Cole W. Camplese
Introduction to Interactive Tech.
October 5, 1995
Computers in the Classroom
The use of computers in the classroom has become all too common for the students in the Institute for Interactive Technologies (IIT). Day in and day out we use computers for everything; from presenting information in Power Point, taking notes from the LCD projection panel, to designing interactive learning aides. But, for millions of other college, high school, and grade school students, computers in the classroom is something that is just talked about. Not all schools have the resources to deliver computer aided instruction. These schools are the ones without the funding or the desire to enter the computer revolution. Are these schools cheating their students out of the kind of education that is needed today? Or are they doing just as good of a job preparing students for life after academia as a school stocked with computers? Furthermore, how much does the use of computers (along with other multimedia tools such as scanners, overhead LCD panels, and modems) and computer driven lessons benefit students? We will explore several articles that deal with these questions along with some other issues concerning the use of the computer in the classroom.
What type of impact do computers and their multimedia tools (scanners, overhead LCD panels, etc.) have on students in the classroom? Dr. Martha Sammon of Wright State University aimed her research at just that. The research was performed at Wright State University, and reported on in T•H•E• Journal , where Dr. Sammon provided to teachers the computers and other equipment along with the training needed to run multimedia software for use in their classrooms. The students were then given the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of the lectures by way of an evaluation form.
The students believed the computer-aided lectures made classes more interesting, organized, and clear. In fact, students also found that note-taking in general was much easier. The only major drawbacks came mostly from poorly lit rooms, equipment slow-downs, and instructors who were not proficient at using the equipment. Students believe that computers are the wave of the future and should be used by their instructors.
These findings answer the question concerning the computer’s effectiveness in the classroom, but do not address what makes for an affective use of the computers. How do we use this powerful technology to increase the student’s knowledge? The typical belief is that the lesson must use all of the features of the computer and look as high-tech as possible. But, could it be just the opposite? Dr. Leticia Ekhaml, an Associate professor of Media Education at West Georgia College, believes that to produce a top notch educational computer slide show, the instructor must use clean looking graphics and present the information in a clear and concise manner. Prof. Ekhaml goes on to say that using the right tools and other easy-to-use graphics packages are the keys to powerful presentations in the classroom.
Creating graphics to follow a lesson can be more time consuming than actually designing the instruction. When the graphic is finished it may distract from the actual content of the lesson. Prof. Ekhaml believes that using clip art is a quick way to incorporate high quality graphics without driving yourself crazy. Planning is also a big part of the process. Always remember to keep the audience in mind while designing. Apparently, a little goes a long way when it comes to charts and graphs, because people pretend to have trouble understanding these if they are too “busy.” Use the same font throughout the presentation and try not to use a typeface that is too ornate. Color should be used to provide emphasis, not to clutter the presentation. Prof. Ekhaml reminds us that the main idea behind preparing a presentation is to get information across to the student; so make sure the content is clear and concise - don’t overload the viewer.
Another topic of concern with the use of computers in the classroom is computer aided instruction (CAI). What could be the problem with CAI? A computer assisted instructional program cannot possibly know the limitations of the students. For example, if two students are not able to comprehend what is being taught, right then and there the instructor can stop and give further examples. The computer cannot. Esther R. Steinberg reports to us in the Journal of Computing in Higher Educ Ration some of the shortcomings of CAI and how to get around them. Miss Steinberg reports that most of the time spent by instructors in higher learning is devoted to the content of the lesson - not to the students characteristics. This is usually limited to the student’s previous knowledge. What is ignored is the fact that there are other factors beside motivation and prerequisite knowledge that determine if the lesson will be successful. These characteristics include learner’s expectations, learning strategies, and a host of other characteristics.
