Moursund's IT in Education Home Page


Volume 25, 1997-1998 Editorial (with Retrospective Comments)

David Moursund

Reprinted with permission from Learning and Leading with Technology (c)1997-98, ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education. 800.336.5191 (U.S. & Canada) or 541.302.3777,, Reprint permission does not constitute an endorsement by ISTE of the product, training, or course.

1. August-Sept 1997

The Future of Information Technology in Education

2. October 1997

The Growth of Instructional Technology

3. November 1997

Alternate Histories

4. Dec-Jan 1997/98

Professional Development

5. February 1998

Software Trends

6. March 1998

Moore's Laws

7. April 1998

Some “Hidden” Costs of Computers

8. May 1998

Project-Based Learning in an Information Technology Environment

The Future of Information Technology in Education

Moursund, D.G. (1997)The Future of Information Technology in Education. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No. 1..

I have recently finished writing a book about the future of information technology (IT) in education (Moursund, 1997). In this book, I argue that the educational impact that IT has had so far is small compared to what the next 20 years will bring.

Rapidly Increasing Technological Progress

Continued rapid improvements in IT hardware will lead the way. For example, consider the following quote describing a memory chip being developed by a Japanese company.

NEC is developing a 4-GB memory chip; it will store 47 minutes of full-motion video, or 256 times the capacity of the 16-MB DRAM chip now commonly used. NEC says it will begin selling the chip around 2000 (Pollack, 1997, p. D5).

We all know that steady improvements in transistor technology are leading to faster and faster microprocessors. By the year 2000, the GHz (one billion operations per second) microcomputer will be available. The following quote looks still further into the future.

Intel chief operating officer Craig Barrett says that the technology now found in $50,000–$75,000 workstations of the kind capable of producing images such as found in the film “Jurassic Park” will be available in $2,000 PCs in just a few years. He also predicts that PCs in the year 2011 will use a billion-transistor chip, compared with about 8 million in the most advanced chip today (“Intel,” 1997, p. D2).

Similar rapid strides are occurring in communications technology, as the following quote illustrates.

Three separate groups of researchers have succeeded for the first time in transmitting information at a rate of one trillion bits per second—a terabit—through an optical cable. Fujitsu, Nippon Telephone and Telegraph, and a team from AT&T Research and Lucent Technologies reached the terabit threshold four years earlier than expected (Association for Computing Machinery, 1995, p.11)

This bandwidth is about 400 times the bandwidth of the optical fibers currently in commercial use.

My analysis of information from many different sources suggests that total worldwide computing power and worldwide bandwidth will each grow by a factor of at least 500 in the next 20 years. It is certainly reasonable to speculate that similar amounts of change may occur in our educational system. The scenario that follows is based on a conservative estimate of a factor of increase of “only” 100 during the next 20 years. This is a compound rate of change of slightly greater than 25% per year.

A Scenario

Take a look at your own school—the amount of computing power in the school and the nature and amount of connectivity. Now, consider each increasing by a factor of 100. If your school is “average” compared to current schools in the United States, this level of increase would provide each student with a microcomputer that is at least 10 times as powerful as today’s midpriced machine. It would provide every student with connectivity to worldwide and local area networks at a bandwidth that supports high-quality interactive video.

Consider a scenario 20 years in the future: Every student has a personal portable microcomputer for use at home and at school. Wireless connectivity to local and worldwide networks is provided in every classroom. A wide range of software tools and educational software is available to every student. Computer-assisted learning and distance education are routine parts of the teaching and learning environment, both at school and at home. These methods of instructional delivery provide access to instruction in the full range of coursework that is appropriate to K–12 students. The combined power of current hardware and software supports high-quality voice-input systems. Tool and educational software are both “intelligent”—that is, they reflect the steady progress that has been occurring in artificial intelligence.

The market forces in IT are driving the technological changes that make this scenario plausible. These forces are driving the development of more powerful computers, increased bandwidth of networks, and increased connectivity. Such progress will occur independently of whether the facilities are made available to students in any particular school or school district.

Similarly, computer-assisted learning and distance education are also driven by market forces. These aids to teaching and learning will continue to improve and will become more available, independently of choices made by individual schools or school districts. The home market will be one of these driving forces.

Personal Implications

Such scenarios that speculate about the future are useful in considering the present. Suppose that the scenario is an accurate prediction of what many schools will look like 20 years from now. What do you, personally, intend to do about it? What are the main thrusts of your professional interests in IT? For example, are you interested in the acquisition and maintenance of hardware, software, and connectivity, as well as technical support for end users? Or are you more interested in professional development—that is, helping all teachers learn to use IT effectively? Do you want to be involved in curriculum development and assessment—integrating routine use of IT throughout the curriculum? Or, do you hope to be a high-level leader—one who facilitates large numbers of people working to accomplish the previously mentioned tasks? (There are now a small but growing number of assistant superintendents for IT.)

Whatever your answer, you face the challenge of continuing rapid change. You need to develop a network of people and sources of information that can help you meet these challenges. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) can be one part of the help that you seek. It is a source of high-quality information as well as a vehicle for getting connected with people like yourself. And, ISTE’s publications can help you to stay abreast of your professional field.


