THE INTEGRATION OF MICROCOMPUTERS
A RESEARCH PROJECT SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF EDUCATION
V. DESCRIPTION OF PROCEDURES OF
INTEGRATING COMPUTER TECHNOLOGIES
INTO THE LANGUAGE ARTS CURRICULUM:
As a preface to the description to follow, it is worth noting that we are on the threshold of evolutionary growth and revolutionary upheavals that will change forever the way we view education and our perception of the "well-educated person." Today's world is international -- intricately connected via fibre optic cables, satellite communications, teleconferencing and high speed travel. The new technology is bringing knowledge to the most isolated school, offering the same courses and same teachers as are offered in the large urban centres. In medieval times, society's pivotal institution was often the Church but in more recent times it has more often been the factory and the office. With the onset of the silicon revolution and the Information Age, the centre of life -- for people of all ages -- is just as likely to be the school. The education system is atomizing into every conceivable form -- computer and video classrooms, traditional institutes, home-based schools, more private and religious schools, adult schools, and magnet schools for students with special needs. In the near future we shall have to deal with questions unforeseeable today, and so we will need a broad-based education. The technologies transforming society will transform teaching, too. The teacher used to be a dispenser of information because in the mass-education style of the industrial age, the teacher was alone. As technology improves, the teacher will become a guide, a mentor -- probably a much better role.
My English courses are divided into six (Appendix 3) and four (Appendix 4) major modules, for grade 9 and 10 respectively, each with many smaller units of study. For each unit, students receive diskettes containing a study guide and/or study questions of minimum compulsory work and all the optional assignments for each module. In addition to the electronic assignments, a hard copy of all compulsory and optional study units is stored in file folders in an easily accessible cabinet. These folders are labelled to coincide with the appropriate file names on the students' computer diskettes.
Most schools have at least one word processing program -- a powerful, flexible, versatile piece of software. The main drawback is that it is designed for use as a sort of intelligent typewriter -- it is under the user's control and passively accepts whatever the user types into it. However, my approach was to ask what if students could use the computer, not just to write their assignments on, but to learn to write with? What if they could use its powers to expand creativity, to hone writing skills, to motivate, to increase output? What if...? This technology offers an opportunity to gain access to parts of the communication process which are normally closed to us. Following is a description of the way I guided my students to learn to write through this process.
I have found that to make this approach work, there must be at least one room in the school with a class set of computers. With the ever-decreasing cost of computers, there exists the strong possibility that this is within reach of most schools, even our little institution because it is classified as a "small school," and we are eligible for special grants. Since the computer labs in the schools I surveyed are empty so much of the time -- being reserved for the programming elite -- an innovative teacher often has little trouble timetabling classes into the computer lab on a regular basis.
As our computer lab is equipped with a mix of Apple II and IBM-compatible computers, I created assignments for two different computer systems and word processors (AppleWorks and MicroSoft Works). Although time-consuming to prepare, it gives the students the option of using either system. Many students moved regularly between incompatible systems, finding that they did not need to understand fully a word processing program in order to use it, any more than they need to understand how a car works in order to drive it. Students learned edit commands as they needed them and constantly helped each other as well. Actual copying of other people's work, however, is not tolerated. Plagiarism is very easily spotted as the instructor can read and cross-check all assignments as they are being keyed in, or on later printouts. One needs only to look for similar content or recurring errors and style quirks.
A big help in the conversion process across incompatible disk operating systems (DOS) is the program CrossWorks which translates AppleWorks files to MS-DOS programs such as Microsoft Works, Word Perfect, dBase, Lotus 123, etc. This can, however, place a severe strain on the financial resources of the teacher involved, as it is especially convenient for the teacher to have both computer systems at home to aid in preparation.
As in implementing any new curriculum, the planning and procedures can be all-important, so the following considerations are vital to the success of any writing program of this type. Students must supply loose-leaf paper, ring binders, pens, markers, a good dictionary and thesaurus, a long manila folder, five 5 1/4 inch floppies, and a hard-shell carrying case for diskettes. The floppy disk is a very convenient storage object. Its capacity for storing school assignments is impressive. It is very portable and costs under a dollar. Its design makes it relatively durable as long as prescribed rules of disk care are followed. The basic principle of disaster-free information storage is -- "one disk, big risk" -- so the following procedure is recommended: students are expected to "save" on their own disks, suitably labelled, in duplicate. The final thing a student should do at the end of the class is to "double save" the day's work on two different disks. The back-up duplicate should be kept in a different location than the first data disk. The other student disks will contain the word processor program and spelling checker, the teacher-made compulsory and optional assignments disk, and a reserve blank formatted disk for unforeseen emergencies. To safeguard the student's work these disks must be kept in a hard shell carrying case and locked in the student's locker when not in use.
Any compulsory assignments which a student does not have time to key into the word processor must be handwritten, one per page, and placed into a special writing folder. This gives the student no excuse for not completing required work. Any of these assignments which are not entered onto the word processor must be removed from the folder and stapled to their printouts when they are called in for evaluation. This folder is also reserved for optional assignments and any creative writings, drawings, etc. that the student produces over the year.
