Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) in Educational Environments: Implications of Understanding Computers as Media

By Berg, Gary A. | Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) in Educational Environments: Implications of Understanding Computers as Media


Berg, Gary A., Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia


This article is a review of the literature in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) as it may apply specifically to educational environments. The origin of HCI and its relationship to other areas of study such as human factors, usability, and computer interface design are examined. Additionally, the notion of computers as a medium was investigated in order to understand the unique properties of HCI as opposed to other forms of man-machine interaction. The article seeks to answer questions about current HCI issues, its relevance to education, and to sketch out a research agenda for the future.

Designing for the little screen on the desktop has the most in common with designing for the Big Screen. Interactive software needs the talents of a Disney, a Griffith, a Welles, a Hitchcock, a Capra... (Nelson, 1995, p. 243)

History of Media in Education

The history of educational technology shows a pattern of moments of exaggerated promise at the introduction of new technology, followed by disappointment. Thomas Edison predicted in 1913 that books would be replaced by motion pictures (Cuban, 1986; Metlitzky, 1999). In 1940, George F. Zook, in his American Council on Education report, described film as "the most revolutionary instrument introduced in education since the printing press" (Hoban, 1942, p. 16). However, after these early periods of great promise, the history of the use of technology in education is one of resistance to change and disappointment. Hoban (1942) blames this resistance partially on the Puritanical belief in the power of words, and a suspicion of any education that seems pleasurable. While film came into wide use in educational environments during WWII when the military needed a device to speed up the training of masses of soldiers with various skill levels and education, it never gained acceptance in higher education in the same way (Hoban, 1942).

The literature on the use of film and TV in educational environments is striking in the manner which one finds much written and published in the period of 1930-1950, and then very little afterwards. Research in the uses of film in education has, in the opinion of one of the leading researchers in this area, remained almost at a standstill since 1950 (Hoban, 1971). In the 1960s and 1970s, a few authors focused on how to use films to teach creatively as an augmentation and resource in the classroom (Schillaci & Culkin, 1970; Worth, 1981), while others argued about the educational value of film and television, especially Sesame Street (Goldman & Burnett, 1971; Cook, Appleton, Conner, Shaffer, Tamkin, & Weber, 1975). Overall, there is surprisingly little written about the uses of film and television in education.

With the introduction of the personal computer, large claims were once again made for educational applications. The programmed learning movement, or auto-instructional movement, began with the introduction of computers and, early on, emphasized B.F. Skinner's model of operant conditioning, response mode, error rate, and reinforcement (DeCecco, 1964). Later, Computer-Aided Instruction (CM) and Intelligent Computer-Aided Instruction (CAI) developed, seeking to combine artificial intelligence capabilities (Frasson & Gauthier, 1990). However, neither of these movements had much success in either elementary or higher education.

Computer Medium

Computers are usually viewed as tools or instruments for storing and manipulating data (Oren, 1995). However, at times in the literature on human-computer interaction (HCI), there are suggestions that the computer is a medium, not a tool, and that it might be fruitful to investigate this notion further (Baecker & Small, 1995; Head, 1999; Kay, 1995; Oren, 1995). As the use of computers in educational environments increases, the need for a more sophisticated understanding of computer design issues becomes more important--an understanding of computers as a medium brings this kind of complexity to the research.

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