Association for Computing Machinery. (1996, May). Communications of the ACM. New York: Author.

Intel view of the future. (1997, Apr. 23). New York Times, p. D2.

Moursund, D. (1997). The future of information technology in education. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Pollack, A. (1997, Feb. 7). Japan chip maker unveils next-generation prototype. New York Times, p. D5.

The Growth of Instructional Technology

Moursund, D.G. (1997) The Growth of Instructional Technology. Leading and Learning with Technology. Vol. 25. No. 2.

The S-shaped growth curve is an important tool for analyzing the future adoption and implementation of a technology. It is a graphical representation of adoption levels of a new product over time. Figure 1 shows an example S-shaped growth curve.

Figure 1. S-shaped growth curve.

Television provides a good example of this type of growth. When television was first invented there were no television stations, no televisions sets for sale in stores, and no television programs. It took quite a while for the infrastructure to be developed. In addition, the new product had to compete with radio, movies, live theater, and sporting events. Initially, its quality was low and its price was high. All of these things caused the initial rate of growth for the industry to be quite slow.

Gradually, the barriers to the development and growth of the television industry were overcome. More and more people decided to purchase television sets. The industry experienced rapid growth. The middle part of the S-shaped growth curve shows this type of rapid pace of adoption.

Eventually the market for television sets matured. The market became saturated, and growth in sales slowed. The television market became a replace-and-upgrade market.

Instructional Technology in Education

There are a number of different aspects of instructional technology (IT) in education that may be subject to the S-shaped growth curve, including the following practical and instructional concerns.

  • Hardware. We are moving toward a learning environment in which students have access to appropriately powerful hardware whenever and wherever it is pedagogically appropriate.
  • Connectivity. We are moving toward an environment in which students have access to high-bandwidth interactive connectivity whenever and wherever it is pedagogically appropriate.
  • Software. In the future, students will have routine access to a very wide range of tool, computer-assisted learning, and self-assessment software, as well as distance education opportunities.
  • Curriculum. We are moving toward full integration of IT as a routine component of the content of the everyday curriculum. Specifically, we are moving toward the integration of IT into all academic curriculum, rather than offering only basic “computer literacy” courses.
  • Instruction. We are moving toward an instructional environment in which IT is a fully integrated routine component.
  • Assessment. IT will be a routine component of the content of everyday assessment.
  • Professional development. In the future, all teachers will be fully qualified to make effective educational use of IT, and they will continue to learn about advances in technology throughout their teaching careers.

Of course, each of these components can be broken into subcomponents. For example, hardware includes portable computers that students carry, powerful multimedia machines with larger display screens, printers, scanners, digital cameras, and so on. As another example, in a secondary school the curriculum is broken into a number of distinct courses. Definitions can be developed to describe what it really means to fully integrate IT into each of these courses.

Nationwide Progress Toward These Goals

For each of these components, we can look at implementation levels throughout the United States and how they might look in the future. In this type of analysis, the measure is the percentage of schools in the country that have achieved the goal. If the 20-year forecasts in the September editorial prove to be correct, the growth curve for a number of these components might look like Figure 2,

Figure 2. National adoption of IT in schools.

Figure 2 suggests that less than 1% of schools in the U.S. have currently achieved the specified goal.

The growth curves for each component will be somewhat different. The overall timeline, the time when the most rapid growth occurs, and the steepness of the growth curve at that time will all vary.

Measuring School-Level Implementation

For each of the components, one can also develop a Levels of Implementation scale that can be used by an individual school or school district. To do this, we need a more precise definition of the target goal for a component, and then we need clear definitions of intermediate steps toward that goal.

For example, consider the hardware component. A goal might be to provide every student with a portable computer with midrange capabilities. Progress toward this goal can be measured in terms of percentages achieved. Thus, a rating of 15% would indicate that 15% of the hardware specified in the goal was available.

Progress on many of the goals can be measured by use of a Likert scale. Of course, it is necessary to define the points on the scale. For example, a seven-point Likert scale (see Figure 3) to measure integration of IT into the curriculum might be based on the following points:

Figure 3

1. Little or no use of IT in the content of the everyday curriculum.
3. IT is a significant part of the curriculum approximately once a week.
5. IT is a significant part of the curriculum approximately three times per week.
7. IT is fully integrated into the everyday curriculum.

Final Remarks

There are many political aspects of education, and recently education has become of increasing political importance at the state and federal levels. President Clinton (as cited in Applebome, 1996) talked about IT goals in education in his State of the Union speech nearly two years ago.

Every classroom in America must be connected to the information superhighway, with computers, good software, and well-trained teachers. We are working with the telecommunications industry, educators, and parents to connect 20% of the classrooms in California by this spring, and every classroom and library in America by the year 2000 (p. A9)

Applebome (1996) reviewed the costs associated with such goals.

The Department of Education’s preliminary cost estimate for the proposal is about $10 billion; a McKinsey & Co. consulting study completed last summer for the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council estimated the cost for the kind of system proposed by the President (i.e., a computer for every four or five students) to be about $47 billion (p. A9).

