25 Apr 97
Corrie Bergeron

[quoting Sims, 24 Apr 97] Likewise with the "new" technologies--we, as educational technologists (or whatever), need to understand their operation but not assume that they will do anything better. Right now, that's the exclusive realm of humans. The assumption that the Internet can somehow improve education per se is nonsense--our effective use of the technology is the answer. New improvements (I got ICQ recently) do some neat things, but apart from the glitz, little has changed from the early 70's and the options available on systems such as PLATO.

Back in the old days, when we had 40 characters by 24 lines and two colors to work with, instructional designers created sophisticated programs that adapted to the student's ability. Today, we have machines that are literally a million times more powerful, and we use that power to display narrated slide shows and talking head video. Why? Two reasons that I can see:

First, IT died a small death in the 80's when CDC started going downhill. A lot of CAI practitioners left the field and went into stand-up training. That left a vacuum that was filled in the early 90's by print and video folks when computers gained the ability to display interesting images instead of just text. So a great deal of "educational multimedia" has been created by people with no background in using computers to communicate interactively. Interactivity is NOT pressing the "go-ahead" button or the "play-the-video" button!

Second, we can do multimedia on our desktops, so why not put in a talking head of the professor droning on and on? I call that "Edmund Hillary Multimedia." A programmer I know has another term: "That's cute. What a waste of processor power!"

For what it's worth, PLATO (new and updated, deliverable via the net) is still alive and well! Browse http://www.tro.com to learn more.

[quoting Draper, 24 Apr 97] ...computer implementation today--computers can judge right/wrong answers, diagnose where an answer went wrong, and give an explanation of the right answer (by reprinting the relevant chunk of original text).

Ahem. "Reprinting the relevant chunk of original text" is the equivalent of speaking slowly and loudly to a person who doesn't understand your language. If the learner didn't grasp the concept in the first presentation, forcing him to view it a second time is not only ineffective but insulting. I much prefer the approach of carefully crafted remedial feedback that gets at the concept or principle that was missed (without giving away the answer). And, who says the presentation (initial or remedial) has to be text?

If the learner feels the need to review, that option is always available. (That is, it should be. I can't conceive of a learning situation where you would not allow the learner to go back and review, except in a mastery test.)

The only thing they can't do is explain why a fallacious argument produced by a student is wrong. Thus a lot of feedback can be automated, and even though a residue will still require an expert human teacher, if that was all the teacher had to do then obviously it would be cheaper overall with a very high student:teacher ratio.

And that's the whole point of using machines to help teach: to take over the drudge work and free up the humans to do what humans do best.

[quoting Beal, 24 Apr 97] ...we can't completely replace the teacher or all teachers, but maybe we can replace part of their time or some of them and free time and money to further develop curriculum, address individual learner needs, enrichment, etc.

Hear, hear!