Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 11 / NOVEMBER 1984 / PAGE 178

Computer futures for education. Alfred Bork.

Education in the United States is in trouble. We are besieged by reports of difficulties. Many parents realize that things are not right in our schools. The unhappiness with our school system is unlike anything seen in the past. These problems have been documented in many reports, over at least a dozen years. But remarkably little, other than cosmetic changes, happens to improve the situation.

It is not my intent to dwell on these very serious problems of education in our country. Rather I want to consider the role that the computer may play in solving these problems and leading us toward future educational systems,

My tactic will be to present a series of statements. The purpose is to make my views clear and to focus on the major issues. Most of these issues are discussed in much more detail in my forthcoming book, Personal Computers for Education from Harper & Row, in Learning with Computers (Digital Press, 1981), and in papers developed at the Educational Technology Center. General Statements Concerning Computers in Education

1. The computer is the most powerful new learning device since the invention of the printing press and the textbook.

2. The computer is important as a learning device because it allows us, for the first time in hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, to move toward situations in which most learning is interactive. As we have educated larger and larger numbers of people (essential in a democracy), we have adopted undesirable passive modes of learning. With the computer we can create active learning environments for all students.

3. Interactive learning has important consequences. Because the computer is constantly interacting with the student, we can individualize the learning experience to meet the needs of each student. When education is individualized, it can be more effective. We need not "teach" something already known, and we can work in ways that are most efficient for each learner. Interaction, used well, also implies a high level of motivation, and thus can be an important feature in increasing time on task, an important factor in determining how much students learn.

4. As with any technology, the computer can be used well in the learning process or it can be used poorly. Moving computers into the educational process is no guarantee that learning will be improved. There is nothing magical about the computer.

5. Computers will continue rapidly to decline in cost and improve in capability.

6. Because hardware will become cheaper, and because we are becoming more skillful in developing computer based curriculum material, the computer will eventually become, in almost every area of education, the cheapest learning delivery system.

7. We should not seek the "best" way of using the computer in learning. The computer can be used in many different ways to aid many different aspects of the learning process. None of these should be eliminated at the present time, when our experience with first rate use of the computer is still extremely limited. Decisions should be made on empirical grounds, rather than on the basis of philosophical positions. We need to use the principles of science in deciding where computers can best be used in the learning process.

8. Because the computer is a revolutionary device in education, it will lead to new educational structures. To think of computers in terms of current schools and current universities may be very misleading. New possibilities, such as learning-at-a-distance environments, become much more practical in an educational system heavily dependent on the computer. Statements About the Current Situation with Computers in Schools

9. Computers are appearing very rapidly in schools. Although estimates vary, it is reasonable to assume more than 300,000 computers in United State schools. Recently the number has doubled, or better, each year. Strong parental pressures assure that even in a time of financial strain schools are still buying computers at an amazingly rapid and increasing rate. Parental feeling is that "my child has an inferior education if the school doesn't have computers."

10. A recent study at Johns Hopkins (Becker) indicates the schools that have computers do not necessarily use them, or may very much underuse them. Even when computers are given to schools the school district may not actually let them be used in the schools.

11. The educational use of computers is often a disaster. One might reasonably argue that computers in schools at the present time are more harmful than helpful in the educational process, almost independent of the type of use. Students are, in some situations, being harmed by computers.

12. Teaching of programming in schools is a particular disaster area, building up bad habits which are almost impossible to overcome in later life. The major problems are Basic and teachers who do not understand modern programming style.

13. Almost all commercially available computer based learning material for school use at the present time is poor. Much of it is trivia.

14. United States teachers are poorly trained to use computers effectively. Brief workshops are entirely inadequate for producing adequate teachers who understand educational uses of computers. Teacher training is a major problem: few school districts are approaching it adequately. The training about computers offered in many schools of education is worse than no training at all. A few rare exceptions offer excellent training.

15. Schools depend on curriculum material. Good education demands that well tested learning modules be available to the schools. Very few teachers have the time, energy, resources, and know-how to develop their own learning units, except in very small ways. The notion that teachers can develop, extensively, their own computer based learning modules is not reasonable.