Schools and school districts may want to develop and publicize measures of their progress toward achieving the goals being discussed by politicians and educational leaders.


Applebome, P. (1996, January 25). Computer idea gets mixed response. New York Times, p. A9.

Moursund, D. (1997). The future of information technology in education. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Alternate Histories

Moursund, D.G. (1997) Alternate histories. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No. 3.

An increasing number of “alternate history” science fiction books are being published. Recently I read the first four books of the World War series written by Harry Turtledove (1994, 1995, 1996a, 1996b).

The story begins in 1941, after World War II is in full swing. At that time, the earth is invaded by beings from a planet that is many light years away. They have arrived at earth by traveling at sublight speed, with most of the soldiers in “deep sleep.”

The technology of the invaders has advanced far beyond that of the earth people. How far? Arthur C. Clarke asserted that “any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To the earth people of the early 1940s, the technology of the invaders seems like magic.

However, much of the invader’s technology is the technology we now take for granted. Computers built using large-scale integrated circuits. Radar, laser guidance systems and computers used in a variety of missiles, and other “smart” weapons. Nuclear weapons. Wireless video telephones. Video cameras. Infrared and “low-light” vision systems. Spaceships and jet airplanes.

Technology on our planet has advanced so much in the past 60 years that it might indeed be viewed as magic by people from 60 years ago. Moreover, the pace of technological change during the past 60 years shows no signs of abating. In fact, many scientists and engineers argue that the pace is accelerating.

Educational Applications

Children readily adapt to new technology, but many adults struggle with such change. Thus, children growing up with computers at home and school are able to acquire a fluency with computer use that surpasses that of many of their teachers.

This provides an excellent opportunity for collaborative learning activities among students and teachers, where all are able to contribute and to learn. It also provides an excellent opportunity for helping students learn about change. How do individual people, and society as a whole, deal with a rapid pace of technological change? The following are some curriculum activities that can be adapted to a variety of grade levels.

  1. Engage your students in conversations about things they know that people did not know 25 or 50 years ago. (Pick numbers of years that correspond to the years in which your students’ parents and grandparents were the same age your students are now.)

    a. For example, all of your students have seen a floppy disk. They know that information is recorded magnetically on its surface. With a little prodding, they know that this information can be accessed randomly—as distinguished from sequentially—and that text, graphics, and sound can all be stored on a floppy disk. Moreover, your students know that there are hard disks that store hundreds of times as much information as floppy disks. Finally, your students know about CDs and CD-ROMs. These store information in a digital format, but are not the same as magnetic disks.

    b. For a second example, consider the Internet. How would your students explain the Internet to children 25 or 50 years ago? What do your students know about converting information to digital formats, transmitting information digitally, and then converting back to an analog format? What do your students know about satellites, fiber optics, and cellular telephones?
    How did the parents and grandparents of your students adjust to the technological changes during the last 25–50 years? For example, are parents and grandparents adept at programming a VCR or microwave oven? Are parents and grandparents as comfortable using computers as your students? Have they learned to surf the Internet and retrieve information from the Web?
  2. Have your students write an “alternative history” story. For example, suppose that the computer had never been invented. How would life be different? Suppose that computers had been invented 50 years earlier. How would this have affected history, and how would life be different now?
  3. Have your students discuss and write about the following: “Suppose that you were magically transported 2,000 years back in time. What could you tell the doctors, scientists, and engineers of 2,000 years ago that would help them? What could you tell teachers, social scientists, or politicians?”
  4. How has education changed since the time when your students’ grandparents and parents were in school? Have your students make a list of things that they think might have changed, and a list of things that they think may not have changed much. Each of your students should interview one or more people who went to school 25 or 50 years ago. Share the results by way of small-group and whole-class discussions.
  5. What will education be like 25 or 50 years from now? What will be the same, and what might be different? Engage your students in discussions. Have them write about possible futures of education.

Final Remarks

We are just at the beginnings of the major changes that information technology will bring to our world. You can help to prepare your students for such changes by engaging them in the types of activities discussed in this article.
As you try out these and other ideas with your students, please share what you are learning with your fellow teachers. Send your best examples to the ISTE editors.


Turtledove, H. (1994). Worldwar: In the balance. New York: Del Rey.

Turtledove, H. (1995). Worldwar: Tilting the balance. New York: Del Rey.

Turtledove, H. (1996a). Worldwar: Upsetting the balance. New York: Del Rey.

Turtledove, H. (1996b). Worldwar: Striking the balance. New York: Del Rey.

Professional Development

Moursund, D.G. (1997). Professional development. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No. 4.

It was not too many years ago that most teachers earned lifetime teaching certificates through completion of their teacher training coursework and a few years of teaching experience.

As it became apparent that such an approach did not adequately support the increasing demands of the teaching profession, continuing education requirements were developed. In the past two decades, a great deal of research has been conducted concerning adult education and professional development for teachers. A summary and analysis of professional development research and effective-practices literature is given in NFIE (1996). Hall (1974) developed a Stages of Concern model for staff development. This article builds on Hall’s work.

