The Future of Information Technology in Education
An ISTE Publication


<<< Chapter 3


Chapter 5 >>>


Chapter 4
Computer Technology in Education

Overview of Information Technology in Education

  •    The diagram in Figure 4.1 indicates the main roles of information technology in K-12 education. Although administrative uses are shown as one of the major categories, our focus in this chapter is strictly on instructional uses of this technology.

    Figure 4.1. Information technology in K-12 education.

Instructional Uses of Information Technology

  •    As the diagram in Figure 4.2 indicates, the instructional uses of information technology have been gradually merging. Computer-assisted learning materials now include computer-based tools. Computer tools now include "Help" options that are a form of computer-assisted learning. Many computer tools include a built-in programming language that is readily available to the tool user. However, we will discuss the instructional uses as three distinct categories to help clarify the unique characteristics of each.

    Figure 4.2. A merger of instructional uses of computers.


    Computer and Information Science

  •    Over the past 50 years, computer and information science has emerged as a major discipline of study. Many community colleges, technical institutes, colleges, and universities offer degree programs in this discipline. Current occupations and job openings suggest that many jobs now require a substantial amount of formal post secondary education in the computer field.

       Many of the ideas from computer and information science can be taught at the K-12 level. Thus, all K-12 schools need to make a decision about what to teach from this subject area. Some schools specify elective courses, such as programming languages, an advanced placement computer science course, a robotics course, or an electronics course. Some schools integrate instruction about computer and information science into other curricula. For example, some computer programming might be integrated into mathematics, while some electronics and computer networking might be integrated into physics.



  •    The computer is a useful and versatile tool. It can be used to help solve the problems and accomplish the tasks that are at the center of many different academic disciplines. Computer tools for education can be divided into three categories:


    1. Generic tools: Software programs such as word processors, database managers, and graphics packages cut across many disciplines. All of the tools in an integrated package such as ClarisWorks or Microsoft Works are examples of generic tools. A student who learns to use these tools can apply them in almost every area of intellectual work.


    2. Subject-specific tools: There are tools that are designed for a particular academic discipline. Hardware and software to aid in musical composition and performance is an example. Graphic artist and engineering drawing software are additional examples. Many different disciplines have developed hardware and software specifically to meet the needs of professionals. That is, there has been a merger of the discipline and the information technology tools used in the discipline.


    3. Learner-centered tools: There are tools that require some programming skills, but that focus on learning to learn, as well as on learning subjects besides programming. Most hypermedia authoring systems and all Logo environments serve as examples. The Logo programming language that was pioneered by Seymour Papert was specifically designed to create a rich learning environment for children.

       Progress in developing more and better applications packages, as well as better human-machine interfaces, is causing the tool use of computers to grow rapidly. Also, computer scientists working in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are producing application packages that can solve a variety of difficult problems that require a substantial amount of human knowledge and skill. Such application packages will eventually change the content of a variety of school subjects.

       The key issue is what students should learn to do mentally, versus what they should learn to do assisted by simple aids such as books, pencil, and paper, versus what they should learn to do assisted by more sophisticated aids such as calculators, computers, and other information technology. This is a difficult question, particularly given the constantly changing state of technology. The slow acceptance of the handheld calculator into the curriculum suggests that more sophisticated aids to problem solving will encounter substantial resistance. The gap between what tools are available and what tools are used in education is likely to increase.

       The computer can also be a tool to increase teacher productivity. Computerized gradebooks, data banks of exam questions, computerized assistance in preparing individualized education plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities, and word-processed lesson plans and class handouts are all good examples. These increase the teachers' productivity by improving overall efficiency of effort and saving valuable time. This is particularly true when networks allow teachers to easily share successful materials.

       Many teachers now make use of a desktop presentation system as an aid to interacting with a group or whole class of students. This is a projector system attached to a computer. It can be used to display pre-prepared materials or graphs and other materials that are generated during the interaction among students and the teacher. For example, in a math class, the computer and projection system can be used to create and project a graph of data or a function being generated by the students. In a social studies class, maps can be retrieved from a CD-ROM and projected for whole class viewing.


    Computer-Assisted Learning

  •    Computer-assisted learning (CAL) is the interaction between a student and a computer system designed to help the student learn. During the past 40 years, this general concept has been given many different names, such as computer-based instruction and computer-assisted instruction. The CAL name is intended to emphasize "learning" rather than just "instruction."

