For over two decades educational critics have commented on the problems of public schooling. Illich (1971), Postman (1973), Goodlad (1983), Papert (1988) and Perelman (1993, 1994) are just a few of the critics of modern day schooling. They argue the traditional schooling model is an ineffective, expensive and perhaps even detrimental way of educating today’s youth. In 1983, Goodlad presented a number of concerns based on the data from his comprehensive survey of American schooling. He spoke about the difficulty of change and stated that data from his survey suggested “a formidable agenda”. He was led to some pessimism by “a great irony”. “Those who still live in the past confidently set the norms for educating those who will live in the future” (p. 19).
Kohl (1976) writing almost twenty years ago in On teaching described the traditional factory model of teaching. “[It] . . . consists of being able to manage a large number of students who are required to master a preset and inflexible curriculum” (p. 29). How is success measured?
. . . most public school administrators judge teachers on their ability to manage students, comply with directives, and avoid major discipline problems. Whether one’s students learn anything or feel good is not relevant. Some students are expected to fail, and most are expected to be bored (Kohl, p. 30).
Kohl’s pessimism was neither misplaced nor misguided. Throughout this decade, the expressions of concern have continued.
In 1990 the editors of the Educational Leadership devoted an entire issue to the topic of restructuring schools.
Visible signs of public education’s ills — low student achievement on international assessments, dropout rates that reach 50 percent in some of the nation’s cities, teacher dissatisfaction, bureaucratization — are even more worrisome, given demographic and economic trends mandating that public schools educate to a higher level of success students who have traditionally presented the most challenges (O’Neil, p. 5).
In that same issue, Al Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote, “The fact is that the most advantaged kids who ever walked the face of the earth aren’t learning very much (p. 11).” The source of the problem, “Continuing to use the traditional methods with 85-90 percent teacher talk does not work for most students (p. 13).”
The Problem of Post-Secondary Schooling
Higher education is also experiencing calls for change. Perelman (1993) in School’s out criticizes the conventional approaches of both public schooling and higher education when he says,
The key to working and prospering in the unfolding new economy of the knowledge age is not education but entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs need to be prolific learners, but their kind of high-profit learning comes from doing, not from attending classes.
Others, while taking a less radical view, agree that higher education is being confounded by information age paradigm shifts. Carol Twigg is vice president of Educom, a Washington, DC-based consortium of colleges and universities seeking to transform education through the use of information technology. She notes that with over 14 million (American) college students, higher education has become a mass phenomenon that “. . . alone simply cannot serve the needs of today’s students: it is too restrictive, it is too expensive, and it is often inappropriate (Twigg, 1994).” In the June 1994 issue of Educational Technology Professors Kemp and McBeath gather further comments on the need for change in higher education. Derek Bok president of Harvard University —
The fact is that colleges work hard to provide new facilities, activities and services, but devote remarkably little time to deliberate efforts aimed at improving student learning.
Ernest Boyer, head of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching —
. . . many of the nation’s colleges are more successful in credentialing than in providing a quality education for their students. It is not that the failure of the undergraduate college is too large, but that the institutional expectations often are too small.
Daniel Seymour, former professor and administrator and now President of Qsystems, a quality-management consulting firm —
We are kidding ourselves if we believe that educating people for the year 2000 is essentially the same as educating them for the year 1975. Everything has changed — technology, lifestyles, cultures. Our educational institutions must change as well.
If technological change and the knowledge explosion have made lifelong learning increasingly necessary, perhaps they also offer a means to help educational institutions meet these needs.
Recent literature reviews (Thomas & Buck, 1994) indicate that public educators are beginning to respond to this new technology and are asking some hard questions about effective innovation in the context of shifting paradigms. What impact are information technology based instructional systems having in their attempts to meet information age learning needs?