Information technology (IT) is a rapidly changing field. Moreover, it affects curriculum, instruction, and assessment in every discipline. Thus, every teacher faces a continual challenge of becoming and remaining adequately prepared in IT.

Many IT professional development programs fail to adequately address the varying levels of teacher background and interest. This article summarizes eight levels—stages of concern and levels of knowledge—that an effective program for professional development needs to address.

Stages of Concern and Levels of Knowledge

An educator who knows very little about IT has different concerns and professional development needs than an educator who has been making personal use of computers and other IT tools for several years.

Professional development is more effective if it specifically addresses the concerns of the educator and builds on his or her current level of knowledge and use. This is one of the reasons for emphasizing one-on-one inservice and teachers learning alongside their students. In both of these professional development approaches, the learning opportunity can be carefully tuned to the stage of concern and level of knowledge of the learner.

The various Stages of Concerns and Levels of Knowledge (SC&LK) that teachers have about IT are not easily grouped into simple categories. However, the following list is indicative of the range of possible situations. This list is a Stages of Concern model that has been adapted specifically for microcomputers and other IT tools such as CD-ROMs, networking, digital cameras, and scanners.

  1. Awareness. I have an awareness of microcomputers and other IT tools, but I do not make personal or professional instructional use of them. I do not engage my class in discussions about IT even when I realize that this would be relevant to the topic at hand. I do not make use of IT when developing lesson plans or other instructional materials. I am somewhat techno-phobic.
  2. Informational. I have a novice level of microcomputer knowledge and other IT knowledge and skills. Although I sometimes make use of these facilities, my level of knowledge is not adequate for professional use. I lack the knowledge and skills needed to make use of IT both in developing lesson plans and instructional materials and in integrating use of IT into my classroom. I am concerned about gaining more general information about their potential uses in my professional work.
  3. Personal. I am beginning to make use of microcomputers and other IT tools in my professional work. I am concerned about how using IT will affect me personally in my professional career as an educator.
  4. Time. I am concerned about the time needed to learn about and to keep up with the rapid changes in education applications of IT. As I continue to learn, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much there is to learn and how much time it takes to keep up.
  5. Consequences. I make quite a bit of use IT in my professional work. I am concerned about the effects my use of microcomputers, networking, and other IT tools is having and should be having on my students’ and my professional work.
  6. Collaboration. I occasionally help a colleague handle an IT hardware or software problem in an informal one-on-one setting. I am concerned about doing more extensive work with my peers so that we both learn more about IT in education.
  7. Refocusing. I am comfortable making routine professional use of IT and helping my colleagues learn about IT. I am concerned about learning new ways to use what I already know and about expanding my horizons.
  8. Leadership. I am a technology leader and high-level facilitator. I am concerned about continuing to maintain and improve my leadership and professional development skills, in my school, school district, and beyond.

Final Remarks

This SC&LK scale can be used to do a needs assessment in a school or school district. Although a written questionnaire may suffice, one-on-one interviews will likely prove more effective in helping teachers place themselves on the scale. The needs assessment facilitates the design of professional development opportunities that are appropriate to the needs of the teachers.

A school’s goal might be to help every teacher reach Level 5 or higher, and to have a cadre of teachers who are at Level 6 or higher


Hall, G. E. (1974). The concerns-based adoption model: A developmental conceptualization of the adoption process within educational institutions. Austin, TX: Research and Development Center for Teacher Education.

National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (1996). Teachers take charge of their learning: Transforming professional development for student success. Washington, DC: Author.

Retrospecctive Comments 12/19/04

I have used the 8-stages model in a lot of my teaching. Over the years, I gradually expanded it to a 10-stage model. The 10_stage model is available at (Accessed 12/19/04):

However, for the convenience of readers, it is also given below.

  1. Complete Novice: I have never used a microcomputer. I don't know how to turn one on and make it go. When the opportunity to gain such knowledge has been made available to me, I have not taken advantage of it. It may be that I have a negative attitude toward this technology.
  2. Awareness: I have an awareness of microcomputers and other IT but I do not make personal or professional use of them. I do not engage my class or staff in discussions about IT even when I realize that this would be relevant to the topic at hand. I do not make use of IT in developing instructional materials or administrative materials. I am somewhat techno-phobic.
  3. Informational: I have a novice level of microcomputer and other IT knowledge and skill. Although I sometimes make use of these facilities, my level of knowledge is not adequate for professional use. I lack the knowledge and skills needed to make use of IT in developing instructional or administrative materials, and in integrating use of IT into my professional work. I am concerned about gaining more general information about their potential uses in my professional work.
  4. Personal: I am beginning to make use of microcomputers and other IT in my professional work. I am concerned about how using this technology will affect me personally in my professional career as an educator.
  5. Time: I am concerned about the time needed to learn about and to keep up with the rapid changes in IT in education. As I continue to learn, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much there is to learn and how much time it takes to keep up.
  6. Practitioner: I make quite a bit of use IT in my professional work. I routinely integrate IT into the teaching and/or administrative work that I do. I am concerned about the effects my use of microcomputers, networking, and other IT is having and should be having on students and staff, and on my professional work.
  7. Collaboration: I occasionally help a colleague to handle an IT hardware or software problem in an informal, one-on-one setting. I share what I am learning about use of IT in teaching and in administration and I encourage my colleagues to make such uses of IT. I am concerned about doing more extensive work with my peers so that we both learn more about IT in education.
  8. Refocusing: I am comfortable in making routine professional use of IT and in helping my colleagues to learn IT. I am concerned about learning new ways to use what I already know and about expanding my horizons. I want to help facilitate substantial changes in my department and my school.
  9. IT Leader: I am a technology leader and high level facilitator. I routinely present talks and workshops at conferences. I am concerned about continuing to maintain and improve my leadership and professional development skills, in my school, school district, and beyond.
  10. Educational Leader: I am an educational leader, with broad interests in how to improve our overall educational system. Although IT remains one of my primary interests in education, I am concerned about appropriate and cost-effective ways to better meet the educational needs of all students and all other stakeholders in our educational system. I have an interest in national and global educational systems. I am concerned about the complexity of educational systems and how to improve these systems.