       Historically, CAL developed along two tracks. Well-funded projects, such as those carried out by the military, produced very sophisticated simulations that were used to train radar operators, airplane pilots, tank crews, and commanders of large battle units. Such CAL materials are cost effective in meeting military training needs. However, military training needs differ considerably from the needs of students in K-12 schools.

       The second track of CAL materials consisted of commercial products and a huge number of small scale projects carried out by individuals. For the most part, these projects developed either drill-and-practice materials or tutorial systems designed to help students. Often the projects focused on basic skills, such as arithmetic and reading.

       Over the years, CAL has developed into a viable commercial business. The steadily increasing capabilities of computers have been combined with mass storage devices, such as CD-ROM, to produce sophisticated hypermedia-based instructional materials. Now, there is a rapidly growing home market for such instructional materials. Indeed, software has been developed to help even very young children learn to use the computer and then learn from the computer.

       The computer can be used for instructional delivery at every age, in every subject area, and with all types of students. Evidence is mounting that CAL is especially useful in special education and in basic skills instruction. In addition, CAL and distance education can provide students access to courses that are not available in a teacher-delivered mode in their schools.

Students With Special Needs

  •    The three general instructional uses of computers discussed above are, of course, all applicable to students with special needs. However, two additional points are particularly important. First, many students have physically handicapping conditions that can be addressed by use of computer-based adaptive technologies. The well-known physicist Stephen Hawking, who has Lou Gehrig's disease, has helped the general public to become aware of such computer capabilities. Second, many students with various types of learning difficulties can benefit from computer-as-tool and CAL. Both the tool and the CAL materials may need to be designed to fit the student's special needs.

       Computer-based adaptive technologies have proven to be invaluable in meeting the needs of a number of students who face major physical challenges. Consider a student whose physical difficulties prevent the use of a pencil for writing or voice for speaking. With appropriate adaptive facilities, this student may be able to communicate in writing by using special input devices to a computer. The same computer system can provide the student with synthesized voice output. As another example, consider a partially sighted or blind student. This student can "read" ordinary text material via video camera or other scanning device that inputs the text materials into a computer for voice output.

       Substantial research has provided a foundation for developing computer-based tools and CAL materials to fit the needs of students with various types of learning difficulties. A simple example is provided by the handheld calculator. Many students have difficulty learning to do mental or paper-and-pencil arithmetic at a reliable level. With appropriate instruction and practice, however, many of these students can learn to make effective use of a handheld calculator. Note that if the student also has physical handicapping conditions, a special handheld calculator may be needed. For example, calculators that produce voice-synthesized output are now relatively inexpensive.

Goals for Information Technology in Education

  •    This section lists 13 goals for computer technology in education. These goals have emerged and evolved during the past 15 years as microcomputers have come into common use in schools and as the information highway has developed. These goals are divided into four major categories: Functional Technology Literacy; Independent Lifelong Learning; Capacity Building; and Assessment and Evaluation. The quality of a school or school district's instructional use of computers can be judged by how well it is meeting these goals. Additional discussion on the ideas of this section is given in Effective Practice: Computer Technology in Education (Moursund, 1995).


    Student Goals-Functional Technology Literacy

  •    The four goals listed in this section serve to define functional technology literacy and provide guidelines to K-12 curriculum developers. Notice the combined emphasis on both basic skills and on higher-order, problem-solving skills.

    Goal 1: Information technology literacy, basic level. All students shall be functionally literate in information technology. A basic level of information technology literacy should be achieved by the end of the eighth grade. It consists of a relatively broad-based, interdisciplinary, general knowledge of applications, capabilities, limitations, how they work, and societal implications of computers and other information technology. Here are six specific objectives that underlie this information technology literacy goal.


    1. General knowledge. Students shall have oral and reading knowledge of computers and other information technology, and their effects on our society. More specifically, each discipline that students study shall include instruction about how electronic aids to information processing and problem solving are affecting that specific discipline.


    2. Procedural thinking. Students shall have knowledge of the concept of effective procedure, representation of procedures, roles of procedures in problem solving, and a broad range of examples of the types of procedures that computers can execute.


    3. Generic tools. Students shall have basic skills in use of word processing, database, computer graphics, spreadsheet, and other general purpose, multidisciplinary application packages. This also includes basic skills in using menu-driven hypermedia software to create hypermedia materials as an aid to communicating.


    4. Telecommunications. Students shall have basic skills in using telecommunications to communicate with people and to make effective use of computerized databases and other sources of information located both locally (for example, in a school library, a school district library, a local community library) and throughout the world. They shall have the knowledge and skills to make effective use of the Internet and the World Wide Web.