The whole procedure inculcates good organizational techniques in the student because it soon becomes obvious that a departure from the prescribed way courts disaster -- lost files, incomplete work, frustration and loss of prestige. All pre-writing notes should be kept in a special binder, as proof of work put into the course, in case of some major calamity.
The printouts, which are turned in regularly for assessment, are some of the most perfect work the student has ever done and are therefore extremely easy to read. Not having to struggle through indecipherable handwriting and the usual careless mistakes in spelling and grammar, the teacher can concentrate more on the student's creativity and style of writing. Suggestions for improving sentences and paragraphs can be easily made and the student can very easily make revisions without having to re-write whole paragraphs by hand. Students' work can be shared readily with the whole class either by xeroxing it onto a transparency sheet or by connecting the student's computer to a PC Viewer which projects the computer output onto a wall screen via an overhead projector.
Self-pacing is an important part of the system. All students have a compulsory minimum of work to complete, but the faster or more motivated individual works on optional projects related to the mainstream.
In this revised program, lectures are kept to a minimum, and are usually used for inspiration more than information, to stir up the students a bit and to lend a human or entertainment element. Major reading assignments are issued in advance of the course for preliminary reading.
Just as the student must be extremely organized, so too must the teacher. As the student begins to work at his own pace with optional assignments, the amount of book work starts to mount. This is just another area, however, where computers can come into play. It has led me to skills in databasing and spreadsheeting which have manifested themselves in even more creative ways of implementing computers in the course. In whatever way a student can be directed to searching file cabinets, library card boxes, encyclopedias, reference books and catalogues, so can they adapt these research skills to exploring data bases. In fact, with the introduction of the powerful CD-ROM and video disk, whole sets of encyclopedias with immense cross-referencing capabilities are now available to the computer user. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as a student in a rural school will soon be able to access almost any library or information resource in the world, right from his computer workstation -- either in the classroom or in his home. Already our small school is connected to the world via E-Mail, FAX, Distance Education telephone lines and dish antenna. Fibre optic link-ups and a satellite earth station with uplink capabilities are soon to come.
The role of the teacher in this system is more that of a coordinator. There is a great deal to do. It is the teacher who designs the course, prepares the study guides and questions, creates ever more innovative approaches to maximize use of the technology-mind link, handles evaluation and generally supervises the entire process. Rather than just giving a performance -- entertaining -- which is the teacher's main role in group instruction, the teacher's job here is to maintain a good learning environment. And, in addition to learning language arts skills, the student is also picking up valuable experience and expertise on some of the latest technology -- technology which will play a vital part of his existence after he graduates.
I am convinced that computers and their related technologies (video disks, compact disks, video cassette recorders, MIDI, satellite earth stations, E-Mail, FAX, etc.) are the most important things to happen to English language arts teaching since the invention of the pencil. I want to hasten the day when English teachers may employ with confidence the new technology for more effective learning than has been ever possible before. My on-going experiences, experiments and research in this area have made me certain that the revolution is at hand. We are at the parturition -- the first blossoming of this vernal hybrid of mind and machine.
Because teachers do not have a lot of control over curriculum -- this is directed by the Department of Education (Wilson et al,1991,1987; Osborne,1984; Newton, 1981) -- what I have done in the classroom is to integrate computers into the existing curriculum along the lines of PSI or the Personalized System of Instruction which was developed by Fred Keller (September,1984) long before the Computer Age. I believe, however, that this concept may be employed in almost any of the courses in the curriculum.
So far I have found that most teachers have not had the time, incentive, training, or desire to enter the world of computers (See Appendix 1) nor have there been very convincing reasons to do so. Teachers cite the complicated, expensive, confusing hardware, inadequate training courses, too few machines to go around, generally poor and inadequate software, constant obsolescence, lack of assistance from school divisions and departments of education and no place in an already crowded and overworked day to squeeze in this interloper which threatens to take away already scarce teaching jobs. I have been trying to convince my colleagues, for some time now, that computers are here to stay and that they should be viewed as a valuable tool in all areas of education.
I know, through my experience as a classroom teacher, that teachers do not have enough time to actually analyze the teaching methods they are using. They experiment a bit with different techniques, but seldom think through what they are doing, or the fundamental questions about what they are doing or why. Probably the only time this is done is during a summer or evening school university course; possibly a good case for continuing teacher education. Few working teachers have the time to develop a system of instruction that is based on what we know about learning and behaviour. Most teach the way they were taught which generally means group instruction and the lecture method.
The fact is that learning is an individual phenomenon. However, the traditional group method assumes that all the students in a given class are much the same, with the result that the emphasis is on teaching to the middle. Some students are bored because of the slow pace, while others have no idea as to what is going on. If the material is cumulative, then the slower student gets further and further behind. The students are generally required to sit and listen, but as Dewey (1897,1900,1933,1938) insisted, you learn by doing. Another problem is that there is really very little occasion for students to do anything during group instruction, nor is there much opportunity for personal contact. Further, the units of instruction are usually much too big. Teachers cover a lot of ground before they ever give students the opportunity to find out how they are doing. Students have to go a long time before there is any reward for studying and even then, the rewards are usually too late to be effective.