Software Trends

Moursund,D.G. (1998). Software Trends. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No.5.

We all understand the rapid pace of change in the capabilities of computer hardware. We can trace the historical development of computer hardware by looking at mainframe computers, minicomputers, and microcomputers. The trend has been toward putting more powerful computers in the hands of the end user. From the time of the first commercially produced computers in the early 1950s, the cost effectiveness of computers has improved by a factor of about a million.

The pace of change of computer software has been slower, but steady progress has occurred. Quite a bit of the software change has been dependent on the steadily increasing power of computer systems. Software trends can be summarized as follows.

  1. Technology-centered software. In the early days of computers, power was at a premium. Programmers devised clever tricks to make use of the very limited computer memory and the relatively slow speed of the machines. A person needed to have programming skills and good insight into computer hardware to make effective use of the machine.
  2. User-centered software. As computer speed and memory size increased dramatically, much of the increased computer power was put into making computer applications more “user friendly.” The focus became one of developing computer applications that were powerful tools for workers. A steadily increasing percentage of computer users had little knowledge of computer programming or computer hardware.
  3. Learner-centered software. This is the newest “wave” of change in software. As computer power continues to increase rapidly, we are beginning to see more emphasis on the computer user as a learner. Software will be designed to help the learner use the software. This change in emphasis will help learners of all ages.

Learner-Centered Software

You are undoubtedly familiar with various pieces of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) software. General categories include drill and practice, tutorial, simulations, and microworlds. Some researchers in artificial intelligence work on developing intelligent computer-assisted instruction (ICAI). ICAI software contains considerable knowledge of what the student is trying to learn, what an “expert” knows, and what can help a student learn. Moreover, it builds a model of what the student knows and his or her progress in learning. Thus, it adapts to individual learning needs.

You are probably also familiar with computer software that contains built-in “help” files. You can think of this as a type of “just in time” assistance or instruction in solving problems encountered when using the software.

The ICAI and help file ideas can be combined in any computer application such as a spreadsheet, database, or graphics package. A learner-centered version of such software could incorporate ICAI in its help system. As the user begins learning to use the software, the computer application would have knowledge of what an expert user knows and can do. It would have knowledge of a variety of pedagogy strategies that help move a novice user toward becoming a competent user and then an expert user. The software might begin by interacting with the user, gaining information about the user’s computer background, knowledge of the application area, and goals in learning to use the software. This initial learner profile would serve as a starting point as the computer application builds a profile of the novice user.

The development of learner-centered software is currently considered “cutting edge” research and development. Ten articles in the April 1996 issue of the Communications of the ACM examine various research projects that are developing and fieldtesting such software. In most cases, the focus is on developing stand-alone ICAI, rather than taking the next step of integrating such ICAI into standard application tools. Some of the applications being explored include:

  • software that helps students develop broadcast news reports. Roger Shank and Alex Kass’ system is a form of ICAI with extensive computer-based video-production capabilities. This environment can be used to explore a wide range of topics—essentially those that would ordinarily be explored in a news broadcast.
  • an intelligent multimedia tutoring system developed by Beverly Woolf, who has researched its applications to both medical and engineering education. The former application helps students learn to make use of cardiac care instrumentation in a hospital emergency room. The latter helps students learn to use computer-aided design (CAD) software.
  • a “collaboratory notebook” developed by Daniel Edelson, Roy Pea, and Louis Gomez. They are exploring its use in helping groups of students work together as they learn inquiry-based science.
  • lifelong learning. Hal Eden, Mike Eisenberg, Gerald Fischer, and Alexander Repenning’s software attempts to strike a balance between self-directed, discovery-based constructivism and guided instruction. One of their major focuses is to develop tools and environments in which students can create computer simulations.

A unifying theme in all of these examples is a combination of constructivism and problem solving in an advanced information-technology environment. Students, individually and in groups, use information technology tools as they address problems that are both meaningful to their current developmental levels and authentic.

