The Future of Information Technology in Education
An ISTE Publication


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Chapter 7
Forecasts for Technology in Education

  •    The future of information technology in education is harder to forecast than the general future of information technology. One difficulty is that students and teachers do not control the school budget. As pointed out by Seymour Sarason (1990), they lack power. Another difficulty is that education does not easily change. It is a complex social system. For these reasons, the forecasts or predictions in this section are made with far less confidence than those in the previous chapter.

       By and large, the forecasts given in this section are optimistic. They are forecasts of our educational system effectively coping with the changes being wrought by technology. They are forecasts of students getting a better education. Many of the ideas discussed in this section were previously discussed in Moursund (1992).

    Eleven General Forecasts
    Conclusions and Recommendation

Eleven General Forecasts

  •    This section contains brief discussions of 11 different forecasts for information technology in education. In many ways, these are linked to the goals for information technology in education discussed in Chapter 4. In essence, we are in a situation where the underlying science and technology (see Chapter 6) make it technically possible to achieve the goals listed in Chapter 4. There are a number of underlying driving forces that are contributing to schools adopting some or all of the goals. The commitment of resources, if it continues to grow, will cause the forecasts given in this chapter to be accurate.


    Student Access to Computing Power

  •    The total amount of computing power available to students is growing quite rapidly, and this growth will continue for many years to come. The growth comes from two main sources:


    1. The number of microcomputers in schools and in the homes of students is continuing to increase. Eventually the great majority of students will have routine access to a portable microcomputer that they carry between home and school. These portables will have easy-to-use interfaces with more powerful microcomputers that schools will make available to their students.


    2. The capabilities of the microcomputers available to students are increasing at a rapid pace.

       In the United States at the current time, schools have approximately one microcomputer per eight students. However, there are a number of school sites in which the ratio is approximately one microcomputer per student, or even better. The number of such sites will increase relatively rapidly during the next decade.



  •    The megatrend toward providing students and teachers with connections to the computer networks of the world is well underway. Increasingly, educational leaders and policy makers agree that students should have connectivity to other students within and beyond the school building, and to the information sources of the world.

       There is considerable agreement that libraries will become "virtual libraries"-that is, that library contents will be distributed electronically throughout the world, rather than being physically available only in isolated buildings. Such libraries will be accessible to students both in the classroom and at home. This represents a major change in the world. Already, students of all ages are learning how to make effective use of libraries that previously had only been available to a select few researchers.

       The pace of increased connectivity is faster in the business world than it is in the home market. It is faster in the home market than it is in schools. When all three markets are taken together, it seems clear that both our formal and our informal educational systems will experience continued rapid growth in connectivity for many years to come. In terms of the S-shaped growth curve (see Appendix), we are beginning to enter a time of very rapid growth. It appears that this period of rapid growth will extend over many years.

       Of course, there is a substantial difference between providing schools with the connectivity and thoroughly integrating effective use of this connectivity into the curriculum. The needed investment in teacher training and curriculum development will be slow in coming. Teacher training remains a major impediment to the rapid increase of effective use of information technology in schools.


    Artificial Intelligence

  •    Computers will continue to get "smarter." That is, they will grow in their capability of doing intelligent-like things. More and more problems will be solved by merely expressing the problem in a format that fits the computer's capabilities. Increasingly, the human-machine interface will make it easier to do this, and the interface itself will make use of results developed by the field of Artificial Intelligence.

       There are now thousands of expert systems in everyday use. These systems are computer programs based on past successful solutions to particular problems. They have a level of "intelligence" adequate to help accomplish tasks and solve problems within a narrow scope. Such expert systems are "fragile"-that is, they only perform well within the narrow domains they were designed for. This means that people using such expert systems have to have a good knowledge both of the domain of the expert system and how to recognize a problem outside of that domain.

       The capabilities of such expert systems will continue to increase. They provide excellent examples of where a person and a computer who are trained to work together can outperform either working individually.

       Problems will increasingly be solved by teams composed of humans, computers, and computerized equipment such as robots and automated factories. It takes considerable knowledge and experience for a human to be an effective member of such a team. The capabilities of two of the team members (the computer and the automated equipment) will continue to increase rapidly. This places an added burden on the human member of the team. The human provides a unifying sense of purpose and perspective, and defines the overall task and the goals. This role is indispensable.

       Education is faced by the problem of educating people to become integral members of the three-part team consisting of humans, computers, and automated equipment. This is not an easy educational task; it is one that our educational system has so far done little to address. In many cases the human component of this three-part team will, itself, be a team. Our schools have made substantial progress in cooperative learning-teams of students learning to learn together. Far less progress is occurring in helping students gain skills in collaborative problem solving.

