular subject. Monitors will assist, encourage, and support students, but will not provide academic material. Professional teachers may in certain circumstances act as monitors, providing additional opportunities for student interaction. Often, monitoring will be done by paraprofessionals, equivalent to today's "teacher's aides." When a regular monitor is absent, others on staff, either teachers or paraprofessionals, will act as replacements.
Wiping out the involvement of substitute teachers will bring massive benefits to education. Imagine - up to one day in twelve will no longer be wasted.
Computerized education also will provide other peripheral benefits. Each by itself may not be immensely significant, but their cumulative value is considerable.
Many parts of society will profit from the use of computerized education in the schools. Taxpayers will gain because the cost of education will be reduced. Corporations will benefit since the work force will be better educated and will not require remedial education. School administrators will rejoice when they have fewer discipline problems. Since crime and illiteracy are intimately connected, a literate society will reduce lawlessness to the benefit of all, but especially to law enforcement officials.
- Students will not be penalized by ordinary absences. Most students miss some days during their schooling because of illness. Students are hindered when they return and try to catch up. In the computer schools, lessons will always begin where the previous class ended, regardless of the time lag. Vacations will not have to be synchronized and planned mass events. Workshops, seminars and field trips, which will be vital in computerized education, can be scheduled without concern about missing classes.
- The need for records and paperwork, with the accompanying possibility of errors, will be less burdensome and drastically reduced. Computers will develop and keep necessary files, printing or transmitting them instantaneously and accurately when needed.
- Teaching will not be bound by time constraints. Computers are tireless, instructing at any time and under virtually any circumstances. Computers are not limited to an eight-hour day or forty-hour week, don't need vacations, and are never hampered by psychological problems. Burnout of a computer component can be remedied by simply replacing a specific part or the entire device.
- Time in the classroom can be increased. Students in the United States attend school about 180 days each year. Other nations, including Germany, Japan, and England, feature enlarged school calendar, up to 240 days.
To extend the number of days of actual classroom time today would require tens of thousands of additional teachers. Schools already have problems finding qualified instructors, especially in math and science. Even if large quantities of well trained teachers could be located, school budgets which have trouble in supporting the additional salaries.
Increased class time with computers could be provided in diverse ways. Schools could be open on weekends for some students, while for other students continue a normal Monday-to-Friday schedule. Classes could be scheduled for the entire calendar year, giving students and their parents the leisure of determining the most optimal schedule. Computers would track attendance and ensure that attendance met school and other requirements.
- Computerized education will always be up-to-date. As information in the world explodes, teachers find it difficult to keep up with all developments. It is crucial that students are made aware of new advances, especially in the sciences. It is much easier to update one computer program, used in thousands of classrooms, than to update the working knowledge of thousands of teachers now in those classrooms.
- Some components of the curriculum, on occasion overlooked in some schools, can be added easily. For example, every student will learn to type soon after learning to read. Students will also learn to read faster with improved comprehension. Speed reading courses, often only available outside of school, will be accessible thanks to computerized exercises. Computers are ideally suited to encouraging faster reading skills because they can easily increase or decrease the rate at which words appear on a monitor. In addition, the machines will test comprehension immediately and encourage the facility of students with printed text. Rapid reading with high comprehension is a skill that can be learned. It will become a basic competency that students will develop early, improve periodically, and retain throughout their lives.
- Computers will be available in the evening for on-going adult education programs. The report "America 2000" encouraged this continual interest in education by stating: "The President is urging every American to continue learning throughout his or her life." This document asked citizens to become a "nation of students." This lofty goal is difficult to attain because of the additional costs of instructors. With computers, education will become as valuable for older students as for younger ones. Software will be available that will instruct learners of all ages about the use of educational technologies, without the need for human instructors.
The greatest delight of parents will be in watching their children become better educated. Teachers will benefit since they will find more personal satisfaction in their profession. Their work will be more exciting, challenging, and enjoyable. They also will see more accomplishments from their efforts. Moreover, teachers should be better paid since their tasks will become even more important. Students, however, will be the foremost beneficiaries of computerized education exactly as they are the ones who suffer most from the current educational debacle.
Fred Bennett received his undergraduate degree in business administration. When he finished, he thought that he would never have to be in school again. After college, he started working as a salesman and later established a book distribution business.