Final Remarks

The development of learner-centered software is in its infancy. You can see its beginnings in modern software tools, such as word processors and spreadsheets. You can also see it in good computer-assisted learning materials. Look for this as you evaluate software for your personal use and for use by your students.

Moore's Laws

Moursund, D.G. (March 1998). Moore's Law. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No. 6, pp 4-5.

Gordon Moore was one of the founders of Intel Corporation and is still an active participant in the company. In addition to his pioneering work with Intel, Moore is also known for a set of projections that have come to be known as Moore's Laws:

  1. The density of electronic components on a chip is doubling every 18 months.
  2. The cost of a given amount of computer power is decreasing by 50% every 18 months.

On average, these "laws" have proven to be relatively accurate over the past 37 years. Moreover, Gordon Moore and others believe that the laws may prove to be relatively accurate for another 15 years.

Some Forecasts

Since the advent of microcomputers, there has been a slow but relatively steady increase in the annual amounts that schools spend for hardware and software. It seems likely that this will continue for a considerable number of years into the future.

To help make this article concrete, suppose that annual school expenditures for hardware will increase by about 5% a year for the next 15 years. That is, assume that hardware expenditures will approximately double over that time period. When this forecast is combined with the forecast in Moore's second law, we get some thought-provoking numbers.


Years from now

Growth factor from Moore's second law

Growth factor with additional 5% dollars per year
















The second column in the table shows just the effects if Moore's second law continues to hold for the next 15 years. In terms of constant dollars, it projects that one will be able to purchase 1,024 times as much computer power for a dollar. If a school continues its current annual level of expenditures for microcomputers, 15 years from now this may buy about 1,024 times as much computer power per year.

The third column in the table combines Moore's second law with a 5-percent a year increase in expenditures. It indicates that the amount of compute power that can be purchased will have increased by a factor of about 2,000.

What Do These Numbers Mean?

The typical school has mixture of computers. Some may be 10 years old, while some may have just been purchased. A newer machine may have 100 times the computer power of an older machine. Fifteen years from now, we can expect that many schools will continue to have machines of widely varying ages and computer power. Whatever the mix of machines, on average we might expect a growth in computer power in a school by a factor in excess of 2,000.

There are many ways to interpret these forecasts of increasing computer power in schools. At the current time in the United States, there is an average of approximately one microcomputer per eight students. Fifteen years from now this ratio might still be the same -- but the computers might be more than 2,000 times as powerful as current computers in schools.

However, that seems like a silly forecast. Much of the use of computers in schools 15 years from now will not require such powerful machines. A more reasonable forecast is that all students will be making routine use of the tools in an integrated package (word processor, spreadsheet, database, graphics, Web connectivity) as well as multimedia software and computer-assisted learning software. All of this software currently exists and runs reasonable well on today's mid-priced computers. It remains to be seen whether the educational value of such software will be substantially improved by use of a machine that is a hundred or a thousand times as fast.

Thus, as we look to the future, we will want to use some of this increasing availability of computer power to improve the ratio of computers per student. We might imagine having 10 times as many computers (a ratio of about 1.25 computers per student), with these computers averaging 200 times as much computer power. Many educators might find this to be a good allocation of the steadily increasing computer power. Every student could have a relatively powerful multimedia laptop computer. Every classroom could have additional more powerful machines with large displays.

A Worldwide View

Gordon Moore estimates that the chip factories of the world are now producing approximately one quintillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) transistors a year. This is approximately a sixth of a million transistors for each person on earth.

If there are no increases in dollar sales of chips, Moore's law predicts that 15 years from now yearly productivity will be 170 million transistors per person. That is roughly the number of transistors in today's 16 megabyte computer.

Worldwide dollar sales of chips have been increasing at an average rate of 15% a year for many years, and appear likely to continue this growth rate for another 15 years. If this forecast is combined with the forecast of Moore's law, 15 years from now the yearly worldwide productivity of transistors will exceed a billion transistors per person, for every person on earth.

Final Remarks

This article takes a very simplistic view of the future of computers in schools. The focus is entire on computer power. There is no discussion of connectivity, teacher training, curriculum reform, instruction, or assessment. All of these are essential, and all will have substantial costs.

The point to this article is that computer hardware (computer power) will gradually become less of an issue. The focus of attention over the next couple of decades will be more and more toward curriculum, instruction, assessment, and staff development. The goal will be to use the increasing computer power in schools to improve the quality of education that students are receiving. This goal will be addressed in educational systems throughout the world.


Retrospective Comments 11/4/00

Moore's Law has continued to receive a lot of attention during the past few years. It appears that the rated of progress in chip technology during the past three years has exceeded the predictions provided by Moore's Law.

There seem to be two emerging schools of thought on Moore's Law. One says that by approximately 2006, Moore's Law will cease to be an accurate vehicle for forecasting, because we will have reached the end of what can be achieved with currently forecast improvements in silicone technology. The suggestion is that there will be a significant slowdown in the progress of producing chips with more capacity.

