Computer - Assisted Instruction in the classroom

Current high school social studies educators employ a wide variety of teaching methods; however, instructors usually choose a single method and plan their lessons with a solitary teaching strategy in mind. Many instructors prefer the traditional grid seat lecture type strategy relying heavily upon the black board or overhead projector. Others prefer to confine their students to strict text instruction with supplementary outside reading. Those who employ cooperative learning rely on the interaction of the heterogeneous group to reach their objectives. Only a courageous handful have dared to depart from traditional teaching strategies to employ a method of instruction popularly known as CAI or computer assisted instruction. Massialas and Papagiannis (1987) have done extensive research with the LOGO programming language and have determined that students may become more interested in learning if given the opportunity to receive CAI. Because CAI enhances student learning, it should be incorporated into the social studies classroom as an alternative teaching strategy.
CAI has been a very controversial issue and has had staunch proponents and critics. Consequently, implementation into the classroom, regardless of the discipline, has been minimal and frequently discouraged. Several factors have created this situation. First, teachers themselves are often reluctant to incorporate innovative or unfamiliar strategies into their repertoire. Schug (1988) interviewed representatives from six high schools in a midwestern urban district. He found teachers to be curious yet apprehensive when asked about the future use of microcomputers and CAI in the classroom. "Some teachers are very reluctant to change their style. They don't want to change. They found what worked for them in 1970, and they are not going to change now." (114). Although some teachers are more comfortable using traditional strategies, some of their resistance to change is caused by the lack of professional development and training. "Research indicates that few teachers are given substantial information before computer assisted curricula are implemented. Often, only one or two teachers are "resident experts." Because of this, most teachers have to rely on prepackaged material, existing software, and especially purchased material." (Apple, 48-49). Dependence upon prepackaged software leads to less creativity on the part of the inexperienced CAI instructor. To maximize the impact of CAI, the instructor must possess the ability to design and develop database templates which are pertinent to the objectives of that particular unit. Until teachers develop confidence and expertise, CAI shall remain untested and untried, the strategy that could have revolutionized education.
Another issue which prohibits the assimilation of CAI into the classroom is cost. Developed at the onset of the computer age, CAI has only recently become an affordable alternative to traditional teaching strategies. Prior to the invention of the microcomputer, computer enthusiasts were limited by the size and the cost of earlier computing units. However, with the advent of the microcomputer the doors to previously untapped social science resources have burst open. Papert (1980) "had the good fortune to work with a group of colleagues and students at MIT . . . to create environments in which children can learn to communicate with computers." (8) Although Papert's research advocated the inclusion of computer assisted instruction, many districts do not have the resources to develop large scale computer labs. In a time when districts are facing fiscal duress, CAI is not a top priority.
A third concern related to cost of this technology is that microcomputers will create even more special and academic inequity. Obviously, affluent private and public schools will have more resources to acquire computer technology. Consequently. students in inner city, rural, or poor areas who do not have equal access will have inferior technological skills when entering the work world. "Many of the jobs and institutions of higher education they will be applying for will either ask for or assume "computer skills" as keys of entry or advancement." (Apple, 50). Critics of CAI argue that wealth not material ability will determine who will obtain the most desirable and lucrative positions.
Perhaps the biggest deterrent to the utilization of CAI in the classroom is the perceived loss of student - teacher interaction. Teachers fear that their instructional responsibilities will be shifted to a computer and that they will no longer be needed. In addition, others fear that the personal relationship between students and teachers will degenerate and disappear. Eckerson feels that the trend toward CAI may have an overall negative impact on education by removing a necessary human element. He further contends that "given the prevalence of television, video, and the 'walkman', I would opt for classrooms as havens for human interactions. (67)
In spite of all the dissenting opinions and fears concerning CAI, proponents emphasize both the necessity and advantages of assimilating these instructional tools into the classroom. Terrel H. Bell, former Secretary of Education, stated, "Our current teaching practices are alarmingly outdated in a world of technological wonders. We have refused to furnish our students and teachers with the same powerful electronic tools that have dramatically revolutionized the productivity of virtually all other aspects of American Industry. Technologically, American education is wobbling down Electronic Avenue in an oxcart." (Bell and Elmquist, 22) This powerful statement summarizes the points listed in A Nation At Risk. This 1984 Department of Education report indicated that the present educational system required major restructuring. Further, this document stated that changes must not only occur in what is learned but how it is learned as well. Traditional teaching methodology alone have failed to maximize their potential. Students bombarded with technology outside of the classroom find the educational environment devoid of technological stimuli. A Nation At Risk further stipulated that adjustments had to be made by educators to accommodate, even cater, to the instructional needs of all students. Recent technology has enabled educators to engage and instruct all students with one type of CAI known as interactive video.
Interactive video combines both picture and sound in a strategic manner to create an especially effective learning environment. While interactive video is relatively new technology, the Martorella suggests that these new developments may replace the slide, overhead, and film projector. By utilizing modern computer and video technology, teachers are able to create lessons which present themselves. A MacIntosh computer coupled to a laser disc machine or video cassette recorder provides the basis for lessons limited only by the imagination of the creator. New lessons may be developed from previous ones via computer software and video tape reproduction. While the primary drawback of interactive video is the cost of equipment and materials, the author contends that such developments may prove to be invaluable in providing a challenging, interesting and entertaining learning environment. This technology is currently being tested in San Francisco at Lowell High School.
Unlimited access to information is another advantage of using computer assisted technology. Instead of being limited primarily to textbooks, blackboards, and lectures, technology could provide information in a more efficient, rapid, and manageable manner. For example, all the information in a 24 volume encyclopedia can be stored on a single compact laser disk. ( Bell and Elmquist, 22) The knowledge and wisdom of the greatest minds of this age could be secured, condensed, and stored in a similar fashion. Students would not learn through secondary or tertiary sources but from the experts directly. This information network need not be confined to laser disk storage technology. Communication with other schools, states or even countries becomes possible via telecommunication networks. Other views, opinions and cultures would be received not from books but from people around the nation and across the world. This technology would afford students the opportunity to study different cultures directly. Pupils could develop their own opinions of other lifestyles through conversation and computer mailbox. Learning would take place via experience and discovery.