Idealism then got the better of him and he decided to change the world. He chose to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. It was back to school again and he received an STL (Licentiate in Sacred Theology) from the Pontifical University Angelicum in Rome, Italy. Returning to the U. S., he taught Greek and performed ministerial functions.
He returned to school again and received M. A. in counseling from the University of New Mexico, and then a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Utah in 1971. After the advanced degrees, he helped set up a treatment program for clergy with alcoholism and also worked in an inner city mental health center. In these environments, he first confronted the reality that some people without education could not get a job, regardless of how much they wanted to work.
Eventually, he realized he was not changing the world and left the priesthood. He directed public addiction treatment programs in Colorado and Florida and married a Ph.D. chemist, who was an excellent teacher. He then established, owned, and directed a group of private addiction treatment centers. He also became interested in computers and began to write programs to handle the paperwork for his company.
In 1990 he sold the business, moved to Sarasota, Florida, and began new projects. He wrote a computer program for artists, which he markets throughout the United States. He also started to think seriously about the problems in education and spent several years studying the subject. His wife's background in education was of immense help. Finally, he sought to bring together what he had acquired from his studying and education, from his experience working with people at all levels, and from his knowledge of computers. The result is this book, "Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education."
Frederick Bennett can be reached at email@example.com
The entire book is ©1996, Fred Bennett.
A Note of Thanks
My thanks go to Marge, above all, who was always so helpful and supportive as this book took shape, and to whom it is dedicated. A number of other people also offered many helpful suggestions, although they did not always agree with all my ideas. These people, in alphabetical order are Gene Best, Isa Dempsey, David Ellison, Margaret Kemner and Earl Krescanko. To all of them, my sincere thanks, and also to Paul Messink who first suggested that I put it on the Internet, and gave me so much help in getting it there.
37. Lewis Terman, 1923. Intelligence Tests and School Reorganization. New York: World, p. 27, as cited in Jeannie Oakes, 1985. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, p. 36.
38. Thomas Toch, 1991. In the Name of Excellence. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 123.
39. cf. e.g. Jeannie Oakes, 1985. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press; New York Times, Education Life (November 1, 1992), Section 4A, pp. 14-19; and, Thomas Toch, 1991. In the Name of Excellence. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 123.
40. P. Brown, P. and P. Goren, 1993. Ability grouping and tracking: Current issues and concerns. Washington, D. C.: National Governors Association.
41.Laura Manserus, 1992. "Should Tracking Be Derailed?" New York Times, Education Life (November 1, 1992), Section 4A, pp. 14- 16.
42. Wall Street Journal (November 16, 1992) p. B1.
43. For example, see Corrina Perrone, Alexander Repenning, and David Clark, 1996. "WebQuest: Using the World Wide Web & Interactive Simulation Games in the Classroom," First Monday, vol. 1, no. 5 (November 1996), http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue5/perrone/ See also Corrina Perrone, David Clark, and Alexander Repenning, 1996. "WebQuest: Combining the WWW with Interactive Simulation Games," In: Proceedings of the Fifth International World Wide Web Conference, May, 1996 in Paris, published in Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, vol. 28, nos. 7-11, pp. 1307-1319.
44. Frank N. Dempster, 1988. "The Spacing Effect: A Case Study in the Failure to Apply the Results of Psychological Research," American Psychologist, vol. 43, no. 8 (August), pp. 627-634.
45. J. D. Fletcher, 1990. Effectiveness and Cost of Interactive Videodisc Instruction in Defense Training and Education. Alexandria, Va.: Institute for Defense Analyses.
46. Plato. The Republic. Book VII, p. 315.
47. Anonymous, 1992. "Study Finds Bias Against Girls is Rife in Schools," New York Times (February 12, 1992), Section A, p. 1.
48. Myra and David Sadker, 1994. Failing at fairness: how America's schools cheat girls. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
49. Thomas Toch, 1991. In the Name of Excellence. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 114.
50. New York State Office of Education, 1974. Performance Review: Teacher Absenteeism in New York City and Cost Effectiveness of Substitute Teachers. Albany, N. Y., cited in Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 59, no. 4, pp. 269-271.
51. e.g. William R. Drury, 1988. "Eight Ways to Make Sure Substitute Teachers aren't Baby-Sitters," American School Board Journal, vol. 175, no. 3 (March), p. 51, and, Sandra J. Tracy, 1988. "Improve Substitute Teaching With Staff Development," NASSP Bulletin, vol. 72, no. 508 (May), pp. 85-88.
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