Classroom Strategies for Using Microcomputer Courseware

James D. Spain
1985 The American history teacher  
Because of the emphasis on selection of good computers and good computer software, one might be inclined to think that these are the only ingredients necessary for "good instructional computing." However, there is little doubt that the essential ingredient of any instructional activity continues to be a knowledgeable teacher. All too often, it is assumed that if you have good instructional software, the teacher is somehow redundant. This misconception may result from the belief that computers
more » ... ef that computers are automatic teaching machines. There are even those who still mistakenly believe that they may somehow be replaced by this new technology. I suppose there is the potential that computers may eventually replace some aspects of teaching. But, anyone who has James V. Spain is the director of the Center for Instructional Computing, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197. After graduating in chemistry from Michigan Technological University, he received his M.S. degree in Biochemistry from Virginia Commonwealth University, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University. He has served the past 22 years in the Biological Sciences Department at Michigan Tech, six years as its department head. Recently, he has directed the SUMIT Courseware Development Existing instructional programs are still missing several key features that a teacher must provide. In this respect, they are not unlike textbooks. For example, microcomputer programs cannot fully anticipate the nature of the students who use them. Students' backgrounds are simply too diverse. Only the teacher knows how much the students already know about a given subject. Only the teacher knows their special interests and needs. Only the teacher can provide the sympathy and understanding some students need when approaching a new and challenging topic. In addition, a computer program cannot possibly anticipate the instructional objectives of all the courses in which it might be used. Only the teacher knows how the course objectives fit with the program objectives and how a particular program would relate to the other material being employed. In my experience most instructional programs, including those that I have authored, are still deficient in one way or another. Often educational objectives are not clearly defined, and if they are, they may not be fully met. In many cases, opportunities for explaining key topics are completely missed. For example, many programs don't take full advantage of the graphics capabilities that the microcomputer offers. Thus, in most cases, there is an opportunity for the teacher to augment the courseware in many ways. Usually, a program is designed with a particular use in mind. Often it is designed to complement other aspects of a lecture or laboratory that the author uses. When such a program is employed by someone else, in the absence of these complementary forms of instruction, it clearly won't be as effective. The dependence of a particular program on other teaching modes usually goes unrecognized by a new user of the program, who, as a result, may view the program as inadequate or flawed. Although many programs have evolved through several years of development and evaluation, they can still fall short of what a given teacher wants or expects. This results primarily from the fact that all teachers have a different idea of what is really important and how to teach it. This is to be expected, as diversity is one of the strengths of our educational system. However, this fact needs to be recognized when using instructional software. It is no different from a book in this respect. Few teachers expect a textbook to carry the whole responsibility for teaching a course. We all provide lectures, labs and other instructional aids to complement the textbook in an integrated instructional system. In the same way, a computer program can become an important component of the instructional system, but only if it is integrated into the system like any other component. Thus, it is the teacher's role to place the computer program in its proper instructional context. It is up to the teacher to place what may be an educational pearl or diamond in its proper setting. To accomplish this, the instructor needs to decide upon an instructional strategy. There are four major instructional strategies that may be used for incorporating computer use into the classroom or laboratory. Let us now look at the advantages and disadvantages of each. Enrichment of Individual Students Often computer programs are used to provide enrichment for students who have completed their regular work. This approach has the advantage that it can be used when there are too few computers for the whole class. It also requires little teacher preparation. Often, a student can be used in this way to evaluate courseware that the teacher has not had time to review. A disadvantage of this strategy is that only the bright students will benefit. The students who really need the help are the last to get it. Also, if the computer program is considered as an enrichment, it is not contributing to the overall educational objectives of the class. This strategy 120
doi:10.2307/4447984 fatcat:be7y2kadmbg4tgziv4tx7scwhy