While this decade has seen a plethora of computer-based curricula that have attempted to respond to the desire to individualize learning more effectively and efficiently. They have come with an alphabet soup of acronyms: CML stands for computer managed learning, CAL is computer assisted learning, CBE is computer-based education, CAI is computer assisted instruction, CMI is computer managed instruction and ILS is integrated learning system. In 1994 Thomas and Buck studied six electronic instruction systems currently in use with adult learners in the province of British Columbia. The systems, still in use as of this writing, are: Autoskill, the Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC), Jostens’ INVEST, IBM’s PALS, Pathfinder and PLATO. Common to all of these systems is a competency-based curriculum. This typically involves a pre-test, with individual questions tied to specific objectives and outcomes. Each of these is associated with on-line or off-line curriculum resources. Thus if a student fails to meet a set standard on the pre-test, they are directed to textbook, video, audio or software materials related to the outcome they failed to master. Once they have completed this work, a post-test is administered to determine if mastery of the objectives of this section has been achieved. All of the above systems share some common drawbacks. They cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase. Then users are expected to put out thousands of dollars a year to maintain a site license. To lower the initial purchase cost all of the currently marketed systems are unbundling or selling components of the larger system. Unlike the school districts who have purchased millions of dollars of these systems, the college ABE programs, are making limited use of ILS’s. As of late 1994 Pathfinder has sold over sixty systems to British Columbia school districts. The Camosun College Pathfinder system is the only remnant of a three college pilot for the former Ministry of Advanced Education (now Skills, Training and Labour) in 1989. Only two other colleges in the province are making use of ILS’s. The Nelson campus of Selkirk College sold its Pathfinder pilot system and is now using a Jostens’ INVEST. Fraser Valley University College has had a CCC system for some time. Other than the Open Learning Agency which was a reseller of Jostens’ products, there are no other colleges making use of these systems in their ABE programs (Thomas & Buck, 1994).
Thus while public school district adult programs have eagerly adopted the commercial computer-based instructional systems they have not been embraced by British Columbia college ABE programs. Perhaps the reason for this is that these latter programs tend to offer locally developed and customized individualized curricula. All of the commercial systems are programmed by companies who are far removed from the needs of college ABE learners. While many of these systems can be instructor modified to meet individual learning needs, the skill level and time required to do so is beyond most instructors. Thus any instructor who wishes to use a curriculum that meets individual learner needs will experience frustration with these systems. As well, these commercial ILS’s were typically designed with children in mind. The adult learner components were added later. Sound adult learning theory has always required the educator to create a responsive environment that puts the student first and the institution second, concentrating more on the former’s need and less on the latter’s convenience; an environment that encourages a diversity of individual opportunity (Carnegie Commission, 1973). This is not easy to accomplish in computer-based education (CBE). With this behaviourist model of computer-based instruction, the machine is still an idiot-savant, capable of doing some things brilliantly, but only in a specific context with very specific programming.
Despite adult educators’ reservations about these commercial systems, they continue to make their presence felt. One group that is taking advantage of information age educational opportunities is the business community who is now offering Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) in competition for the Adult Basic Education learners. The fastest growing segment of the software business is now the home education market. According to the Software Publishers Association home education software sales for the first three quarters of 1993 were up 46% from the same period in 1992, outpacing all other categories except databases (The Heller Report, 1/94, p. 11). Paramount, the entertainment giant, and who was recently bought out by Viacom, the cable and telecommunications conglomerate has purchased the CCC system. A review of integrated learning systems completed by Thomas & Buck (1994) reported marketers of commercial integrated learning systems are either offering or will shortly offer modularized versions of their products. At the moment pricing of complete systems is still too high to appeal to the average consumer. However with the ‘unbundling’ of these systems into smaller components consumer versions of these systems will surely be in the market place soon. If we take an ILS to its logical extension there is no reason why education could not be delivered more efficiently, practically and economically to homes and private learning centres.
Even greater threats to conventional ABE programs are in the wings. Bill Gates the president of the world largest software company, Microsoft, predicts that by the end of the decade, 50% of his company’s revenues will come from home sales — a ten-fold increase from the current level of activity. (Fortune, p. 101). Telephone and cable companies are also becoming involved in this lucrative market. Nynex announced plans for a $2.8 billion interactive network that could link up to two million homes and businesses in the Northeast by 1996. Nynex joins Pacific Telesis, U S West and Bell Atlantic, which have all announced aggressive plans for interactive networks in their territories. (Wall Street Journal, p. A4). In Canada, Ted Rogers of Cantel and Unitel and Rogers Cablevision is pursuing similar aims. Thus educational institutions, at first slow to respond to this need brought about by changing technology, are now facing corporate and small business competitors eager to meet the needs of this expanding market. In article entitled Multimedia Curriculum Via Cable (1995, February 2), Edupage reports that,
Intel is teaming up with Viacom-owned Computer Curriculum Corporation to deliver multimedia courseware via cable to home PCs. “Our educational multimedia software has produced positive results for more than one million students worldwide. We now plan to deliver this proven individualized learning to the home,” says CCC’s president. Students at home will use Intel’s CablePort Adapter card to access CCC’s products from a local server. CCC’s management system will monitor the user’s responses via the two-way connection, and adapt the instruction as necessary.
Yet the literature in this area expresses some grave concerns how educational technology has been used. Educational computer systems in the past have been less than responsive to learner needs.
