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
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
"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.