The Promise of Instructional Technology
Kenneth A. Polcyn, Ph.D.
Senior Consultant, © 2004, Deva Industries, Inc.
Instructional Technology has been with us for three or four decades. There is Computer Based Learning, Computer Managed Instruction, Simulation Learning and a lot more enhanced by Distance Learning via the Internet and satellite delivery. The research and practical applications of the technology has demonstrated its worth years ago. So what are the obstacles? Where does Instructional Technology stand today in fulfilling the promise of better education for all children of the United States? Where has it been deployed by whom and for what? What new educational system is evolving?
A brief look back at the Instructional (Educational) Technology literature of the 70’s finds a remarkable similarity with topics of the 90’s and today, whether research, technology applications per se, teacher role or others. For example, some titles in the July, 1972 and April, 1973 issues of Educational Technology magazine included: “Some Detours and Alternative Routes Leading to Large-Scale Exemplary Uses of CAI”, (Abramson and Weiner, 1972); “An Overview of Computer Managed Instruction”, (Finch, 1972); “Technology in a Proficiency Based Teacher Education Program”, (Edwards, 1973); “An Adaptive Model for Utilizing Learner Characteristics in Computer Based Instructional Systems”, (McCombs, Eschenbrenner, and O’Neil, 1973); and “Telecommunications in Education”, (Ghatala and Wedemeyer, 1973).
Also from a Distance Learning perspective, during the 70’s several Institutions of Higher Education such as Stanford University, University of Wisconsin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Washington University St. Louis, Pennsylvania State University and University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio among others, were deeply involved in research supported by NASA, USAID and others. Focus was on remote areas of the United States such as the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain states, along with Alaska and Hawaii as well as Pacific island nations plus India and Brazil, (Papay and Polcyn, 1973).
A 1991 study summarized the research associated with the use of computers and other technology for the 70’s, 80’s and 1990 timeframe concluding these technologies produce higher learning achievements for the spectrum of content and student abilities than traditional instruction alone; however, it made clear disappointing results would occur when individuals and institutions resist the integration of technology into the educational system, (Cotton, 1991).
All of the above and many other projects during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s affirmed the potential and practical applications of the computer, telecommunications and related technologies for enhancing education and training in our school systems as well as companies and other institutions including the U.S. Military. But there were, and still are those who are skeptical. For example, it has been argued that computers are incompatible with the requirements of teaching (Becker, 2000); and, teachers can’t yet say whether technology actually helps kids achieve educational goals (Chaika, 1999).
Bringing the promise of Instructional Technology to fruition in K-12 and elsewhere has been a process slowed by culture, politics, cost, lack of knowledge, lack of administrator or teacher training, lack of planning as well as technology related issues. During the early years, the introduction of computer technology into the classroom was a novelty. There was no planning and little or no understanding of the impact on the educational environment per se, or awareness of the other technologies that were soon to follow.
Obtaining the technology nationwide was a top priority. It has been estimated that several billions of dollars have been spent bringing it to the schools of America (Trotter, 1998). The public in general was and is supportive of computers in schools as they watched computers become a major tool in the workplace, and want their children to be prepared. Of course, how to use a computer to enhance learning was a question mark, since there was limited knowledge of computers per se and their usage, limited number of computers in the classroom or elsewhere and limited software.
In the beginning, and even in some cases today, “computers” also have placed a burden on the teacher, not only being unable to figure out how to use them, but also addressing many hardware and software problems. Technical support was, and in some cases still is limited. Computer distribution was typically between classrooms, computer labs, libraries or media centers. In the early years the student to computer ratio, if you were lucky, was perhaps one computer per classroom. In some cases it was one computer per school. From the beginning teachers have been faced with computer challenges.
Students using stand alone computers was one thing, networking them was quite another, creating software and hardware problems, crashes, lockups and lockouts restricting the use of equipment. Then came the Internet bringing additional frustrations including hardware and software obsolescence and the necessity for upgraded or new technologies and software for integration. As a result an additional investment of billions of dollars was required creating uncertainty about priorities, funding and the promise of technology. Interestingly, in many cases those who designed the networks and set up the computers never taught a class and knew little if anything about student learning, let alone know how to equip a classroom, arrange it for optimal learning, etc. (McKenzie, 1998). Of course in the beginning teachers did not even know themselves.
Content for the computers, there was not much. The question was…What do we want the computer to do? In the late 60’s and early 70’s the software was experimental with emphasis on Drill and Practice. Universities such as Florida State had some projects funded by the federal government to create educational programs exploring concepts like Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) and Computer Managed Instruction (CMI). During that period companies came into existence to develop software. Few of these exist today. Plato has been one of the survivors.
