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Frequently Asked IT in Education Questions

Note: This page is a "work in progress."

The questions given below are examples of the types of questions to be posed and discussed in this section of the Website. Readers are invited to submit questions and comments.

Frequently Asked Questions are questions that people feel we "should" know answers to. In the field of IT in education, however, people frequently ask questions that are not easily answered.

Research Questions are modest-sized research projects that might be suitable for a doctorate dissertation or a grant-supported research project.

Grand Challenges are really big, underlying, unifying question and projects that may require many years to adequately address.

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Frequently Asked Questions

These are Frequently Asked Questions that have been sufficiently studied so that it is reasonable to provide a suggested answer. Of course, answers will change over time due to changes in the IT field and additional research in the field.

Q7. People sometimes call the Web a "Global Library." How big is this Global Library?

Q6. I am particularly interested in the education of children. In what ways will technology change what children learn and how they learn?

Q5. My children play computer games, write some of their homework assignments using a word processor, do email with their friends, and use the Web. What else is their to learn about use of computers, and what can I be doing to help my children gain the needed knowledge and skills?

Q4. I am a parent. How can I tell if my children are gaining appropriate IT knowledge and skills through their schooling?

Q3. The US is now (2000-2001 school year) spending $6.2 billion a year for IT in K-12 education. What evidence is there that this is a good investment?

Q2. Many children know more about computers than their teachers and/or parents. What does this say about our formal and informal educational system?

Q1. What is Moore's Law and what are some of its educational implications?