Miss Steinberg goes on to report that all of these characteristics interact with the instruction to determine the strength or weakness of the lesson. Attention to these characteristics is very important in normal lectures and traditional classroom environments, but in CAI it is vital. L àike stated before, it easy for the instructor to “change the instruction on the fly” when working in a traditional setting. But when it comes to CAI, accommodation for all of the student’s characteristics must be preplanned. This aspect of CAI is what will make or break the use of computers in the classroom.
So far we have seen how teachers benefit from the use of computers and how to design affective presentations. Now let us focus on the advantages for the student. Dr. Martha Sammon of Wright State University showed us that students feel computer aided instruction helps them in following the instructor, but how do computers aid students on their own?
One excellent example of students broadening their horizons comes from an article by Maritta Perry Grau that appeared in Teaching and Computers. Miss Grau describes a program developed by the Maryland State Department of Education in which students ages 12-17 participate in an interactive international studies program. Over 80 students participate each year. The students are divided into teams of six or seven. Each team then becomes a “citizen” of Brazil, France, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, or Russia. For each issue studied in their international studies course (human rights, arms control, nuclear proliferation, and international economics), the country teams relieve and translate an electronically mailed agenda written in Spanish or French. All communication among teams is done via the computer.
Every few days the teams hold a computer linked conference to discuss a particular issue and negotiate treaties or agreements. This allows the students to accurately formulate messages consistent with how each of the country’s foreign policy works. This program gives students, at an early age, an opportunity to work with technology and to back up in a very real way the information they are learning in textbooks.
The next big step is gettin g your students to use the technology that is in front of them. There is nothing more frustrating than having the technology but not knowing how to get your students to use it. This becomes even more difficult as the students finish the programs that were purchased with the computer and become disinterested in them. In The Electronic Classroom Checklist, Steve Cavrak and Hope Greenburg are pushing teachers to develop “electronic classrooms” . In this on-line article Mr. Cavrak and Miss Greenburg cite Marshall McLuhan’s suggestions of using old media and incorporating their content into new computerized media. In fact, he believes that this exercise in getting old course materials on the computer may actually be something very good for the students to do. For example, have the students create a totally “electronic classroom” in which all old paper based course materials (such as Ç a syllabus, assignments, problem sets, online quizzes, etc.) are part of a web page.
Another great opportunity for the use of the computer in the classroom is just a phone call away - the internet. There are hundreds of web sites that allow students to do research and hands-on experiments (such as those conducted in virtual laboratories). This allows the students to go beyond the CD-ROMS and other interactive programs.
The use of the computer in the classroom has been a hot topic in recent years because of the price versus performance discussion. Will computers return an educational value higher than that of the price of the machine? I believe the answer is yes. More importantly, the research and readings suggest that this is the case. If instructors use the technology in such a way as to push the students and present the information in an organized way, then, yes, computers become an integral part of any classroom. Instructors must take into consideration the many characteristics of students and do as good a job as possible planning the CAI beforehand to give each student an equal opportunity to be successful. With the emergence of the internet and the WWW students and teachers can access more information than thought imaginable in past years. This is the area that will drive the computer to the front of every classroom instead of the back corner. In the near future, computers will became as important to teachers as the blackboard.
Cavrak, Steve and Greenburg, Hope. “The Electronic Classroom Checklist.” From WWW, http.//.www.uvm.edu/sjc/e-class/checklist.
Ekhaml, Leticia. “Performing Remarkable Feats with Presentation Graphics Packages.” TechTrends, vol. 39, no. 4, September, 1994, pp. 29-31.
Grau, Maritta Perry. “Terminal Diplomacy.” Teaching and Computers, vol.6 j, no. 5, March-April 1989, p. 8.
Sammons, Martha. “Students Assess Computer-Aided Classroom Presentations.” T•H•E• Journal, vol. 22, no. 10, May, 1995, pp. 66-69.
Steinberg, Esther R. “The Centrality of Learner Characteristics in Computer Assisted Instruction.” Journal of Computing in Higher Education. Winter 1990, vol. I (2) pp. 49-58.