The impetus for the technology moving into school systems during the 90’s resulted from federal government initiatives. But the genesis was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESRA) enacted in 1965 to provide guidance and funds to public schools for improving education for all students. Later, many government agencies launched various programs including technology efforts to enhance the educational systems. The 1996 Telecommunications Act created the E-rate program with discounts ranging from 20 to 90 percent of costs, to provide assistance to schools and libraries for: telecommunications services including Internet access and internal connections, but not for computers, telephones, etc. It also included a requirement for recipients to create a Technology Plan to lay out how the technology will be used to enhance education for meeting learning objective(s). (Universal Services Administrative Company, School and Libraries Division, Federal Communications Commission, 2003).
The Technology Plan requires:
In FY 97 the U.S. Department of Education created the Technology Literacy Challenge Fund initiatives to compliment the latter with a five-year, $2 billion program to provide formula grants to support grassroots efforts at the state and local level. Funding was provided to meet four national technology goals for K-12 schools: 1) modern computers, 2) high quality educational software, 3) trained teachers and 4) affordable connections to the Internet (Resource Guide to Federal Funding for Technology in Education, 1998).
But the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 added the requirement that scientifically based standards be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of educational technology, requiring the educational community to invest in research to better guide the investment in technology for teaching and learning, (Bailey, 2004). Also there are penalties for schools (receiving funding) not meeting standards, such as students in low performing schools can transfer to other schools.
The E-rate program brought requirements states and schools systems were unable to meet, necessitating the reliance on contractors for assistance. While the program has been helpful in bringing services to schools, it has also brought companies that took advantage of school systems through fraud, abuse and waste, resulting in audits, investigations and convictions in several cases, (Trotter, 2004).
The NCLB Act of 2001 has had its controversy. There are those who maintain the Act is an unfunded mandate, thus being the financial responsibility of the states. But a GAO analysis maintains NCLB is based on the condition that those who participate receive federal aid, (Hoff, 2004). However, while federal spending has increased by 37.5 percent since 2000-01, critics maintain it has not covered new imposed school requirements, (Hoff, 2004). Some states are waiting until all related legislative requirement deadlines become active before deciding, (Hoff, 2004).
The NEA, like the teachers unions, has taken a stance that the NCLB Act of 2001 has created barriers to helping students and strengthening school systems, (NEA, 2004):
§ Focus is on punishment rather than assistance
§ Mandates rather than support for effective programs, and
§ Looks to privatization rather than teacher-led, family oriented solutions.
Nevertheless, the NEA is committed to the goals of legislation…high standards and expectations for all children, (NEA, 2004).
Access: Looking at recent student access numbers, the national average is about 8 students per instructional computer located in the classroom, with South Dakota having the lowest with about 3.5 and Utah with the highest with a little over 13 students per computer; computer laboratories see the national average jump to 12.6 and libraries/media up to 57; while high-poverty schools lag behind, they are catching up quickly having 89 percent classrooms computer access versus 92 percent for the nation as a whole, (Park and Staresina, 2004).
Networking: Some school districts are still in the process of networking for instructional and administrative purposes, as well as upgrading hardware and software. As of 1999 much of the technology was from an earlier generation with less processing power, storage capability and limited capability for linking together electronically; most computers did not have the capability to run a large variety of multimedia software and limited in accessing graphical information on the Internet (Smerdon, et. al. 2000). Forty-eight percent of instructional computers are using more recent operating software such as Windows 98 or 2000 (Park and Staresina, May 6, 2004). While 99 percent of all schools have Internet access, from a classroom perspective only 92 percent have access (Park and Staresina, 2004). A trend has been to speed up access by using broadband, wireless connections (Kleiner, 2003). While there are 8.4 students per Internet connected classroom computer, just a little over 74 percent of all schools are using the Internet for instruction, but smaller schools tend to use it more; for example, schools with less than 100 students, 83.5 percent use the Internet for instruction (Park and Staresina, 2004).