    5. Hardware. Students shall have basic knowledge of the electronic and other hardware components and how they function sufficient to "dispel the magic." They shall understand the functionality of hardware sufficient to detect and correct common difficulties, such as various components not being plugged in or not receiving power, various components not being connected, and printer out of paper.


    6. Computer input. Students shall have basic skills in use of a variety of computer input devices, including keyboard and mouse, scanner, digital camera, touch screen, and probes used to input scientific data. They shall have introductory knowledge of voice input and pen-based systems.

    Goal 2: Information technology literacy, intermediate level. Deeper knowledge of computers and other information technology as they relate to the specific disciplines and topics one studies in senior high school. Some examples:


    1. Skill in creating hypermedia documents. This includes the ability to design effective communications in both print and electronic media, as well as experience in desktop publication and desktop presentation.


    2. Skill in use of information technology as an aid to problem solving in the various high school disciplines. A student taking advanced math would use computer modeling. A commercial art student would create and manipulate graphics electronically. Industrial arts classes would work with computer-aided design. Science courses would employ microcomputer-based laboratories and computer simulations.


    3. Skill in computer-mediated, collaborative, interdisciplinary problem solving. This includes students gaining the types of communication skills (brainstorming, active listening, consensus-building, etc.) needed for working in a problem-solving environment.

    Goal 3: Computer-as-tool in curriculum content. The use of computer applications as a general-purpose aid to problem solving using word processor, database, graphics, spreadsheet, and other general purpose application packages shall be integrated throughout the curriculum content. The intent here is that students shall receive specific instruction in each of these tools, probably before completing elementary school. Middle school, junior high school, and high school curriculum shall assume a working knowledge of these tools and shall include specific additional instruction in their use. Throughout secondary school and in all higher education, students shall be expected to make regular use of these tools, and teachers shall structure their curriculum and assignments to take advantage of and to add to student knowledge of computer-as-tool.

    Goal 4: Information technology courses. A high school shall provide both of the following "more advanced" tracks of computer-related coursework.


    1. Computer-related coursework preparing a student who will seek employment immediately upon leaving school. For example, a high school business curriculum shall prepare students for entry-level employment in a computerized business office. A graphic arts curriculum should prepare students to be productive in use of a wide range of computer-based graphic arts facilities. Increasingly, some of these courses are part of the Tech Prep (Technical Preparation) program of study in a school.


    2. Computer science coursework, including problem solving in a computer programming environment, designed to give students a college-preparation type of solid introduction to the discipline of computer science.


    Student Goals-Independent Lifelong Learning

  • The three goals listed in this section focus on computer technology as an aid to general learning.

    Goal 5: Distance education. Telecommunications and other electronic aids are the foundation for an increasingly sophisticated distance education system. Education shall use distance education, when it is pedagogically and economically sound, to increase student learning and opportunities for student learning.

    Note that in many cases distance education may be combined with computer-assisted learning (CAL, see Goal 6) and carried out through the WWW (see Goal 1D), so that there is not a clear dividing line between these two approaches to education. In both cases students are given an increased range of learning opportunities. The education may take place at a time and place that is convenient for the student, rather than being dictated by the traditional course schedule of a school. The choice and level of topics may be more under student control than in our traditional educational system.

    Goal 6: Computer-assisted learning (CAL). Education shall use computer-assisted learning when it is pedagogically and economically sound, to increase student learning and to broaden the range of learning opportunities. CAL includes drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, and microworlds. It also includes computer-managed instruction (see Objective C below). These CAL systems may make use of virtual realities technology.


    1. All students shall learn both general ideas of how computers can be used as an aid to learning and specific ideas on how CAL can be useful to them. They shall become experienced users of CAL systems. The intent is to focus on learning to learn, being responsible for one's own learning, and being a lifelong learner. Students have their own learning styles, so different types of CAL will fit different students to greater or lesser degrees.


    2. In situations in which CAL is a cost-effective and educationally sound aid to student learning or to overall learning opportunities, it will be an integral component of the educational system. For example, CAL can help some students learn certain types of material significantly faster than can conventional instructional techniques. Such students should have the opportunity to use CAL as an aid to learning. In addition, CAL can be used to provide educational opportunities that might not otherwise be available. A school can expand its curriculum by delivering some courses largely via CAL.


    3. Computer-managed instruction (CMI) includes record keeping, diagnostic testing, and prescriptive guides as to what to study and in what order. CMI software is useful to both students and teachers. Students should have the opportunity to track their own progress in school and to see the rationale for the work they are doing. CMI can reduce busywork. When CMI is cost-effective and instructionally sound, staff and students shall have this aid.

