Preface to the January 2005 Reprint
The first and second books book published by the International Council for Computers in Education were:
Moursund, David (1980) School Administrator’s Introduction to Instructional Use of Computers. Eugene, OR: ICCE. Access at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/%7emoursund/Books/SchoolAdmin/SchoolAdministrator.html.
Moursund, David (1980). Teachers Guide to Computers in the Elementary School. Eugene, OR: ICCE.
The two books overlap considerable in content. Both were 48 page booklets and both sold for $2.50 for a single copy. Both were based on a question and answer format, and both were illustrated by Percy Franklin. The intent in both cases was to keep the books rather easy to read and non-threatening to the reader. Both sold rather well, as there was little competition at that time.
These two books were written nearly 25 years ago. I find it very interesting to reflect on the changes that have occurred in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education during this time period. As I was reading this 1980 booklet for elementary school teachers, I found that I was disappointed in the progress we have made.
It is easy to point the blame finger at all kinds of people and organizations. But, here I want to take a different approach. This particular booklet has a strong emphasis on roles of both calculators and computers in problem solving. By 1980 (and earlier) it was quite clear to me that the focus of computers in education needed to be a focus on roles of calculators and computers as an aid to representing and solving problems. By 1980, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics had come out strongly in support of use of calculators.
The human race has survived and prospered because of the very capable brains that people have. Among other things, humans are good at accumulating knowledge and skills, and in sharing knowledge and skills with each other. This sharing often occurs in face-to-face settings. But, this sharing also occurs through the tools that are developed and made available to others, and through written language. The past 250 years have bought us the Industrial Age and the Information Age. The tools, including the ICT tools, have significantly changed our world and the lives of people living in this world.
Reading and writing, along with the Industrial Age and Information Age progress have led to an exponential rate of growth in worldwide-accumulated data, information, and knowledge. From a problem-solving point of view, this means that there are a steadily increasing number of problems and problem areas that we (collectively) know a great deal about. The we here is people and their collected data, information, knowledge, tools, and so on. The exponential rate of growth means a doubling in some modest number of years, sometime currently estimated at perhaps five to ten years. And, the growth is accompanied by a steadily increasing number of problems that people are studying and dealing with.
Now we are getting to the crux of the matter. The nature and extent of the problems that an ordinary person is faced by in everyday life is growing in breadth, depth, and complexity. This is meant to be a strong assertion, so lets think about it a little. The general area of health provides an excellent example. You, personally, know many things about food, vitamins and minerals, medicine, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol, vaccinations, viruses, bacteria, infections, and so on than the leading physicians of a couple of hundred years ago. You have accumulated considerable health-related knowledge that is personally important to you. And, you continue to learn more through a wide variety of resources such as your friends, the media, your doctor(s), and so on.
In recent years, the medicine and health information resources on the Web have become one of the most widely used components of the Web. There is a good chance that you have learned to use the Web as an aid to dealing with health-related problems that interest you. In the process of continuing to expand your knowledge of health-related data, information, and knowledge, you have learned that there is far more to know than you will ever know. You read and hear ads and reports from the media. You have learned that doctors and other sources of information are fallible. You have learned about recalls of various drugs that are damaging some people. Perhaps, at times, you feel overwhelmed by your need to deal with health problems.
Now add to that all of the disciplines that you have studied in school or encountered in other ways. My personal conclusion is that there is no way that I can begin to keep upto learn about and to effectively deal with the data, information, and knowledge from all of these disciplines that is particularly relevant to my life. I believe that this situation describes all people living in our Industrial/Information Age society.
By now you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with calculators, computers, and other aspects of ICT? There are two parts to my answer:
- ICT is contributing a great deal to representing problems, working to solve these problems, and storing and sharing the results of this work. Thus, people doing this type of research and knowledge-building tasks work need a significant level of ICT knowledge and skills.
- ICT contributes a great deal to working to automate and/or simplify the processes that people use as they solve the problems that they encounter in their everyday lives, jobs, and soon. Thus, people living in an Industrial/Information Age society need a significant level of ICT knowledge and skills relevant to such problem solving in their everyday lives.
It is the second situation that underlies the purpose of this 25-year old book and my current comments given here. A modern education needs to include a major focus on problem solving situations that a person encounters in their everyday lives. When new toolsin this case, ICT toolsare developed, they are both a source of new problems and an aid to representing and solving old and new problems.
Some of the new tools are so transparent (easy to use, easy to learn how to use) that no school time need be spent in learning to use the tools. For example, I doubt if you needed to take a course in order to learn to use a cell telephone. But, others of these tools take some, and perhaps a great deal of time and effort to learn to effectively use. It is here that formal education can make a difference. And, it is here where our schools are doing poorly.
Ill close with one simple example. In their everyday lives, quite a few people encounter simple computation tasks such as adding fractions or calculating the sum of products of pairs of numbers. Some of the former types of calculations are trivial, such as 1/6 + 1/3 = 1/2. Some can be done mentally. Some can be estimated accurately enough to effectively deal with the situation.
And, some require the type of auxiliary or temporary memory aids provided by pencil and paper. As an example, probably you cannot readily do the following calculation in your head:
(23.5 x 14.8) + (16.9 x 54.3) + (83.6 x 31.4)
Indeed, you might find it to be a reasonably challenging paper and pencil activity, and perhaps you would produce a result that is not correct.
However, this is an easy activity that can be accomplished quickly using a calculator and without use of paper and pencil. That is because almost all inexpensive 4-function calculators have a M+ key and a MR key. Here, M stands for memory. The calculator has a memory location where it can store an answer, roughly in the same way that you would write down an answer, and then use it later. To do this calculation, key in 23.5 x 14.8 = and then the M+ key. The result of the multiplication is added to the memory location (which began at zero, if you just turned on your calculator and/or cleared the memory). Continue by keying in 16.9 x 54.3 = and then M+. The second multiplication is done and the result is added to the current number in the memory. Continue by keying in 83.6 x 31.4 = and then M+. Finally, key MR (memory recall) and the final answer is displayed.
The same general approach works for adding fractions.
As you can see, it is easy to learn to use the M+ and MR keys to work with the memory location in a calculator. It takes a few minutes of instruction to learn to do this. Most adults who own calculators have not learned to use this feature of their calculators! In my opinion, this represents a (small, easily correctable) flaw in our formal educational system. Also, it means that students are not getting a chance to learn a little bit about computer memory (which is the same as calculator memory). They are getting a school-taught or self-taught knowledge of calculators as black box that sort of magically can do routine calculations and calculate square roots. I am saddened by the fact that our school system has not done better over the past 25 years.
This same black box approach is being used in much of the computers in education instruction that students are receiving. I strongly believe that we can do better.