       Other aspects of Artificial Intelligence will have a profound impact on education. Voice input provides an example. Already, voice input is widely used in the commercial world. Educators have little insight into how to teach reading and writing in an environment that includes high-quality voice input and voice output systems.



  •    Hypermedia is an interactive environment that includes text, color, voice, sound, graphics, and video. Hypermedia allows user interactivity in the information retrieval process. Users can choose individual pathways through information collections, and the information itself can be presented in multiple formats that better fit the needs of individual users. Increasingly, information is being stored in a hypermedia format, and this trend will continue.

       Schools are embarking on a pathway in which all students will become proficient in reading (that is, using) hypermedia. Students are learning to retrieve information stored on CD-ROMs, in hypermedia computer files, in computerized databases, and on the Internet's World Wide Web. Eventually, such electronic access to hypermedia-based information will be commonplace.

       Schools are also embarking on a pathway of having students learn to write (create) hypermedia documents. The trend is clear. Eventually, schools will take it for granted that reading and writing mean both the conventional paper-based and also hypermedia-based activities. However, interactivity, sound, color, still photography, computer-based drawing and painting, and video add new dimensions to communication. In total, facilitating students in developing basic skills in reading and writing hypermedia will prove to be a major challenge to our educational system. Given the limited resources and time that teachers have for acquiring and integrating these new skills themselves, schools will probably be slow to provide extensive hypermedia learning opportunities to students.

       This will tend to create a situation in which some students become facile at reading and writing hypermedia, while other students develop only a reading skill in this area. As the hypermedia literate students progress through our school system, they will present a major challenge to their teachers. For example, if a teacher lacks skills in writing hypermedia, how will the teacher adequately assess the work of students that is presented in this format? How will the teacher help such students increase their skills in communicating in hypermedia?


    Productivity Tools for Students

  •    The generic and specialized computer productivity tools for adults will continue to get better and will become better interconnected. Increasingly, similar tools will be integrated into the content of the K-12 curriculum. Students will grow up using the computer productivity tools of adults. Curriculum content will reflect the capability of these productivity tools.

       As noted elsewhere in this book, curriculum content and tools used to solve problems and accomplish the tasks of a discipline have always been interwoven. This will continue as computers become commonplace in the schools. Thus, we will see substantial changes in the content of the various disciplines. Some will be more affected than others, depending on how powerful the computer tool is in each particular discipline.

       Because of the pace of change of overall computer capability, there will be an increased pace of change of curriculum content. The content will adjust to the capabilities of computers as an aid to solving the problems and accomplishing the tasks of the discipline.

       We already see this, for example, in accounting and graphic arts coursework. The advanced math curriculum in high schools is increasingly being driven by the capabilities of handheld graphing calculators. Eventually, this calculator-driven curriculum will become a computer-driven curriculum. Because students are not limited to problems easily solved with pencil and paper, they can approach more sophisticated content earlier in their educational careers. Similar statements hold for science courses-especially those that make substantial use of mathematics.

       Progress in thoroughly integrating student productivity tools into the curriculum will be slow. It requires substantial investments in teacher training, curriculum development, and the assessment system. All three of these areas of needed capacity building are currently underfunded and will continue to be underfunded.


    Teacher Productivity Tools

  •    Many different computer tools can help increase teacher productivity. Examples include word processor, electronic gradebook, databases of exam questions, lesson plans stored in a word processor, and so on. Access to the Web gives teachers access to subject matter information and lesson plans. There has been and will continue to be a steady increase in teacher usage of such productivity tools.

       There is a different class of teacher productivity tools-ones that may enhance student learning and teacher effectiveness. These are the desktop presentation tools and other electronic aids to teachers interacting both with students and the curriculum in a classroom setting. We can expect substantial growth in use of teacher productivity tools.

       For example, a classroom can have Internet connectivity. During a discussion between students and the teacher, either the students or the teacher may retrieve information from remote databases or from people. This type of classroom computer use is now in its infancy; it will grow rapidly in years to come.

       As a second example, consider a package of mathematics software that the students are learning to use. With appropriate desktop presentation projection equipment and a computer, the teacher can interact with the whole class or with small groups of students, demonstrating key features of the software. Samples of student work can be displayed and discussed. Students and teacher can work together to explore problems, making use of the computer capabilities.

       A third example is provided by having students and teachers interact electronically. Assignments and materials can be provided to students through this electronic highway. Questions can be asked and answered. Assignments can be submitted and then returned electronically.

