Microcomputers in Education: The Second Decade

Article excerpt

Microcomputers in Education: The Second Decade

Ten years have passed since the first microcomputer was placed into use in an American classroom, and the application of larger computers as instructional delivery systems is now in its third decade. Time and the acquisition of an additional 1 million microcomputers for education have not served, however, to settle debates raised among both researchers and practitioners regarding the effectiveness of this technological innovation. Indeed, time has served to fuel these debates. The question posed in such discussions is usually some variation on the same theme: "What difference has computing made in our educational process?" or "Has instruction been enhanced through the use of computers in our schools?" this article will not resolve this issue. It will, however, offer a brief summary of what has been learned, thoughts regarding mistakes that have been made, and recommendations for addressing future questions. The positions we take is based upon two beliefs: first, that educators erred in the implementation process; and, second, that the evaluation processes and paradigms used to assess effectiveness have not always been appropriate.

National spending for microcomputers for instruction continues unabated. State departments of education reported expenditures in 1985/86 of an estimated $550 million for computer hardware, with an additional $130 million for software, and higher levels of spending are expected to be reported for 1986/87 when those figures become available. Despite the current trend of increasing expenditures, debates regarding the efftiveness of computer-based instruction (CBI) are likely to become more than academic as educators consider competing demands for allocation of scarce fiscal resources. While state-level computing directors appear confident that "no backlash [is] in sight," others have warned of the "start of a great backlash of reaction against computers in education." As competition for funds increases, decision-makers at all levels of education can be expected to subject the case for continued acquisition of technology to closer scrutiny.

Effectiveness of Computer-Based Instruction

Roblyer captures the essence of the debate regarding the effectiveness of computer-based instruction when she asks, "How much do computers actually improve instructional methods, and, consequently, student achievement?" The question assumes even greater significance when visits to so many schools using computers for instruction reveal dissatisfaction or disagreement amng the faculty and administration concerning their real benefits. There is an increasing likelihood that convincing answers to questions of effectiveness are going to be demanded by decision-makers before they approve additional expenditures.

For purposes of discussion, CBI refers to a curricular program in which there is interaction between the student and the computer. Delivery of instruction is provided in the form of drill-and-practice, tutorials, simulations, games or problem-solving. The instructional sequence and format may be supplemented by some form of management system.

In addition to effectiveness (i.e., learning outcomes), issues related to student attitudes, time savings, instructional efficiency, system costs and learning retention are subjects of debate. To a great extent, the current controversy is fueled by earlier forecasts of a technological revolution and by unfulfilled prmises of a great change in the way our nation's schools provide instruction and in the way children learn. As a memorable example, Suppes opined that "in a few years, millions of schoolchildren will have access to what Phillip of Macedonia's son Alexander enjoyed as a royal prerogative: the personal services of a tutor as well-informed and responsive as Aristotle."

The Research Base

Absence of information is not the major problem; the literature is replete with research concerning CBI effectiveness. …