Computer-Based Career Planning Systems: Dreams and Realities

By Harris-Bowlsbey, JoAnn; Sampson, James P., Jr. | Career Development Quarterly, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Computer-Based Career Planning Systems: Dreams and Realities


Harris-Bowlsbey, JoAnn, Sampson, James P., Jr., Career Development Quarterly


The authors look back more than 30 years to those who introduced the use of the computer as an important new tool to assist students in the area of career development. To what extent have dreams been realized and concerns allayed? Rapid advances in technology, not included in the authors' vision, have transformed the world into a different place. How have these advances affected the use of computers in counseling? The article concludes with a list of current concerns, along with recommendations for further action and research.

Early in our thinking about this article, we decided to make it not only a summary of facts and findings about the use of the computer as a tool for career planning, from its genesis in 1966 to the end of the millennium, but also a summary of the hopes and dreams of the early developers. We are in a unique position to do both because Harris-Bowlsbey was among the group of first developers, and Sampson is a student of the history, research, and emerging trends of the use of technology to assist individuals with career choice and development.

The development of interactive, computer-based career planning (CBCP) systems became technically possible in 1966 when International Business Machines released the first cathode ray tube. This device, a terminal that could be connected to a mainframe computer by a phone line or cable, could be as far away from the computer as 2,000 feet. Thus, interactive script and data could, for the first time, be sent from the computer to the person at the cathode ray tube, and that person could respond either by selection of a multiple-choice response or by free-form writing. This fact set the stage for the construction of interactive exchanges in support of career planning.

Super facilitated communication among the early developers by means of an annual invitational conference, by editing publications of the early developers (Super, 1970), and by encouraging informal exchanges of papers and results of research and field tests conducted on the various systems. The content of the first part of this article, which addresses the dreams of the early developers, was reconstructed by rereading ComputerAssisted Counseling (Super, 1970), by browsing file copies of papers written by the early developers, and from personal memory.

On the basis of this review of literature and memory, Harris-Bowlsbey describes five dreams of the pioneers in this field. Sampson follows by analyzing the design and use of CBCP systems over the past 30 years to shed light on the degree to which those dreams have been fulfilled and to identify areas of contribution to the field that the developers themselves could not or did not foresee. Finally, we combine our thinking to make recommendations for realizing the dreams of early system developers in the twenty-first century.

Changing How Counselors Do Their Work

CBCP systems had their beginning in the years from 1965 to 1970. During that time at least 12 systems were developed to some level, although not all reached the stage of operation (Myers, 1970). Those systems can be divided into two groups: those intended to use the computer to operationalize what counselors were already doing and those intended to improve on what counselors were doing in some substantial way (Super, 1970). The systems in the first group, illustrated by Autocoun, the Computerized Occupational Information System (COIS), the Education and Career Exploration System (ECES), and the Computerized Vocational Information System (CVIS), analyzed what competent, trained counselors do in their work with students and then tried to emulate or simulate it. The advantages proposed for computer delivery included serving more students with the same number of staff; using the computer to organize, search, and deliver data; using the power of the computer to relate databases of information about students, majors, schools, and occupations to help students make better informed decisions; and making it possible for counselors to deal with higher-level tasks.

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