. . . we have witnessed dramatic advances in the hardware technology and its capabilities to create rich visual and verbal environments that can be supplemented with databases and support tools unimaginable even ten years ago. However, with but a few exceptions, ID (instructional design) practitioners are using this enormous capacity to design instruction remarkably similar to what was designed in earlier times on more primitive hardware. Drill and practice, simple tutorials, and “information dumps” remain the dominant applications of the new delivery technologies (Gustafson, 1993, p. 28).
There is a fear that Computer Based Learning (CBL) will merely exacerbate present educational inequities (The Computing Teacher, 1983; Sturdivant, 1983). In fact many reviewers of current computer applications tell us they are not “wise” (Rockman, 1983) or even educationally sound (Roblyer, 1983). While some educators, particularly those involved in military training, have had success with the machines’ capabilities for error checking and simulation; all too often they are used simply as expensive drill and practice or page turning machines. At their worst, the machines can play the role of ‘big brother’ in manipulating and controlling the learner.
Can an electronic instructional system be developed to meet the needs of individual adult learners? Other studies of computer-based learning systems and student reaction to them indicate that students do learn with the help of technology, and they find that learning process enjoyable (Alderman, 1978; Boettcher, 1981; Holmes, 1982; Ryba and Chapman, 1983; Bright, 1983; Fahey, 1987). Patrick Fahey of the Alberta Vocational Centre in Edmonton documented a sampling of student feedback about a PLATO computer managed lab. Students found that those CML modules that directed them towards co-operative learning , or print modules, were frequently more helpful and enjoyable than traditional instructor-centred approaches. There was also less stress and more opportunity for questioning and explanation when these computer-based systems encouraged students to learn from their peers or to individually review written materials (p. 13).
How can these systems be constructed to be more helpful? If they follow sound adult learning principles and allow for individual instructor and learner preferences, Patrick Fahey’s analysis concludes that CML systems are beneficial for the learner. Such a system would allow,
. . .learning conditions [to be] intentionally and regularly adjusted to his needs and abilities, even to his wishes! Latitude for variety and student choice exists with CML. It may even be as Bloom (1974, p. 686) has found that when given self-directed opportunities, students “learn how to learn” (Fahey, 1987, pp. 18-19; emphasis Fahey’s).
How can such higher order thinking be incorporated into electronic instructional systems? First consider the role of interaction plays in developing these higher order skills. This author developed thinking skills in the dinner table interaction that constantly went on in his childhood home. How can that kind of personal attention be given to students when instructor/student ratios are increasing? The microcomputer connected to a network of information can be a window on the world, allowing students to access whatever information and/or individuals they want. How do pre-school children learn other than through their experiences? Thanks to emerging world-wide interconnected computer networks, learners can travel at the speed of light to ideas, places and people throughout the world.
Resistance to technological change can be found throughout history. After the invention of the printing press, perhaps people saw books as a way to do away with the elder who had orally passed on information. Will the same happen to today’s teacher? Educational technology has yet to have a major impact on education outside of programming for mathematics and engineering use and more recently word processing. The number of teachers with little or no knowledge of the latter remains high. Yet how much longer can colleges resist this change. Thanks to a change in federal government funding, Camosun like other colleges is facing a ten per cent per year reduction in base funding. Ways must be found to increase instructor productivity if educational institutions are to meet ever increasing demands. Some instructors also wonder about the role of the teacher in a technology facilitated classroom. Does it preclude group work and interpersonal contact? They equate individualization with programmed instruction and correspondence learning. However once instructors experience this new refined role, ” . . . away from that of transmitter and controller of instruction to that of a resource person to self-directed learners (Knowles, 1981, p. 8),” enthusiasm about their new freedom will follow. Educational technology can also be as liberating for the instructor as it is for the learner. Curriculum development is “messy”. Add the demand for a learner-centred, individualized approach and it gets even messier. That’s why some educators are attracted to Integrated Learning Systems. These systems promise even greater facilitation for ‘debugging’ a student’s learning and easing the clerical load of test correcting, filing and the many other tasks associated with an individualized program. This technology promises the instructor greater opportunity and facility to meet with individual students and focus on their needs. Educational technology can contribute to a new order of understanding and life. That will only occur, however, as the power of the machine is put into the hands of the individual instructor and learner. The task of teacher as curriculum developer is to create curricula based on a new relationship between the human mind and the machine. Yet success in accomplishing this task has so far proved elusive.
In a 1990 EPIE study of eight integrated learning systems M. Sherry concluded ILS’s “do not possess the level of learner-adaptiveness and artificial intelligence that education’s yet-to-be-developed computer-assisted learning systems will one day possess” (quoted by Thomas & Buck, p. 86). A truly “integrated system of learning” is not yet a reality.
Next — A Look to the Future