Top of Page  Q1. What is Moore's Law and what are some of its educational implications?
Perhaps the most often quoted basis for predicting the future of computer hardware is Moore's Law. Gordon Moore was one of the founders of Intel. In the mid-1960s, he noted that the number of components (transistors, resistors, capacitors) that could be manufactured on a single chip had been increasing at a steady and somewhat predictable pace. Eventually, he made the statement that the density of components on a chip was doubling every 18 months, and this has come to be known as Moore's Law.Moore's Law has proven to be relatively accurate for more than thirty years, and experts predict that it will continue to hold for about another twelve to fifteen years. After that, no further doublings will be possible without a complete change in the technology, so the farther future is harder to predict. Researchers are currently working on developing new forms of transistors and other related electronic components that will be much smaller than those expected to be manufactured twelve to fifteen years from now. However, it is difficult to tell whether laboratory-produced discoveries will ever "scale up" to mass production at a reasonable cost.To a remarkable extent, this periodic doubling of computer hardware capability has occurred with little change in the cost of the hardware. For example, suppose we focus just on the price and capability of a medium-priced microcomputer. The price hasn't really changed a great deal since microcomputers entered mass production in about 1977. But, the capabilities of such microcomputers have increased immensely. Very roughly speaking, today's medium-priced microcomputer has the capabilities of a computer mainframe costing a thousand times as much just 15 years ago.If such trends continue, when today's kindergartners are completing their bachelor's degree in college, they will routinely be using microcomputers that are equivalent to the $10 million supercomputers of today. This suggests that we need an educational system that will be preparing our children to make effective use of such machines as an aid to representing and solving complex problems and accomplishing challenging tasks.
Top of Page Q2. Many children know more about computers than their teachers and/or parents. What does this say about our formal and informal educational system?
[Possible approach to answering this question.]Our current formal educational system is often called an Industrial Age model of education. It is designed for mass production, and it is not designed for quiche change. The pace of change of IT (and the pace of change of our society) in the past few decades has overwhelmed the change capacity of our formal educational system.This suggests that we may need substantial changes in our current educational system. Also, it means that informal education, students learning on their own, and other non-school approaches to learning will play a major role in the IT education of children for many years to come.
Top of Page Q3. The US is now (2000-2001 school year) spending $6.2 billion a year for IT in K-12 education. This is approximately 2% of the K-12 school budget. What evidence is there that this is a good investment?
[Possible approach to answering this question.] In very brief summary, there are two major approaches to answering this question. One approach is to analyze how IT has helped to improve the traditional, long-standing curriculum, instruction, and assessment of our formal educational system. A second approach is to accept the importance of students having IT knowledge and skills, and to analyze how well our formal educational system is doing in helping students to gain fluency in this new and important component of education.Another approach is to be "defensive." Argue that 2% of the school budget is a very small amount and is inadequate to make a significant difference in education. Cite evidence that suggests that 6-12% is needed to make a significant difference. Also, argue that the IT preparation of preservice and inservice teachers is inadequate, and that is one reason why we do not see IT making a lot of difference in education.Note that parents are also making a huge investment in IT for use by their children and themselves. A standard reason for such IT acquisitions is "for educational purposes." It is important to know how IT is affecting our informal educational system.
Top of Page Q4. I am a parent. How can I tell if my children are gaining appropriate IT knowledge and skills through their schooling?
[Possible approach to answering this question.] The goal for IT education is to integrate IT knowledge and skills into a student's repertoire -- to have students gain IT "fluency." There is a strong parallel with reading and writing. In reading and writing, we want students to meet contemporary standards in their reading and writing skills. Students need to learn to read well enough so that reading is an easily used communication and information acquisition skill. Similarly, we want students to gain a level of writing fluency so that they can communicate well in writing and make use of writing to aid in their thinking and problem solving processes.We have the exact same goals for IT. We want students to gain "reading and writing" fluency in IT. Achieving these goals requires a substantial amount of formal instruction. It requires integration of IT into the routine everyday life of the student. It requires an environment that provides both the facilities and the technology (and instructional) support that facilitates routine and appropriate use of IT. If IT in your student's school is a "occasionally go to the computer lab" and "play computer games as a reward for accomplishing your seat work and good behavior" then the goals of integration are not being met. In that environment, the chances are that you child is not gaining adequate IT knowledge and skills.
Top of Page Q5. I purchased a computer and Internet access for our family to use at home. My children play computer games, write some of their homework assignments using a word processor, do email with their friends, and use the Web. What else is their to learn about use of computers, and what can I be doing to help my children gain the needed knowledge and skills. (I don't know much about computers, although I use one on the job.)
[Possible approach to answering this question.] This is a tough question, and it gets to the heart of informal education versus formal "schooling." Things to think about in addressing this question include:
  • What are the types of IT knowledge and skill that might best be acquired through informal education?
  • What are the types of IT knowledge and skill that might best be acquired through formal education?
  • How might informal and formal education be combined to help children gain the IT knowledge, skills, and "fluency" that will best serve them in the future?
Top of Page Q6. I am particularly interested in the education of children. In what ways will technology change what children learn and in what ways will it change how they learn?
