By Dr. Sylvia Charp Editor-in Chief Software applications and integrating courseware into the curriculum remain ongoing concerns of educators. This was evident by the number of sessions dealing with these topics and on the exhibit floor of the National Education Computing Conference (NECC '95) "Emerging Technologies," held in Baltimore in June. Of the approximately 250 companies exhibiting, over 100 presented courseware; many showed interesting combinations of text, film, video, musical scores, animation sequences and illustrations. We have overcome the primitive presentations of previous software. The variety of products useful in teaching and learning is overwhelming. A large amount of software is designed to support and enhance teacher presentations, appealing to a wide range of learning styles. The number of management programs stressing accountability and student performance has also increased. Based on personal observations and comments by attendees, the following are some general statements. Exciting products are available and need to be examined in depth. At NECC this is really not possible, but an overview is valuable. Programs that score, evaluate and monitor student progress are desirable. Tutorials should include pre-assessment, diagnosis and evidence of mastery. Applications that include teacher guides and worksheets provide valuable assistance to teachers. Educational software that engages students in ways similar to computer games is motivating. Software that enables users to navigate the World Wide Web is in demand. Vendors need to ensure ongoing support. Opportunities for group involvement enhance the value of software. Provision for learner control of contexts and adjustment to their needs is essential. Use of multiple examples in a variety of presentation modes is required. How do we choose? Software should be tested with students and teachers. Software Development Initiatives A great deal of federal, private and corporate monies has been, and continues to be, invested in software development. For example, in a recent grant program, IBM is providing 10 sites with grants of $2 million each over a three- to five-year period. Dallas Public Schools, one of five sites already selected, will work with IBM to "create the first-ever, interdisciplinary math/science software." Dallas has instituted high school graduation requirements to include four years of mathematics and four years of science. This IBM grant program, titled "Reinventing Education," aims to improve student performance through innovative uses of technology in entire school systems, not just individual schools. A Title I Survey conducted by Education Turnkey Systems, Inc. focusing on Title I programs in large school districts states "as expected, reading, language arts and mathematics will continue to be the content areas receiving the greatest attention... The growth in secondary school programs is likely to result in considerably more emphasis on career explorations, guidance and job preparation." At the university level, though more personnel use software in their teaching, development of modules by professors for individual use has shown little growth. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons, including (1) the large amounts of monies previously available for software development from both public and private sectors has decreased; (2) campuses have reduced institutional support for developmental programs; and (3) recognition of university faculty who develop material is often non-existent. Publishers do provide multimedia software that can be readily adapted by faculty. However, a large number of university teaching staff are not interested in using off-the-shelf instructional material; there is more of the "not-invented here" attitude than found in K-12 education. It is anticipated as more multimedia materials become available and are carefully evaluated, their utilization will increase. Project Synergy Offers Recommendations A report on an interesting project has recently been released (May, 1995). Project Synergy - "Software Support for Underprepared Students" was initiated in 1990, under the direction of Kamala Anandam, of Miami-Dade Community College. The Year Four Report states as one of its contributions to "set in motion a major shift for both educators and software publishers to focus on learning and not instruction." In providing a means for reviewing instructional material and locating packages currently implemented in an educational setting, over 500 faculty members from 32 community colleges have been involved. They recommended 364 packages. These software programs are listed in Project Synergy's database, which contains detailed information on each package including descriptions, objectives and attributes. The report includes materials on Faculty Development in Evaluating and Creating Curriculum, Faculty Development in Implementing Software with Students, and Software Attributes and Learning Objectives, among others. From the magnitude of the project and the contributions of so many individuals, financial support and faculty commitment can not be minimized. Time and Support Are Key Tools are available to create exciting materials and authoring programs are becoming increasingly simple to use. However, knowledge and awareness of software are not, by themselves, sufficient for effective implementation. Organization, management, willingness to experiment and ongoing support are all of critical importance. Teachers must have time to develop the experience on how to best integrate software into the curriculum. No matter how glamorous and elaborate the presentation, content is still the most important criteria.
This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.