SPT: A New Methodology for Instruction

by DR. DAVID MONTI, Professor Central Connecticut State University New Britain, Conn. DR. GEORGE CICCHETTI, Professor Mattatuck Community College Waterbury, Conn. DR. THOMAS GOODKIND, Professor University of Connecticut Storrs, Conn. and MICHAEL T. GANCI, President Performance Software, Inc. West Hartford, Conn. Imagine you are walking through the halls of most any college. In many classrooms, especially those for the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, you are likely to see and hear professors delivering a lecture. A chalkboard, perhaps an overhead projector or occasional videotapes assist delivery of the lecture. The authors' personal "walkthroughs," at our respective institutions, confirm it. This information-giving model of instruction is still very common. It is teacher driven and directed with a minimal amount of teacher-student interaction. Over the last ten years, a greater number of professors have begun using computer labs to teach students accounting principles, writing skills, math, computer-aided design and other disciplines. Such professors are often considered "techies" by their more traditional colleagues; use of computers is generally accepted, but often confined to technical, skill-based content. Computers can tailor the pace, complexity and delivery of material to learners' interests and ability, be unwavering in consistency of performance, and vigilant in attentiveness to every response. But this adaptation of technology to traditional content courses has often been criticized as impersonal and cold. And so today, we have two camps opposed in their view of the use of computers and technology as an aid to instruction and communication. Adaptation and use of computers in traditional humanities and social sciences courses has been especially limited. Traditionalists hold to the information-giving model; "techies" push computer-based training, integrated learning labs and the like. However, it is our contention that a compromise exists -- one that makes the best use of available technology without depersonalizing students in the process. We call it SPT, shorthand for Structured Presentation Technology. SPT: What Is It? SPT, Structured Presentation Technology, is an adaptation of technology to the techniques of group-learning situations. These include educational classrooms of any level, business presentation meetings and a host of other applications involving a "teacher" and "learners." Essentially, it is the automation of the lecture process. SPT aims to restore consistency to lecture-content delivery and also allow wide-ranging access to information based on learners' needs and interest. Although the use of audio-visual devices in instruction is not new, the implementation of hardware and software in the SPT model takes this augmentation of instruction to new levels, fully utilizing interactive multimedia concepts and applying them to group presentations. The authors, having a combined experience of more than 100 years in direct classroom instruction and more than 30 years in computer-based training applications, set out initially to examine the typical "lecture" scenario to analyze its components and results. Our conclusions were parallel with other studies: People retain little of what they read; more of what they read and hear; more of what they read, hear and see graphically; and the most of what they can read, hear, see graphically and interact with. In short, an interactive, multimedia approach that is basically linear, but can change the delivery path on demand, is best. We then decided on an academic content area (psychology at the community college level), a course description and syllabus, site, equipment configuration and software to implement a prototypical SPT application.


Unlike standard computer-based training, SPT would be applied to students in a group setting; and unlike standard instruction, it would be implemented with the aid of technology. Designing a "Typical" Session Our goal was to be able to present the course content in a structured manner so that major concepts, examples, questions and supporting graphics would be available on demand; also, branching needs and common divergences should be anticipated and incorporated. We were similarly cognizant that the content of SPT sessions needed to lend itself to processes like note-taking, discussion stimuli, reference to course texts and the evaluation process. We recognized that the teacher would have to have the ultimate level of control in the flow, and thus provide the "sensitivity factor" needed for making the process effective. With these criteria, we took a lecture-by-lecture look at content information and designed a flow chart for each required SPT session. The chart started with a relatively linear progression of major concepts to be presented, concept features and examples to be "learned." Once the initial outline was complete, we looked at each point as if it were a "frame" and devised logically anticipated questions, examples, graphics, references, and in some cases, animation, sound, video or other supportive materials to augment learning and inquiry. We listed these as a complete framework. As a final step, we looked at the outline from the standpoint of alternative paths that might be necessary in the event that a learner's level of understanding, performance or interest was not satisfied by the linear flow. What all of this represented was a normalization of the "ideal" presentation for each session (see Figure 1). The next step was to transform each lecture's outline to a computer program that could be "projected" onto a large screen and serve as the focal point for the SPT presentation. We used IBM-compatible computers with peripherals like CD-ROM drives and videodisc players, ACT III Multimedia Authoring System Software and related graphics-generation packages, and LCD panels and overhead projectors capable of handling SuperVGA-quality graphics and real-time