    Goal 7: Students with special needs. Computer-related technology shall be routinely and readily available to students with special needs when research and practice have demonstrated its effectiveness.


    1. Computer-based adaptive technologies shall be made available to students who need such technology for communication with other people and/or for communication with a computer.


    2. When CAL has demonstrated effectiveness in helping students with particular special learning needs, it shall be made available to the students.


    3. All staff who work with students with special needs shall have the knowledge and experience needed to work with these students who are making use of computer-based adaptive technologies, CAL, and computer tools.


    Educational System Goals-Capacity Building

  •    The three goals in this section focus on permanent changes in our educational system that are needed to support achievement of Goals 1-7 listed previously.

    Goal 8: Staff development and support. The professional education staff shall have computers to increase their productivity, to make it easier for them to accomplish their duties, and to support their computer-oriented growth. Every school district shall provide for staff development to accomplish Goals 1-7, including time for practice, planning, and peer collaboration. Teacher training institutions shall adequately prepare their teacher education graduates so they can function effectively in a school environment that has Goals 1-7.

    This means, for example, that all teachers shall be provided with access to computerized data banks, word processors, presentation graphics software, computerized gradebooks, telecommunications packages, and other application software that teachers have found useful in increasing their productivity and job satisfaction. Computer-based communication is becoming an avenue for teachers to share professional information. Every teacher should have telecommunications and desktop presentation facilities in the classroom. Computer-managed instruction (CMI) can help the teacher by providing diagnostic testing and prescription, access to item data banks, and aids to preparing individual education plans.

    Goal 9: Facilities. The school district shall integrate into its ongoing budget adequate resources to provide the hardware, software, curriculum development, curriculum materials, staff development, personnel, and time needed to accomplish the goals listed above.

    Goal 10: Long-term commitment. The school district shall institutionalize computers in schools through the establishment of appropriate policies, procedures, and practices. Instructional computing shall be integrated into job descriptions, ongoing budgets, planning, staff development, work assignments, and so on. The school district shall fully accept that "computers are here to stay" as an integral part of an Information Age school system. The community-the entire formal and informal educational system-shall support and work to achieve the goals listed above.


    Assessment and Evaluation

  • The three goals listed in this section focus on doing strategic planning and on obtaining information about the effectiveness of programs for information technology that are implemented by teachers, schools, and school districts.

    Goal 11: Strategic plan. Each school and school district shall have a long-range strategic plan for information technology in education. The plans shall include ongoing formative evaluation and yearly updating.

    Goal 12: Student assessment. Authentic and performance-based assessment shall be used to assess student learning of information technology. For example, when students are being taught to communicate and to solve problems in an environment that includes routine use of the computer as a tool, they shall be assessed in the same environment.

    Goal 13: Formative, summative, and residual impact evaluation. Implementation plans for information technology shall be evaluated on an ongoing basis, using formative, summative, and residual impact evaluation techniques. Formative evaluation provides information for mid-program corrections. It is conducted as programs are being implemented. Summative evaluation provides information about the results of a program after it has been completed, such as a particular staff development program, a particular program of loaning computers to students for use at home, and so on. Residual impact evaluation looks at programs in retrospect, perhaps a year or more after a program has ended. For example, a year after teachers participated in an inservice program designed to help them learn to use some specific pieces of software in their classrooms, are they actually using this software or somewhat similar software?

Goals for Teacher Technology Education

  • In recent years, a great deal of thought has gone into determining what computer knowledge and skills teachers need to have. It is clear that a two-pronged approach is needed in teacher education. One prong is aimed at preserve education. Newly graduated teachers must have the knowledge and skills to help our schools achieve the student Goals 1-7 listed in the previous section. The second prong is inservice education. Every school needs to have in place an inservice program that helps all teachers gain the knowledge and skills to achieve the student goals.

    The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the official body in the United States for accrediting teacher preparation programs. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has worked with NCATE for a number of years in the development of teacher preparation standards. With assistance from ISTE and others, NCATE has developed technology standards for all preservice teachers. These are called Unit Guidelines. These same goals are a good starting point for inservice education. For both preservice and inservice teachers, the goals listed below are minimal. They provide a starting point, but they are far from the levels of competencies that teachers need if information technology is going to have a significant positive impact on our educational system.

    The remainder of this section is quoted from 1996 NCATE materials written by ISTE. This and additional related information can be found on the ISTE WWW site:

    All candidates seeking initial endorsements in teacher preparation programs and particularly programs in educational computing and technology require foundations in: 1) Basic Technology Operations and Concepts; 2) Professional and Personal Use of Technology; and 3) Application of Technology in Instruction.