[Possible answer to this question.] This is a question that requires developing a vision of what can be, and then developing a realistic plan of how to get from here to there.People talk about educational renewal, educational reform, and educational restructuring. One might think of this as a scale. At one end of the scale we "renew" our efforts to do what we have been doing. We make use of IT as an aid to doing better what we have been doing for the past 100 years or so. At the other end of the scale we ask ourselves the question: "If schools (our formal educational system) did not exist, and we were going to invent it right now, what would our formal educational system look like?"There is a good analogy between this and "Zero-based budgeting." which was in vogue for awhile. The trouble with this school restructuring (school inventing) approach is that very few of us can think beyond modifications of what currently exists. It is sort of like thinking about: If airplanes did not exist and we were working to improve our transportation system, would we invent airplanes?"What we do know it that education could be a whole lot better. What do I mean by a whole lot better? From a purely academic point of view this might mean moving the "average" (which by definition is the 50th percentile" up to where the current 80th percentile are. And, at the same time give the average student a decent amount of education in music, art, and other areas that are important aspects of being a human being, but which receive relatively little attention in our current educational system. And, of course, we would also expect all students. to be bilingual
Top of Page  Q7. People sometimes call the Web a "Global Library." How big is this Global Library? Give me an answer in terms that I can understand.
Answer to Q7. The following brief news item is a good starting point for answering this question. It is quoted from NewsScan Daily, 19 October 2000. MEASURING THE INFORMATION EXPLOSION Two professors at University of California, Berkeley have finally gotten a handle on the amount of all new data produced worldwide last year -- on the Internet, in scholarly journals, and even in junk mail -- and are reporting a "revolution" in information production and accessibility. Hal Varian and Peter Lyman, professors at UC-Berkeley's School of Information Management & Systems, used "terabytes" as the smallest practical common standard of measurement to compare the size of information across media. (One terabyte equals a million megabytes or the text content of a million books.) Findings reported in their study, "How Much Information?" are mind boggling: The directly accessible "surface" Web consists of about 2.5 billion documents and is growing at a rate of 7.3 million pages a day. When the "deep" Web of connected databases, intranets and dynamic pages is included, there are about 550 billion documents, 95% of which are publicly accessible. The report is available at www.sims.berkeley.edu/how-much-info/index.html and will be updated periodically in response to readers' comments. (Science Daily 19 Oct 2000) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/
2000/10/001018214317.htmComment: The original news release is available online [Accessed 10/27/00]:http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/
releases/2000/10/18_info.htmlHere is a brief quote from one of the follow-up resources given in the original report:
Heavy information overload: the world's total yearly production of print, film, optical, and magnetic content would require roughly 1.5 billion gigabytes of storage. This is the equivalent of 250 megabytes per person for each man, woman, and child on earth.
In thinking about this brief quote, keep in mind that 1-megabyte is equivalent to a full length novel with no pictures in it. The often quoted "A picture is worth a thousand words." is somewhat misleading when it comes to computer storage. A high resolution color picture is "worth" several million bytes. For example, some digital cameras now take pictures containing more than three million pixels. Depending on the "depth" of color one is using, a pixel might be 2-4 bytes. In that case, one such picture, if stored not using any compression techniques, requires as much storage as a half dozen to a dozen full length novels.
Top of Page Research QuestionsThese are questions that might be suitable for a medium-sized research project, such as a doctoral dissertation. Readers are invited to suggest questions that fit into this category.1. Some Computer-assisted Learning (CAL) materials make a great deal of use of multimedia (color, sound, graphics, video, motion) while other makes very little use of such computer capabilities. Does that this make a significant difference in student learning? Are there easily identifiable characteristics of learners that are related to whether or not multimedia in CAL makes a significant difference? The following brief news item provides an example of a "finding" in this area.
 VIRTUAL REALITY GETS HUMAN TOUCH
Companies are experimenting with new computer simulation programs to train workers online. These new e-training programs add human interaction to e-learning programs, allowing users to communicate with a live voice, an animated personality, or an action figure. Retention rates are higher when interaction is added to online courses, says Astound's Stephen McWilliam. Reading material alone has a 10 percent retention rate, while visual material and audio material have retention rates of 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, audio and visual material combined in an interactive program can produce retention rates as high as 70 percent. IBM Canada offers a simulation model to help managers develop their coaching skills. The Basic Blue management-training course offers video-based coaching stimulation modules in which on-screen characters respond through facial expressions to what the user has said. (Toronto Globe and Mail, 16 October 2000) (Edupage, October 23, 2000)
2. Each academic discipline has guidelines or standards for the preparation of teachers within the discipline. Within a specific discipline one can explore the qualifications of teachers relative to the demands of the courses they teach and overall standards for teacher preparation within the discipline. The term "IT teacher" or "computer teacher" is, of course, not very well defined. Still, one can imagine doing a study of how well qualified the various IT teachers are relative to contemporary standards being developed by organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education. One can also imagine comparing relative levels of preparation of IT teachers versus teachers within other disciplines. Thus, for example, is the typical middle school teacher who is teaching language arts better prepared as a language arts teacher than is the typical middle school teacher who is teaching IT?3. Identify examples in which IT has significantly changed the content of various disciplines taught in schools. What are common characteristics of these examples? We know, for example, that scientific calculators and graphing calculators have led to changes in the math curriculum content. (For example, most students no longer learn how to computer square roots by hand; many students do not learn to interpolate in math tables.) One can do such a study within any specific discipline (such as the high school business curriculum) or can study the topic in several disciplines simultaneously (for example, compare and contrast changes in the math curriculum with changes in the science curriculum).4. Select any discipline at the K-12 level and one or more grade levels in that discipline. Study the effectiveness of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in helping to improve the education of students in that subject area and grade level(s). One approach would be strictly through a study of the literature. A second approach would be a relatively large scale and long term study, with experimental and control groups. (Of course, this would also require doing the literature study.) A different way of looking at this is to ask yourself the following: In my doctorate and/or other research, what would I have to learn and do to become a world class expert (the leading expert in the world???) on effective and ineffective uses of ICT in a particular subject area and grade level? Of course, one could set less lofty goals. Because "effective and ineffective" might well have different definitions in different states, provinces, or countries, one might focus on having a high level of expertise in a smaller geographical region.