video. A completed SPT course looks like this: An instructor uses computer-generated and -projected text, graphics, sound, animation, video, etc., to guide the class through a lecture. Dot-point concepts are amplified through an instructor's narrative and he/she moves the class along by selecting from interactive, example, graphic, and sound elements as needed. Our prototype showed that SPT can be used for virtually any discipline and with groups of just about any age mix. It is particularly well suited to complex subject matter. The User Interface The first step was to develop a uniform interface, or "standard" frame, that could be used throughout the course. Our frame contained a header, which identified the course name, session topic, session number, frame number, and in some cases elapsed time (as a guide for the teacher). The major screen area was blank, ready for content points, questions, examples, graphics or other actual presentation material. The bottom of each frame (screen) contained a navigation footer, with mouse-activated buttons leading to the next or prior frames, question frames, related examples, graphics, video segments or branches. Using the authoring system, we then developed each session program, assembling interactive text and graphic screens. The question frames were of special importance. In traditional lectures, teacher questions are often responded to through discussion, so we incorporated "discussion" question frames where appropriate. In CBT and standardized testing, questions are often multiple choice or fill-in and answered individually. For this we devised three kind of frames. The first was a "consensus" answer frame: Students were polled for their choice, tallies taken, the predominant answer input and then the frame revealed the most correct answer and a discussion of why other answers were less correct. The second was a "discussion" frame: A question was posed, discussion followed and a "check point" frame was used to summarize what should have been revealed by the discussion. The third type of frame involved individual writing by students: A question was posed on the projected frame and students wrote their answers, sometimes in essay style, on specially designed forms matched to the session. The Parts to an SPT Lecture Each lecture presentation was designed to contain five major parts: 1.An Introductory Survey that explores background knowledge and provides an overview of the objectives; 2.An Inquiry section, which covers conceptions and misconceptions and sets the stage for what is to be learned by posing questions that should be answered as a result of the session; 3.An Exposition section, in which course material is presented in the previously described frame format(s); 4.A Review segment that recapitulates the main points; and 5.A "Call to Action" segment that outlines an assignment to be completed by the student, proposes an activity that is an application of what has been learned in the section, or serves as a precursor to the next session. Working in the Classroom For each session, trial runs were made with peer evaluation using sample groups under actual circumstances. The programs were "tweaked" and material was added or subtracted as necessary. Because we used an authoring system rather than programming, changes between one trial and another could often be made at lunch or between sessions. SPT was then put to the real test as a methodology for teaching. In a community college setting, the prototype course was implemented. We found that although basically sound, continued tweaking was a desirable thing and the authoring system made that fairly easy. New materials that lent themselves to each presentation were added and old frames modified to make content clearer. Questions and examples were polished and continually re-evaluated for relevance. The course became a working tool. Immediate results with actual student groups were evident. Informal observations told us that these SPT sessions were more effective than standard lectures, that students were immediately more interested with what was going on and more successful on traditional measurements of learning. Practices like note-taking increased in occurrence and effectiveness. Participation increased dramatically. There was even a perceived change in attitude toward the teacher. There were also some surprise benefits. Students who had missed a class were requesting the program to review on their own. Teachers who ran the session felt confident in doing a better job in covering material. There was even administrative interest as to how the SPT method might raise the level of performance of adjunct faculty and help situations where tight budgets were preventing equal access of students to computers. Textbook publishers looking for electronic materials that enhance their texts also expressed interest. It is our intention to make further use of this method as it applies to different curricula and to further refine the process. We feel that we have a new applied technology that helps to merge the best human and machine competencies in the most predominant teaching circumstance. We would urge our colleagues to investigate this as well. n George Cicchetti, Ed.D., is a professor of psychology at Mattatuck Community College in Waterbury. Michael T. Ganci, M.S., is president of Performance Software, Inc., in West Hartford. Thomas Goodkind, Ph.D., is a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. David Monti, Ed.D., is a professor of reading instruction at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. Information on SPT can be obtain from the authors at Performance Software, Inc., 100 Shield St., West Hartford, CT 06110, (800) 348-1377; CompuServe mailbox 71621,351. Funding for SPT project development is the result of a software grant from Informatics Group, Inc., marketing agent for ACT III Multimedia Software, and through the voluntary time of the authors.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.