16. Computers have the potential for helping with the major difficulties that confront education. But it is not certain that potential will be realized. Statements Concerning the Production of Learning Material Employing the Computer

17. The development of good learning material of any type is a nontrivial process. It demands competent people who know what they are doing.

18. Learning material must be carefully evaluated and improved, in one or more formative evaluation cycles.

19. The development of good curriculum material, regardless of the media involved, is costly. To develop a single college level course, the Open University (United Kingdom) typically spends about one million dollars. We can develop courses for less money, but quality is seriously affected.

20. Many of the stages for developing good curriculum units are independent of the subject area, the level, and the media involved. Developing good print base learning material has many similarities to developing good computer based learning material.

21. No effective shortcuts are available for developing computer based learning material. Although beginners in this field often assume curriculum material can be produced at little cost, experience shows that good material is almost never produced this way.

22. Authoring languages and systems are almost useless. Little good curriculum material has ever been produced using these systems, in spite of the fact that vast numbers of such systems have been developed, and in spite of the vast publicity they have received, I would guess that in excess of half a billion dollars has gone into such systems. Unfortunately major companies, and even major countries, continue to support such development.

23. If the vast amount of money spent developing useless authoring languages and systems had gone into quality development of computer based learning material, we would be much further along. These expenditures on authoring systems continue, draining away resources that could produce useful material.

24. In producing curriculum material a variety of talents are needed. Most good curriculum material, such as that in the Open University, and in the major curriculum development projects in the United States following Sputnik, used sizable groups of people with different talents.

25. Effective ways of producing computer based learning material exist and have produced sizable amounts of material at costs resembling those of any good curriculum development.

26. The ultimate test of any method of producing learning units including computer related material is the learning effectiveness of the materials produced. Statements Concerning Computers and the Future of Education

27. The computer has the potential to solve most of our current educational problems.

28. The computer will play a dominant role in future educational systems.

29. Within twenty years the computer will be the major delivery system for education at all levels and in practically all subject areas, replacing books and lectures.

30. The computer may lead to a better or worse educational system. At present this issue is very much in the balance.

31. The Federal Government should fund vigorous research efforts to learn how better to use the computer in education. Current efforts are inadequate and often motivated by very specialized points of view. Diversity is the key to these efforts. There should be no national policy; the quality of the research should be the key factor in determining grants. Development cannot wait until this research is completed, but must proceed parallel to it.

32. Massive development of high quality learning material involving the computer is essential and should begin at once, primarily at the full segment or full course level. The computer should not assume to be the only medium. Development should take into account possible nontraditional organizations of schools and nontraditional delivery modes. The emphasis should be on quality and on significant amounts of material.

33. This curriculum material cannot be produced by cottage industry authoring strategies. Production is a serious activity and must be considered carefully. Further research on production strategies is needed.

34. The new learning material may follow modes impossible without the computer, because the computer suggests new ways of organizing the learning experience, new ways of organizing courses, new ways of organizing schools, and new ways of organizing learning.

35. Learning-at-a-distance possibilities deserve further study. In many cases the new computer based learning materials may be able to follow distance learning strategies. This implies that in learning systems of the future fewer teachers may be needed.

36. Some of the uses of the computer in education will involve teachers. Teacher training--understanding how to use the newer materials and the newer media--is an essential component of curriculum development. Few teachers at any level, from earliest childhood to adult education, are prepared for the computer. Conventional methods of teacher training--preservice and inservice lecture and textbook courses--are inadequate.

37. The computers should be the principal learning device for teachers in training programs. Curriculum development in courses where teachers are to be involved must take this into account, producing the teacher's material as well as the students' material. Teachers must have direct exposure to computers.

38. Much funding is essential for new learning material. There must be Federal leadership and Federal funding. Funding can also come from the states, from possible commercial vendors of the materials, from foundations, and from interested industries, particularly those with a technological basis.

39. Centers should be established all over the country for both research and development. While these centers should work together, in the sense of talking with each other and cooperating on some projects, a friendly rivalry between centers should assure diversity of approaches and materials.

40. Decisions of the next five to ten years will strongly influence our educational system for a long time in the future.

41. We have little time to alter the future. Many factors already suggest a "bad" direction. The question is one of establishing suitable models and directions--hard to change once they are fully in place.

42. The time to begin quality development is now.