 Grand Challenges

These are the "really tough" questions and challenges. Progress in answering these questions or accomplishing these tasks will significantly change the field of education.

Using Google on 6/6/05, a search on

Grand Challenges IT in Education

produced more 3 million hits. This suggests a lot of people have thought about some of the major challenges facing the field of ICT in Education. Note that the search on

Grand Challenges ICT in Education

produced only 80,000 hits. This suggests that the term Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is not (yet) as widely used in the Web literature as Information Technology (IT).

Here are some of my Grand Challenge questions:

1. Develop a "unified theory" of education. This needs to unify the current research base in education, our knowledge of cognitive neuroscience (brain science, brain-related medical research), and ICT in education. It needs to provide a firm basis for significantly improving education.

2. Private industry and government agencies are taking advantage of ICT in ways that have significantly transformed the nature of their enterprises. (A significant part of the increase in productivity in the US during the past decade is attributable to ICT.) In what ways, and to what extent, should our educational system seek comparable transformations based on what ICT makes possible?

3. Develop a human-machine interface that is substantially more "natural" to the way that humans think and communicate. The onus should be much less on the human needing a lot of specialized training in how to interface with the machine, and much more on the machine "knowing" how to appropriately interface with the particular human that is using the machine.

4. If ICT can solve or substantially help in solving the types of problems that students are learning to solve (via non-ICT-assisted methods) in school, what do we want students to be learning about use of ICT in solving these problems? A variation on this question is to ask how we can appropriately educate students for life in a world that includes a steadily increasing amount of ICT. What should the contetn of the curriculum be in order to appropraitely reflect the capabilities of ICT?

5. Develop an intelligent computer-assisted instruction (ICAI) system that is better than an individual human tutor over a wide range of disciplines that are taught in school. Individual tutoring is often held as a "gold standard" to which other modes of instruction can be compared. But, there does not seem to be any inherent reason why an ICAI system could be more effective than one-on-one human tutoring. This, or course, is somewhat related to developing a computer system that can pass the Turing Test. The Turing Test can be considered as a Grand Challenge in the field of computer and information science that has existed since 1950 when Turing first proposed the idea.

6. How should the US Federal Government invest its Research and Development dollars? A 15 October 2001 report from the National; Science Board discusses this issue. See: NSB 01-156, Federal Research Resources: A Process for Setting Priorities. Accessed 6/6/05: http://www.nsf.gov/publications/pub_summ.jsp?ods_key=nsb01156.

7. The May 2002 issue of Learning and Leading with Technology contains an article by Glen Bull, Gina Bull, Joe Garofala, and Judi Harris titled Grand Challenges: Preparing for the Technological Tipping Point. It contains the statement:

"We believe that the educational and development community should begin planning now for the best use of ubiquitous computing."

Here are my thoughts on this situation. Think about curriculum content, instructional and learning processes, and assessment. Imagine every student having available a good quality portable computer system with good access to the Internet. Students are allowed to use this facility in all situations where they are currently allowed to use pencil and paper. Moreover, the computer system provides access to highly interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning materials and to Distance Learning materials that cover the entire curriculum as well as a huge amount of material not currently in the curriculum. Now, imagine that the entire educational system is being expected to restructure to prepare teachers, students, and the overall educational system to make appropriate use of this technology. Now THAT is a Grand Challenge!

BCS (24 January, 2005). BCS Publishes Grand Challenges Facing Computing Education - A Discipline in Crisis?. British Computer Society. Accessed 6/6/05: http://www.bcs.org/BCS/News/PressReleases/
2005/january/grandchallengeseducation.htm
. Quoting from the website:

"A cross section of the country's top computing academics have pooled their views to project the challenges facing computing education in the UK in a new report published by the British Computer Society and based on a recent Grand Challenges Conference."

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