Virtual/Cyber: Addressing another concept, technology as a supportive learning tool is growing in such areas as Virtual/Cyber Schools, providing opportunities for students to take courses on line/computer based. Twenty-eight states have established such schools during the late 90’s, (Park and Staresina, 2004). These school systems buy course content from online-curriculum providers. The teachers modify and place the content on their own Web sites. Teachers use various techniques, but some attribute their stronger relationships with students and family to frequent e-mail communication (Blair, 2002). Florida has the largest state financed Virtual School in the U.S. While not a diploma granting entity, the school has the status of other Florida school districts, and is the first Virtual School accredited by CITA that has national and international academic standards for distant learning education programs, (Doherty, 2002). Fifty-five percent of the students taking courses are from public schools and 37 percent from those being home schooled, (Doherty, 2002). Interestingly, many concepts on computer/Internet usage expounded for years by Dr. Fredrick Bennett are being put into practice, (Bennett, 1999).
Distance Learning: Related to the above, distance learning via satellite or Internet is very much a part of educational technology. Delivering technological infrastructure for Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming is critical, because students in small towns and rural areas make up a third or more of U.S. public school K-12 school population, (McCrabe, 2004). There are considerable financial, personnel and operational challenges, among other factors, contributing to the struggles facing rural communities. Therefore, the federal government has tried to provide increased attention and policy considerations because of their struggle, wrestling with state funding formulas favoring larger, wealthier districts. The government has attempted to offset the disparities with NCLB, (McCabe, 2004). This is of particular importance given the Small Business Administration efforts to launch programs to stimulate job growth and business in rural areas, increasing the amount of capital available for investment, (Investors Business Daily, June 14, 2004).
Technical Support Systems: So who provides the technical support? There is considerable variation across schools and minority size. As of the Fall 2002, 38 percent of schools had a full-time technology director/coordinator; for 29 percent there was school district technical staff to support the schools; 18 percent had a teacher or other school staff responsible; 11 percent had a part-time technology director/coordinator; 3 percent had a consultant or outside contractor; 4 percent a teacher or other staff as volunteers or other arrangements, ( Kleiner & Lewis, 2003). Nevertheless, computer, Internet, software disruptions continue to interfere with the educational process.
While there has been increasing access to technology in the classroom, apart from the use of the Internet, the general use of computers for education has not increased as imagined, (Skinner, 2002). A 2002-2003 survey discovered only 58 percent of schools had teachers using the computer for planning/teaching; that number fell to 47 and 44 percent for high-poverty and high-minority schools, (Park and Staresina, 2004).
The frequent use of the computers occurs usually in four areas: computer education, business and vocational education, exploratory uses in elementary schools and word processing, (Becker, 2000). The highest rate of use by secondary education teachers is for English; just one out of six science teachers, one out of eight social studies teachers and one out of nine math teachers use computers during class, (Becker, 2000).
There are several structural inhibitors to technology use. Structural inhibitors are those modus operandi of the federal government, state, school district or school that stand in the way of truly integrating educational technology, (Becker, 2000). Some examples:
From the beginning teachers have had to adapt to the technology insertion as best they could, learning as they go. Professional development has been slow in coming, and when it arrived little training treated ways to integrate technology into the everyday learning activities of the classroom; through the late 90’s professional development had been considered the key inhibitor with the primary focus on teacher technology training rather than learning technology training, (Zehr, 1997). Further, in the past only a fraction, 2-3 percent, of the technology budgets have gone to teacher technology integration training, (Zehr, 1997). While the NCLB Act mandates that states receiving funding must spend 25 percent for professional development, a study comparing the year 2001 spending for teacher technology integration training with 2000 saw the numbers dropping by 3 percent; the overwhelming amount of funding, or approximately 86 percent went to hardware and software, (Skinner, 2002).
National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS) were released in June 2000. Organizations such as Educational Regional Laboratories and State Departments of Education and others helped create the standards. Its purpose is; “to develop national standards for educational uses of technology that facilitate school improvement in the United States”, with specific performance standards and indicators for all teachers. Including, (ISTE NETS, 2000-2004):
Adaptation from a teacher perspective, as of May 2004, 34 states have adopted the standards; 3 have referenced at least one standard in the state technology plan; the remainder had not taken a position, (ISTE NETS, 2000-2004). However, ‘adopting’ is one thing ‘implementing’ is quite another.
In the classroom, for example, the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress study found that although 72 percent of 4th grade teachers used computers for math instruction, the majority used them for drill and practice or math games. Few used them for higher order thinking learning tasks, (Park and Staresina, 2004). Further, Market Data Retrieval, a research firm, found that only 58 percent of schools administrators or teachers used computers daily for planning or teaching, (Park and Staresina, 2004).