The other school of thought indicates that we will develop new techniques that may even produce faster improvements in chip technology than are forecast by Moore's Law.

Gordon Moore retired from Intel in 2001. Also in 2001, Gordon Moore made a commitment to contribute $600 million the California Institute of Technology over the next ten years, and he indicated he did not want the money to be used for constructing buildings.

Retrospective Comments 10/7/02

Recent articles have suggested that Moore's Law will continue to hole for at 10-15 more years. Moreover, during the past few years we have seen a still greater pace of improvement in disk storage and in telecommunications bandwidth.

Retrospective Comments 12/19/04

The predictions as to when the Moore's Law will cease to be reasonably accurate have narrowed, with current estimates tending to be in the range of 8-10 years. Meanwhile, progress is continuing in quantum computers and optical computers. Major success in these areas might well lead to increased in computer capabilities that are beyond what Moore's Law would have predicted for that particular time.

Some “Hidden” Costs of Computers

Moursund, D.G. (1998).Some “Hidden” Costs of Computers. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No. 7.

We all know what it costs to buy a computer. Nowadays, one can get quite a good machine for less than $1,500. It even comes bundled with some application software such as a word processor and an integrated package.

With this sort of figure in mind, many people then develop a plan for acquiring a large number of computers for a school. They tend to assume that this initial cost is the full cost, and that any “incidentals” will be absorbed through existing budgets. For example, computers use electricity, but the electrical costs will be a modest part of the total electrical bill for the school or school district. Maybe they will need to do a little rewiring. This can be absorbed in “building maintenance.”

Unfortunately, such muddled thinking leads to a severely underbudgeted situation that fails to support the goals that a school has for information technology. Here are a few of the more obvious flaws in the budgeting process. There are no provisions for:

  1. Printers (and printer supplies), scanners, digital cameras, desktop presentation systems, and other necessary hardware.
  2. Connectivity, local area networks, servers, and backup.
  3. The range of software that a typical school wants and needs.
  4. Technical and administrative support.
  5. Staff development.

The list can easily be extended. For example, who pays for the teacher time for making the major changes in curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment?

A good plan for information technology in the school addresses the costs of all of the types of items listed above. Some of the costs are ongoing, while others require an amortization schedule with provisions for periodically replacing outdated hardware and software. For the remainder of this article, I will address just items 4 and 5.

Needed Personnel

Over the past year, I have read several articles about the “real” cost of providing a corporate employee with a desktop computer. Much of this data comes from the Gartner Group, Inc. Quoting from its Web page (

Gartner Group, Inc., is the world’s leading independent adviser of research and analysis to business professionals making information technology (IT) decisions, including users, purchasers, and vendors of IT products and services.

Here is some Gartner Group, Inc., data from the May 26, 1997, issue of Business Week (p. 136) on the estimated annual costs of providing a corporate employee with desktop-computer support services. The figures are not the cost of the hardware, software, and connectivity, but the cost of the people who provide the needed technical and administrative support for the desktop computers that corporate employees use.

Desktop computer hardware and software:
Yearly Cost
Technical support
Network support::
Network technical support
Network administration

Notice the “bottom line.” The annual costs of the people needed to support the computer system user are far more than the costs of a medium-priced computer. One can argue about what these numbers might mean when translated into a school environment. For example, perhaps the administrative and technical support people in corporations are paid a lot more than corresponding people in a school setting. If so, then perhaps $3,201 per microcomputer user is too high.

Alternatively, one might argue that in a school setting there is apt to be a huge diversity of hardware and software, and much of the hardware is relatively old. Many of the machines have multiple users, which further complicates maintenance and support. Such arguments suggest that the $3,201 figure is too low.

Let’s make this discussion more concrete. Suppose that a school has 500 students and approximately 30 to 35 educational and support staff. Assume that the school has one microcomputer per eight students (close to the national average in the United States), and a microcomputer for each staff member. This means that the school houses nearly 100 microcomputers. Further suppose that this is a local area network that is connected to a district network, the Internet, or both.

If we use the corporate figure of $3,201 per networked microcomputer, this would mean that annual support costs would be approximately $320,000—or six full-time equivalents (FTE) of support personnel, assuming they are paid at the level of teachers and have an equivalent benefits package.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that a school with 500 students is lucky to have one full-time technology coordinator. Hardware maintenance and repairs that are beyond the skills of this person are contracted out to the school district or to a local business. The total level of support provided by this internal and external support system might be two FTE.

What can we say about the other four FTE of needed support?

  1. The actual level and quality of support is far less than what is provided in the corporate world. The staff and students have an inadequate level of support.
  2. Much of the support comes out of the hides of the staff. These staff members—many of whom are already overworked—take time from their other duties to provide support to computer users.

Some schools and school districts are making good progress in implementing a partial but significant component of a solution to the problem. They are training students to play major technical and administrative support roles. This approach has now been tried in enough schools and school districts that many of the bugs have been worked out. It can work quite well. It can be beneficial to both the students who are learning to provide the needed support and the computer users who are receiving support from students.

