Classrooms as Test-Beds for Educational Software Design

By Carlson, Patricia A., Dr.; Hitzfelder, Elaine et al. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), March 1996 | Go to article overview

Classrooms as Test-Beds for Educational Software Design


Carlson, Patricia A., Dr., Hitzfelder, Elaine, Hudson, Timothy, Redmon, D'anne, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Innovative teachers know how to take risks; in fact, they often thrive on it. This is what it takes to be part of a research and development project using technology in a public school. This article gives highlights of our experiences working with a large, multi-year effort to transition advanced computer technologies from defense applications to commercial product for public education.

The Fundamental Skills Tutoring Project (FST) is a timely collaboration among the military, business/industry and educational community to address one of the most pressing challenges facing our nation: teaching the thinking skills necessary to participate in a complex, modern society. R-WISE (Reading and Writing in a Supportive Environment) is one of three Fundamental Skills Tutors developed by the Air Force and field tested at MacArthur High School in San Antonio, Texas, using ninth-grade classes.

* Moving Beyond Word Processing

The potential for computers to aid in writing instruction has moved beyond mere word processing. With this in mind, the Air Force's Armstrong Laboratory formed a steering committee in early 1991 to draw up a plan for designing, developing and evaluating interactive software for mediating reading and writing. The finalized plan called for a suite of three intentional learning environments based on the theories of Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia (authors of The Psychology of Written Composition, 1987).

Each of the workspaces included (1) structured planning and goal-setting, (2) visual algorithms that depict the writing process, (3) adaptive, interactive instruction based on the student's individual situation, and (4) just-in-time modules that present. a cogent review of basic principles. In September of 1992, after eight months of programming, the software was ready for a beta-test site release.

* Presenting Authentic Writing Tasks

The task modeled by R-WISE involves a type of writing familiar to managers, investigative reporters, engineers and researchers -- to name just a few. In issues-based writing, source documents become the raw materials in composing a position paper, an evaluative summary or an interpretive response.

The software is designed to be a comprehensive, integrated verbal skills learning environment providing cognitive support for learns. It differs from many other computer-aided literacy software in that it is an end-to-end development package. It assists the learn throughout the process by providing instructional statements adapted to the individualized needs of the student.

Inshor, R-WISE offers a way of learning that is different from the traditional classroom: students don't have to wait for the teacher to prompt them on paragraph structure idea development or whole paper organization. The software embeds adaptive advice into the very process of composing, so students get real-time guidance rather than after-the-fact grading.

* Fostering Higher-Order Thinking Skills

When integrated into the curriculum, the tutoring program provides individualized practice with concepts introduced in daily classroom activities. Expert writers use appropriate strategies to write effectively for a variety of audiences and purposes. Novice writers need guided practice with each of these stages in order to develop the metacognitive skills of expert writers. (Metacognition is defined as thoughts about thought, knowledge about knowledge, or reflections about actions.

In the writing process, novice writers lack the ability to access appropriate information when it is needed. An analogy is to think of the brain of an expert writer as a file cabinet containing labeled folders that are easily accessed when needed. However, the brain of a novice writer is like an overflowing junk drawer from which nothing can be easily retrieved. Metacognitive activities serve as reinforcement for students learning to make suitable choices about their own writing. …

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