An interesting point is that teachers who are more inclined to be comfortable with computers are younger, less experienced having grown up with the technology in their lives, (Alexander, et. al., 1998). Obviously, teachers who have been in the business of teaching for a number of years with less direct experience with the technologies are less inclined to warm to the usages. So what else is new? This has been occurring for generations as we’ve transitioned from the old to the new. However, the stimulus for learning and integrating the older generation teaching activities with new technologies should be the emphasis of continuous professional development at the school, district and state levels, treating all components of educational technology as instruments for learning, (Alexander, et. al., 1998).
Another problem facing education is the shortage of qualified teachers. Many of the characteristics/traits of a good teacher cannot be easily measured, and studies about important traits are often inconclusive or contradictory, particularly when it comes to the place and use of technology for learning, (Olson, 2003). Nevertheless, the NCLB Act requires by the 2005-06 school year that states ensure all teachers of core academic subjects are “highly qualified”. Meeting the ACT standards plus the demands of continuing to integrate technology into the classroom, as well as conclusively measuring the teacher-technology relationships and learning relationships, is an awesome challenge.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education adopted a training technology requirement effective 2000 to encourage colleges of education to address the issue, (Zehr, 1998). However, the overall effect remains to be seen since institutions of higher learning have tended to be slow to change relative to the demands. In a survey, only 10 percent of the teachers reported that colleges of education (undergraduate or graduate), to a large extent prepared them to use technology to include integration of technology into the curriculum and classroom instruction; 15 percent said to a moderate extent and 26 percent reported to a small extent, (Smerdon, et al, 2000).
“The True Promise of Instructional Technology” appears to be in limbo after three decades and several trillion dollars being spent on our school systems. Many studies have been conducted to determine the merits for educating children in K-12, but the results are mixed. While some say technology enhances learning, others say there are too many variables and interrelationships among student types, subject matter, types of technology and so on, for which we have no solid evidence of related learning outcomes. The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists has stated, “While the U.S. Educational enterprise is among the best in the world, the variances in results and access are far too great; median results are too low and the bottom end of the performance curve is also much too low,” (Howell, 2002). And, the Education Week’s 2004 Report commented, “States still have a long way to go in integrating technology into the curriculum and instruction”, (Park and Staresina, 2004).
To obtain hard evidence of the merits of educational technology, the U.S. Department of Education is investing over $56 million to study and document the conditions and practices under which technology is used and its impact on student performance (Bailey, 2004). Nevertheless, keep in mind our 50 states are responsible for the education of its citizens, resulting in interpretations and variations of the implementations of federal ‘guidelines’. There are as many interpretations as there are states, schools districts and schools. By our vary structure, there is inconsistency in interpenetration and implementation.
The technology works. The human understanding, interpretation and integration aspect is flawed! The educational system is outdated and not cost-effective needing to be recreated rethinking purpose, structure and roles of all entities, reflecting a new model. Needed are technology based learning environments, with less bureaucracy—administrators and teachers. Focus should be on the educators who are trained as conductors of the symphony orchestra comprised of technology and learners maximizing learning, as a true conductor orchestrates instruments and players to create the desired music and enjoyment. The genesis of this new system is the Virtual/Cyber movement. It may take many years but we must change. We are being challenged by the world!
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Dr. Polcyn’s degrees include A.B. Political Science/History, Lycoming College; M.A.T. Government/Teaching, Rollins College; Ph. D. Education/Technology, Florida State University. He has taught/coached in the public schools and was an instructor at the university level. Ken has worked in the private sector for over 30 years with assignments in Asia, Central and South America and Europe.
In the 70’s, while with the Academy for Educational Development, Inc., Ken conducted research into the potential uses of communication satellite technology for education and training in the U.S. and developing countries, resulting in the book, An Educator’s Guide To Communication Satellite Technology. In the early years of Distance Learning he worked with: the Brazilian Government through USAID and NASA, making recommendations for delivery of educational programming to remote sites; the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio redesigning an experiment for delivering continuing Health Education at U.S. remote locations for doctors, nurses and other types of medical personnel; the U.S. Bureau of Prisons exploring the uses of satellites for providing quality education and training for youthful offenders throughout the prison system; and DARPA conducting research addressing military personnel continuing education and training at remote sites, including ships.
For 15 years Ken was President/CEO at Communications Technology Applications, Inc., A national Organizational Development business. The company, among other projects, created computer based education/training programs for the U.S. Military including Fort Knox; also designed and developed audio/video education/training programs for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) supported agencies. For the past 14 years Ken has been a Senior Consultant to Deva Industries, Inc. providing OD consulting services to the Outsourcing Industry. His recent book, Outsourcing: PEO to HRO Operational Issues, was released March 2004. Ken is the author of 200 articles and presentations.