    1. Basic Technology Operations and Concepts. Candidates will use computer operating systems and user interfaces to run programs; access, generate and manipulate data; and to publish results. They will also evaluate performance of hardware and software components of computer systems and apply basic troubleshooting strategies as needed.

      Performance Indicators. Candidates will:


      • 1.1

        operate a multimedia computer system with related peripheral devices to successfully install and use a variety of software packages.


        use terminology related to computers and technology appropriately in written and oral communications.


        describe and implement basic troubleshooting techniques related to using a multimedia system with related peripheral devices.


        operate and interface peripheral devices with a computer system supporting imaging including scanner, digital camera, and/or video camera.


        observe demonstrations or uses of specific-purpose electronic devices and adaptive assistive devices for special needs.


        observe demonstrations or uses of broadcast instruction, audio/video conferencing, and other distant learning applications.


        demonstrate knowledge of uses of computers and technology in business, industry, and society.

    2. Personal and Professional Use of Technology. Candidates will apply tools for enhancing their own professional growth and productivity. They will use technology in communicating, collaborating, conducting research, and solving problems. In addition, they will plan and participate in activities that encourage lifelong learning and will promote equitable, ethical, and legal use of computer/technology resources.

      Performance Indicators. Candidates will:


      • 2.1

        use productivity tools for word processing, database management, and spreadsheet applications.


        apply productivity tools for creating basic multimedia presentations.


        use computer-based technologies including telecommunications to access information and enhance personal and professional productivity.


        use computers to support problem solving, data collection, information management, communications, presentations, and decision making.


        demonstrate knowledge of equity, ethics, legal, and human issues concerning use of computers and technology.


        identify computer and related technology resources for facilitating lifelong learning and emerging roles of the learner and the educator.

    3. Application of Technology in Instruction. Candidates will apply computers and related technologies to support instruction in their grade level and subject areas. They must plan and deliver instructional units that integrate a variety of software, applications, and learning tools. Lessons developed must reflect effective grouping and assessment strategies for diverse populations.

      Performance Indicators. Candidates will:


      • 3.1

        explore, evaluate, and use computer/technology resources including applications, tools, educational software and associated documentation.


        describe current instructional principles, research, and appropriate assessment practices as related to the use of computers and technology resources.


        design, deliver, and assess student learning activities that integrate computers/technology for a variety of student grouping strategies and for diverse student populations.


        design student learning activities that foster equitable, ethical, and legal use of technology by students.


        practice responsible, ethical and legal use of technology, information, and software resources.

Evaluating Current Progress

  •    The educational system in the United States is highly decentralized. There can be major differences in the quality of education that students are receiving in two schools that are in the same school district, to say nothing of the differences that exist between school districts. In addition, there are a large number of private schools in this country.

       Very few schools are currently achieving all of the information technology Goals 1-13 listed in this chapter. Relatively few colleges of education are achieving the NCATE-recommended teacher preparation goals, and there are relatively few schools in which all of the teachers have achieved these goals.

       In summary, we have a long way to go. Each school and school district can assess its current progress against the goals listed in this chapter. This can provide a starting point for developing plans to meet and exceed these goals.

Conclusions and Recommendation

  •    This chapter covers a number of potential uses of information technology in education. It also contains a list of goals for this field. As with other educational goals, these can be considered to be forecasts. While some school districts are making good progress on achieving these goals, overall nationwide progress has been modest. However, leaders in the field of information technology in education are committed to their achievement. Thus, these goals are already shaping the future. As more and more educators work to achieve these goals, these goals will increasingly shape the future of education.

       Think about what it will mean as distance education and computer-assisted learning become routine parts of our educational system. Each provides learning opportunities at a time and place to better fit the convenience of the learner. Each provides access to a far broader range of courses than even the largest school can make available. Students will be empowered by steadily increasing choice of curriculum content, mode of instructional delivery, time, and place. The current educational system will face steadily increasing competition from distance education and CAL.

       A modest number of parents and educators can take the lead in having a school or school district assess its progress in achieving the goals listed in this chapter. Be aware that education is a political "game." It is very helpful to get the media involved. Our educational system can be a lot better. A few parents, educators, and media people working together can produce a significant change in a local education system.

       The next chapter explores some of the key characteristics of the Information Age that need to be addressed by our educational system.



<<< Chapter 3


Chapter 5 >>>

Return to Cover Page