A school district in Olympia, Washington, provides a good example of such a school site. You may want to check out its Web site (developed by the students) at

How is your school district dealing with the technical, administrative, and network support issues? I’d like to hear about innovative solutions.

Project-Based Learning in an Information Technology Environment

Moursund, D.G. (1998). Project-Based Learning in an Information Technology Environment. Learning and Leading with Technology. Vol. 25, No. 8.

Project-based learning (PBL) has long been an important part of the repertoires of many teachers. Information technology (IT) has added new dimensions to PBL and increased its value in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

In this column, I describe nine general characteristics of a PBL activity that is designed to be carried out in an IT environment. A project need not have all of these characteristics to provide a valuable learning experience for students, but you will likely find that the most successful IT-assisted PBL lessons have many of these desirable characteristics:

  1. They are learner-centered.
  2. They have authentic content and purpose.
  3. They are challenging.
  4. They involve the design and development of a product, presentation, or performance.
  5. They require collaboration and cooperative learning.
  6. They allow incremental and continual improvement.
  7. They are teacher-facilitated.
  8. They have explicit educational goals.
  9. They are rooted in constructivism.

The following nine sections provide more detail on the nine considerations.

1. Learner-Centered Lessons

  • Students have some choice of topic as well as the nature and extent of the project’s content. Students shape their projects to fit their own interests and abilities.
  • Students conduct research using multiple sources of information, such as books, online databases, videotapes, personal interviews (in person or conducted using telecommunications), and their own experiments. Even if their projects are based on the same topic, different students likely will use considerably different sources of information.

2. Authentic Content and Purpose

  • Many projects focus on authentic, difficult, and current real-world problems, such as environmental or social problems. The purpose of the project is to help solve such problems, which are complex and have no simple solutions.
  • This sort of project requires students to do research that draws from many sources of information. Such sources may be complex and contain contradictory pieces of information. Many projects require empirical research.

3. Challenging Projects

  • The project extends over a significant length of time, usually from several class periods to an entire school year. Students plan the effective use of their time and share resources such as computers, camcorders, and network access. One goal in project-based learning is for students to increase their skills in budgeting their time and other resources.
  • The process of doing a project allows and encourages students to use experiments, to do discovery-based learning, to learn from their mistakes, and to encounter and overcome unexpected and difficult challenges.
  • The focus is on higher-order skills, including problem solving, learning to learn, becoming an independent researcher, setting personal goals, and self-monitoring (self-assessment).

4. Product, Presentation, or Performance

  • The project involves the design and development of a product, presentation, or performance that can be used or viewed by others. Students may create products of significant and lasting value, such as environmental assessments or permanent displays of information.
  • A project may produce a product, presentation, or performance that becomes a component of a student’s portfolio.
5. Collaboration; Cooperative Learning
  • A team of people may work on the project. The team may be an entire class, several classes, or even students from several remote sites. In these cases, individuals or small groups work on different components of a large task, and their joint efforts are often coordinated through technology. Multi-site projects often rely on email or video conferencing.
  • Peer instruction is explicitly taught and encouraged. Students learn to learn from each other and how to help their peers learn.

6. Incremental and Continual Improvement

  • The definition of what is to be accomplished as well as the actual components and products in the project allow of continual revision and incremental improvement.
  • A project is viewed as a process rather than as a product. There is a strong parallel between process-based writing and project-based learning.

7. Teacher Facilitated

  • The teacher’s role is often described as being “A guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage.”
  • The teacher looks for and acts on “teachable moments.” Often this will involve calling the whole class together to learn about and discuss a particular situation that one student or a team of students has encountered.
  • The teacher is also a learner. The teacher and the students learn together, and the teacher role-models being a lifelong learner.
  • The teacher is in charge of the class. The teacher acts as a facilitator and mentor, providing resources and advice to students as they pursue their investigations. The teacher bears the ultimate responsibility for curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

8. Explicit Educational Goals

  • The project is designed to facilitate learning. It is designed to help achieve the overall goals of education as well as specific content goals.
  • The project is designed to facilitate students learning about IT and how to make effective use of IT in carrying out a project.
  • The project is designed to help increase student ability to carry out complex, challenging, “real world” projects.

9. Rooted in Constructivism

  • The design of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment is rooted in constructivism. Constructivism is a theory about knowledge and learning that is based on the idea that individual learners construct their own knowledge, building on their current knowledge.
  • There is considerable individualization (learner-centered) of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Retrospective Comments 12/19/04

This editorial was written at a time when I was getting quite interested in Information and Communication Technology-Assisted Project-Based Learning. The eventual result was the book:

Moursund, D.G. (1999, 2002). Project-based Learning in an Information Technology Environment. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

I created a Website to support my work in this area. Accessed 12/19/04: In addition, I have developed a 1-credit course on this topic, and given many workshops on this topic. A detailed syllabus for the course is available at (Accessed 12/19/04): For quite a few years, now, all of the courses I teach make extensive use of ICT-Assisted PBL. Thus, I role model what I want my preservice and inservice teachers to be learning about this important component of teaching. See the syllabi at (Accessed 12/19/04):