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Interactive, Diagnostic, Student Paced Computer Aided Instruction

K through 12

Teachers face a very difficult task.  Student learning levels vary greatly in virtually every classroom.  It is very difficult to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of all of the students.  Some students may not be challenged while others are lost.  Some parents choose to home school their children due to safety or other considerations but are not well prepared for it.   Today, computer technology will support meeting these needs.  We need to apply it to develop effective, comprehensive computer aided teaching made available at a low cost which can be met in every community and every household. 

There should be a federal program to develop comprehensive computer aided instruction for elementary and secondary schools.  Programs would be developed in specific subjects at all grade levels.  These programs would provide student paced instruction automatically tailored to the specific capabilities of the student. These programs would be capable of identifying areas of student weaknesses and providing remedial learning. They should also be capable of taking the student well beyond the grade level if his or her capabilities warrant.   For the teacher or the parent, these programs should provide documentation and analysis of the student effort and progress. 

Use of these programs should not be mandated.  Rather, they should prove their own worth and be bought/applied by schools at their option.  They should be available to parents, particularly those who home school their children.  After a low cost initial development period, the program should be entirely funded by small fees (typically $1 or less) charged to schools and parents for downloading the programs.  Programs should be written to run on low cost/older (as well as current) computers to ensure that they are available to the maximum number of students.

These programs should not be seen as competing with the traditional classroom instruction.  While they will not replace the teacher, they will offer another way of imparting knowledge and skills to the student.  In the end, it doesn't matter how a student learns.  It matters that he or she does learn.  The effectiveness of a given program will vary with the student, the subject, and the involvement of the teacher, the parents, and other mentors.  It is a tool.  Like any other tool, its effectiveness will depend on its design and construction.  But, it will only be as effective as the dedication and skill of those who apply it.

Federal software programs (like ECSS) often become wasteful boondoggles profitable to large software companies but cancelled with no usable results when the appropriated money is spent.    It doesn't have to be that way.   Large software companies should be excluded.   During the initial development phase of the program, it should primarily be a research and development program at universities.  Competition should be encouraged to develop the best approaches.  Several methodologies will likely develop to meet diverse course needs.  For example, math, history, and English grammar will likely use different approaches.  Later, with the supporting software having matured, it will be primarily a matter of applying and updating course material in established course software modules.

Legislation should create a small office to manage the effort.  This office would establish relationships with universities which have Education and Computer Science departments.  At these universities, teams of students would select development projects as their theses.  A team would consist of one or two Education majors with a like number of Computer Science majors.  The staff would encourage, facilitate, monitor, and support the university teams.  The staff would identify and disseminate best practices developed among the many projects.  The staff would identify sufficiently mature projects and arrange for their testing at selected public schools.  The program should provide limited funding for internships and expenses associated with these developments. Some contracts could also be let to small companies with promising proposals.

This office should be staffed by people with education and computer skills.  Salaries should not be high.  People should be there because it is a calling, not a place to go through the motions at high salaries.  The office should not be located in Washington D.C. or any other high cost area.  As a software developer working from my home for more than twenty five years, I interface with my employer only by phone and internet and we find that face to face meetings are completely unnecessary.  (Our user community is worldwide.) Therefore, I say with conviction that the staff of this office need not be housed in a single office, but can have people located around the country. 

After, successful initial testing, programs developed would be made available to a larger test groups of parents and to public schools and subsequently released to all schools in the nation. 

This should be a very active and open program seeking new ideas from all reasonable sources.  These sources would include active and retired teachers, software developers, subject experts, and others who come forward with ideas and voluntary time.  The best ideas will most likely come from people of passion not those seeking to profit financially.

The program should never be turned over to a managing contractor because the objective would then become the justification of higher cost, larger appropriations, and excessive profit.   Care should be exercised to prevent the office from becoming too large.  Largeness is the enemy of effectiveness in software.