       Finally, consider computer-assisted learning and other aids to student learning. Teacher productivity can be increased by relegating certain instructional tasks to such facilities.


    Technology-Enhanced Learning

  • Several of the components of computer use as an aid to learning are coming together to form a combination we call technology-enhanced learning (TEL). TEL consists of:


    1. The combination of computer-assisted learning (with built-in computer-managed instruction), distance education, and electronic access to both information and people.


    2. Aids to teacher interactivity with students and student interactivity with each other, such as desktop presentation, e-mail, and groupware.


    3. Increasingly powerful student productivity tools with built-in learning aids, context sensitive help, templates, and other aids to producing high-quality products. These help a user to learn while doing.

       Via TEL, more and more education will happen at a time and place that is convenient to the needs of the learner. Convenient education is a megatrend in formal and informal education.

       "Just-in-time" education is a second aspect to this TEL trend. Some learning tasks take years; it is not possible to master a second language just at the point you need to communicate in it. However, many other learning tasks can be completed in a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days-just in time to apply the skills when needed. How rapidly and effectively the learning occurs depends on the background and capabilities of the learner and on the learning environment. Our educational system needs to help students gain increased skill in being "just-in-time" learners. This is an important component of learning to learn and being a lifetime learner.

       A third aspect of TEL can be found in the changing capability of the informal educational system. Almost all general-purpose home computers that people purchase today come equipped with a CD-ROM drive. Microsoft's Windows 95 operating system contains built-in support of telecommunications. The trend is clear. Technology-enhanced information access will increasingly allow homes, businesses, and other informal education environments to support just-in-time and convenient education. As the amount and quality of convenient education materials continue to increase, there is the potential that more and more of the traditional content of formal education will be learned in informal educational settings. The role of formal education-and of the teacher-will change.

       We can get a glimpse into potential changes by asking ourselves what are the unique characteristics of a human "live" teacher, as contrasted with CAL, CMI, distance education, and other electronic aids to learning. While there are many answers, several of the most important ones are:


    1. The human-human interface. This is far better than any current human-machine interface. Teachers can know their students and interact with them in a manner appropriate to the needs of human beings.


    2. The versatility of the human teacher. A human teacher can facilitate an interdisciplinary discussion that ranges over whatever comes to the minds of the students and the teacher. The human teacher has flexibility and capabilities that far exceed those of any current computer system in this regard.


    3. The social aspects of education. Education is a social activity. Human teachers, along with the interactions among students and with teachers, are essential to our formal and informal educational system.

       This type of analysis suggests that our formal educational system will place more of its structured efforts into making effective use of the uniquely human characteristics and strengths of human teachers. More of the subject matter content and rote skill components of the curriculum will be left to TEL.


    Curriculum Content

  •    Increasingly, computers can solve or help solve the types of problems that students study in school. The usefulness of computers as an aid to problem solving cuts across all academic disciplines. However, computers are far more useful in some disciplines than others. For example, while computers are useful tools in both art and music, they are more central to accounting, mathematics, and science.

       To date, the content of the K-12 curriculum has not changed a great deal due to computer technology. We have previously mentioned the growing role of calculators in mathematics instruction, and the toehold of the microcomputer-based laboratory in science education. The use of computer simulations and simulation games is slowly growing. Through the use of such simulations, individual students or a whole class can explore complex problem-solving situations in business, science, and social science.

       Another example is provided by students learning to use electronic aids to retrieving information. Instruction in the electronic accessing of information is replacing instruction in non-electronic ways to access information. It is now clear that all students need to develop some of the information retrieval skills of a research librarian. Instruction in such skills can begin at the primary school level.

       We will see a slow but steady change in the content of all academic curriculum areas due to information technology. The pace of this change will accelerate as computer facilities become more readily available to students and teachers, and as each group becomes more skilled in their use.


    Preservice Education of Teachers

  •    The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the main accreditation agency for Colleges of Education in the United States. NCATE is making continuing progress toward accreditation standards that will require both preservice teachers and their faculty to become computer literate. This is a trend that will continue.

       More and more preservice teachers have had a number of years of computer experience while they were in the K-12 educational system. Thus, the average level of computer knowledge of preservice teachers is steadily increasing. This trend will continue.

       Taken together, the two trends of this section ensure that there will be a continuing increase in the computer knowledge and skills of graduates of teacher training programs. However, this steady improvement needs to be compared against the steadily increasing capabilities of information technology in education. Right now, there is a huge gap between the needed knowledge and skills of recently graduated teachers, and their actual knowledge of computers in education. It appears likely that this gap will continue to exist-indeed, it seems likely that it will grow.