"Technological tools will transmit information to students, motivate them, stimulate them to learn new information, allow them to self evaluate and provide a non-threatening environment that will enhance their creativity." (Bell and Elmquist, 23) The preceding statement is one of the most compelling reasons why computer assisted instruction should be incorporated into the classroom. Presently, all students are presented the same material, in the same way, and at the same pace. Little flexibility is allowed for individual learning styles and learning rates. Teachers responsible for the academic and social progress of 25 to 30 students have limited time to vary instructional strategy or content to meet the needs of individual students. Teachers need to provide a variety of lessons, strategies, and pacing simultaneously. Unassisted, a teacher can not accomplish what is most needed to facilitate student learning. CAI can provide the needed help. Researchers Brooks and Perl cite the ideas of Buckminster Fuller. Fuller believed that the answer to better educating students could be found by capturing knowledge and wisdom on videotape and computer disk. It was his contention that this information could then be dispersed to students, allowing each to master the material at his/her own pace. Consequently, the level of instruction that each student would be receiving would therefore be the best that America had to offer. In addition, CAI will coerce the student to become actively engaged in the learning. Students would be required to read and follow directions, would have to problem solve, would have to develop critical thinking skills, and would have to make decisions based on the interpretation of the information provided. Students would receive positive reinforcement directly on answering questions correctly or would receive hints to enable them to find the correct answer. Students' self esteem would increase as mastery of the content increased, creating a more positive educational environment for the learner Furthermore, CAI involves several teaching strategies including visual, auditory, written, and simulated experiential activities. Appealing to several sensory receptors increases a student's ability to assimilate the material.
A final reason for adoption of CAI into the classroom is to better prepare the student to enter into a very competitive and computer oriented work world. "Most every business person agrees that the educational system in this country is not producing acceptable results and that America's ability to compete equally with the Pacific Rim and European countries is seriously endangered." (Brooks and Perl, 84) Brooks and Perl use this statement to summarize the views of the business sector on education. Further, they state that there must be a change in present teaching strategies for America to compete in the world market. These changes must occur in the form of the implementation of interactive technology into the classroom. Brooks and Perl contend that students would be more motivated to learn using this form of instruction than with conventional methods because of the unique way that the material was conveyed. "Incorporating high-quality video and sound along with the textual material, these discs have received outstanding student acceptance, due to increased attention span, rate of learning, and retention that they produce." (Brooks and Perl, 85). CAI would not only provide an alternative highly effective teaching strategy but would also better prepare students for the work world. In a society where computers control a majority of business and industrial functions, students can ill afford to be computer illiterate.
The benefits of utilizing microcomputers in the classroom environment have been enumerated. Of particular interest is the utilization of computer assisted instruction in the social studies classroom. According to Flouris, "The major types of or categories of computer-assisted instructional programs in the various disciplines, including the social studies, consists mainly of drill and practice, tutorial, simulations, and games." (Flouris, 17) Each type is designed to accomplish a certain task. For example, the drill and practice software is utilized to pose questions, solicit a response and provide feedback. This strategy was based upon the premise repetition enables the student to master the material. Although the repetition does enable some students to learn the material, students often become disinterested and bored. More innovative, interesting, and challenging are simulations and games. Two exceptional CAI programs are The Vietnam War, an Apple MacIntosh hypercard application and Simcity, a city generation simulation. The Vietnam War is a good example of what Charles White describes as interactive multimedia . . . "the marriage of text, audio, and visual data within a single information delivery system." (White, 68) The program allows students and instructors to review facts, figures, and quotes about the conflict. Most are crossreferenced with an opportunity to back track at any point. Included are pictorial representations depicting maps and graphs. Auditory and textual signals provide extra incentive for the reader to continue to study. Reading about, hearing about, and seeing the people, places, and events involved in the Vietnam War enables the learner to grasp the reality, horror, and issues of the conflict in a very graphic way.Simcity,on the other hand, is a simulation which provides the operator with direct control over the destiny of the city. For example, the operator may choose to repair a city involved in a national disaster or may create an independent city. The success or failure of operator's city is directly related to wisdom of the decisions selected. If the operator chooses wisely, that person continues as mayor of the city. If that individual chooses unwisely, the operator is promptly ousted from office by the disgruntled citizens. While relatively innocuous in appearance and name, the simulation challenges all who participate to fully utilize the many maps, charts, and graphs which provide important information, important, at least, if the operator wishes to continue the simulation. CAI is a valuable instructional strategy that should be incorporated into the social studies classroom. Both disadvantages and advantages have been addressed, but the benefits that can be derived from CAI cannot be ignored. Accommodating individual learning styles, enabling students to store, retrieve, and manipulate limitless information, increasing student learning and motivation, and bridging the technological gap between the educational and work environments are desirable and worthy outcomes. However, CAI is not a cure-all for all ills in education. It is not as many people fear, a substitute for a teacher. It cannot think or feel or care. While it may be able to capture and hold the attention of the interested student, it cannot provide individualized guidance or insight .To be effective, it must be complemented with other traditional and innovative strategies. CAI is a work in progress and more needs to be done to improve delivery, content, and assessment. However, Larry Cuban (1986) documents the pattern that usually characterizes innovation, in general, and technology in education, specifically. "He points out that there is usually an initial optimism and enthusiasm, followed by sober reassessment, and then modest implementation." (49) Only when veteran instructors are willing to explore, accept, and evaluate new and innovative teaching strategies like CAI will the educational environment for learners change appreciably for the better.