    Inservice Teacher Education

  •    One way to talk about a particular specialized education is to quantify its "half-life." Suppose that a person gains the knowledge and skills to be fully qualified as a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist. Suppose that this person then gains no new knowledge or skills, while the contemporary standards continue to increase. How may years will it be before this person is only "half-qualified?" While such a quantification is not particularly scientific, it does provide a basis for analysis and discussion. The half-life of a neurosurgeon or a cardiologist might be in the range of 3 to 4 years.

       What is the half-life of a teacher's education? How is it affected by the rapid pace of change in the totality of human knowledge or by changes in technology? Although we do not have precise answers, it is clear that the rapid pace of change in technology has greatly shortened the half-life of a teacher's education.

       At one time, it was common for teachers to obtain lifetime teaching certificates. In more recent years, most states have put in requirements that a teacher have some continuing teaching experience and a certain amount of coursework or other training for certificate renewal.

       Information technology in education has added a new and perplexing dimension to this picture. Information technology is affecting both the content and the pedagogy of every discipline at every teaching level. Moreover, it is not easy to develop the needed knowledge and skills effectively to integrate the technology into the everyday curriculum. The facility with which some students pick up technology skills often serves to increase pressure on the educator, as traditional roles of teacher and learner are disrupted.

       Our inservice teacher education system was not designed to deal with a rapid pace of change. It is proving inadequate in dealing with computer-based technology. Unless there is major restructuring in our inservice education system, there will be a growing gap between the potentials of information technology in education and the actual implementation. At the current time, there is little indication that the needed restructuring of our inservice education system is occurring.

       The analysis of preservice and inservice teacher education leads to a forecast of a continuing major gap between information technology knowledge and skills needed by teachers and their actual knowledge and skills.


    The School-Home Connection

  •    Computers and connectivity are having a significant impact on the "home" part of our formal and informal educational system. Current estimates are that close to half of the school children in this country have access to a computer at home. This suggests that there are several times as many computers in the homes of school-age children as there are in our schools. It also means that there is substantial inequity in students having access to the technology. Those students who come from a home situation where there is a computer and parents who know how to make effective use of a computer may be receiving several times as much instruction and experience with computers as those students from other homes.

       The following two news items suggest that computers and connectivity will continue to grow in the homes of school-age children.

    Education is Key to Home PC Market


    • An American Learning Household Survey says that over 80% of intended family household PC buyers in its study cited children's education as the primary reason for purchase, relegating work-at-home and home financial applications to a distant 40% level. The survey also found that children's use of the PC is shifting away from games and toward more complex uses of the computer as an information access tool.


      The Red Herring. (1995, December).

    Sega Will Add Browser to Gaming Equipment


    • Sega Enterprises plans to add equipment to its Saturn video game console that will enable consumers to browse the Internet on their TV set. The entire package would cost between $100 and $150 more than the current $299 Saturn price tag.


      Investor's Business Daily. (1996, February 16). p. A30.

       The news item about Sega Enterprises is especially interesting, as it suggests that we may move rapidly toward integration of entertainment and non-entertainment systems. The computing power in a game machine rivals or exceeds that in many of the general purpose microcomputers. Such computing power can be used for more than just playing games.

       Educational software developers are well aware that there is both a school market and a home market for their software. Increasingly, these developers have come to realize that the home market may exceed the school market.

       Of course, the home and the school markets for educational software are by no means the same. The term edutainment has been developed to describe software that has a combined educational and entertainment focus. If an educational product is being developed primarily for the home market, the entertainment components may well dominate over the educational components. There is relatively little solid research to support the educational value of many of the educational games that are widely sold to parents and children.

Conclusions and Recommendation

  •    As you make use of the educational technology forecasts in this chapter, keep in mind that they are mainly forecasts based on expert opinion. Each forecast represents a potential-something that schools could be doing right now. One can summarize these forecasts by asserting that the student and teacher goals for information technology given in Chapter 4 will eventually be achieved. These goals will help guide our educational system over the next few decades.

       The forecasts have a unifying theme-moving from first-order effects to second-order effects. Some schools and school districts will move much faster than others. However, it seems clear that our educational system as a whole is going to move toward the second-order effects, and then beyond them.

       These will produce substantial disruptions in our current educational system. The planning and change process needs to be given careful attention. Strategic planning is discussed in Chapter 9.

       The next chapter considers some of the ramifications of moving our curriculum, instruction, and assessment in the forecast directions.



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