Resources Consulted


Cuban, Larry. (1986) Teachers and Machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York: Teachers College Press.

The author explores the ways in which technology has been incorporated into the classroom setting. The relative merits and disadvantages are explored and discussed.

Papert, Seymour. (1980). Mindstorms children, computers, and powerful ideas. New York: Basic Books.

A forerunner in the area of computer-assisted instruction, the author offers many innovative ideas in the adoption of computer-assisted technology. The implications for mathematics is discussed in depth.


Bell, Terrel H. and Elmquist, Donna L. (1992). "Technical interaction in the classroom." The Vocational Education Journal, 67, 22-25.

The former Secretary of Education and associate offer a variety of suggestions of how and why computer-assisted instruction should be implemented in all classrooms. Included is a brief overview on how the role of teachers would be modified.


Apple, Michael W. (1992) "Computers in schools: salvation or social disaster?" Education Digest, 57, 47-53.

The author offers a critical review of the drawbacks of computer-assisted instruction. The lessened role of instructors as well as gender, racial, and socioeconomic implications are explored.

Brooks, Robert and Perl, Barry. (1990). "Interactive technology for education." Business Week, 3191, s84-87.

Concerned business executives address the need for a change in present educational goals and objectives. They further offer suggestions on how the role of interactive technology could dramatically improve the present status of education.

Eckerson, John D. (1986). "Computer-Assisted Instruction and the social studies." The Clearing House, 60, 65-67.

"Much Ado About Nothing" is an appropriate subtitle for this critical review of computer-assisted technology. The author contends that, while the adoption of the microcomputer into the classroom may prove novel, present applications are sorely limited.

Flouris, George. (1987). "Developing appropriate designs for instructional computer programs in the social studies." The Social Studies, 78, 17-22.

Present and future uses of computer-assisted instruction are addressed and explored. The research of other interested pioneers is reviewed and and evaluated.

Martorella, Peter H. (1991). "Harnessing new technologies to the social studies curriculum." Social Education, 55, 55-57.

The development and implementation of interactive video in education is defined and discussed. The use and probable utility in modern society is addressed as well.

Massialas, Byron G. & Papagiannis, George J. (1987). "Toward a critical review of computers in education: implications for social studies." The Social Studies, 78, 47-53.

The research of interested pioneers in the field of computer-assisted instruction is reviewed and evaluated. Present and future uses of computer technology in the classroom are addressed and explored.

Schug, Mark. (1988). "What do social studies teachers say about using computers?". The Social Studies, 79, 112-115.

The author offers an elaborate discussion on attitudes of present social studies instructors in using microcomputers in their classrooms. Also addressed is the availability of computer-assisted technology in present schools.

White, Charles E. (1990). "Interactive multimedia for social studies: A review of In the Holy Land and The '88 Vote." Social Education, 54, 68-70.

Several examples of available interactive multimedia are offered and reviewed. The appropriateness of scholastic application and overall quality of In the Holy Land and The '88 Vote are discussed.

Michael Molino
EDU 6000
Dr. Sensel

Please feel free to use this paper for educational purposes. All other uses are prohibited without the expressed permission of the author.