Of all the subjects in the existing curriculum, it is, perhaps, the pervasive English Language Arts which has gone furthest to address the concerns I have expressed, to this point. English Language Arts is simply one of several subjects traditionally taught in schools, but because of the close connection between language and thought, the language arts are the basis of all learning. I have found that student abilities in the different areas of the English Language Arts are highly and positively related and similarly, there are positive correlations between all academic subjects. The able student seems to do well in all academic subjects, and the less able student seems to do less well in all subjects. Because of this pervasiveness of English Language Arts and because there is already a strong flexible curriculum in place for the high school years, I have chosen this area to show how modern computer-related technology can be integrated into an existing curriculum, to spearhead learning into Century 21.
It has become standard practice to divide the writing process into three parts (Parker,1990): pre-writing, writing or composition, and post-writing (Brandvik,1990). This system offers many advantages, the most important probably being that it allows apprentice writers to focus on parts of the process, instead of forcing them always to contemplate (and to be daunted by) the finished product. "Pre-writing" concerns gathering materials and ideas and planning a piece of writing. "Writing" is about composing a paper, keeping track of its coherence, and preventing "stuckness." "Post-writing" is about formatting, editing and revising. Among mature writers who develop their own styles, these stages become less distinct, but at this stage in writing development, most students need the structure. I try to present the word processor as a metaphor for the sort of "space" in which a piece of writing exists in the mind and this often gets students used to the idea that text is as malleable as clay and as structural as a building (Kress,1987:10). I also suggest that they think of the computer as an audience and of the cursor, blinking intelligently and attentively at the writer, as encouraging further effort. Add to this the concept that the writer needs a toolbox from which may be drawn tools to construct many different types of creations, and a whole new strategy for writing takes form. Too often, writing is presented to students as a seamless whole and they think of it as something to which they have little access -- that it must spring from their minds full blown and as such it will have little conscious input from them. Classes do not have difficulties with writing -- individuals do -- and the technology now exists to recognize that fact and to deal with students as individuals.
Each night students take home the next day's assignments and assigned readings, where they do pre-writing in the form of rough notes or ideas. These rough hand-written notes are used next day at the students' personal computer workstations where they eventually word pro complete paragraphs. Students who, at this stage, are having difficulty selecting a creative writing topic or in structuring an answer are instructed to brainstorm on the computer -- to type in any words which come to mind -- or what they are thinking at the moment. They are encouraged to talk with the instructor or with their peers about the words they wrote and why they wrote them. This discussion will often lead to a writing topic. In this informal environment, students are in a position to help each other more.
The computer affords students the opportunity to write and to produce the written word faster than with pencil and paper. I have found that students write more often, compose longer papers, and enjoy the process more. Additionally, because the word processor makes it easy to revise at a later stage, students are free to focus on the content of their writing and the transferring of thoughts from their minds to the computer screen. Using a word processor to write is like doodling, but instead of working with shapes and lines, students experiment with words, phrases, and ideas. The goal is to let words flow onto the screen. Assembling them into a logical, sequential order or dwelling on word choice, sentence structure and punctuation comes after the written doodling. I have seen, through experience, that when students are required to produce a reasonable amount of written work on a daily basis, both fluency and style show rapid improvement. A daily log has proven to be a wonderful medium for encouraging writing (Enns,1985). The student is required to prepare a journal entry each day which documents what has happened in the class, the important points learned or discussed, the progress made in program development and any problems that occurred.
For my weaker students, basics of sentence and paragraph structure are the objectives of most of the word processing lessons I create, and computer writing appears to reduce errors. Observational comparisons between the traditional writing approach and the new methods I have introduced have revealed remarkable differences in writing style. Hand-written work is often one long paragraph with one long sentence. Computer work contains short, correct sentences and proper paragraphs. My observation is that weak students who hate to write get their work on paper as quickly as possible. Grade 9 students who are motivated by the computer but who are also unable to type are forced to work more slowly, therefore they assemble their thoughts slowly. Perhaps the improvement is due to the viewing of typed work, which students recognize as a structured form that they do not see in handwritten work. Perhaps it is the slowing down of the writing process by students who are unable to type, but are forced to slow down when using a word processing system. Perhaps it does not matter what the reason is: my point is that remedial students write better stylistically with a computer than they do on a sheet of paper.
The idea that students need typing skills for effective computer composition is a major criticism made by English teachers when thinking about using word processing in their curricula. Only one out of the twenty students in my grade 9 class felt hindered by her inability to type and she preferred to write many of her assignments by hand. However, as the course progressed, and as she started to feel more comfortable with the computer procedures and new writing techniques, even she became a convert. The motivational aspect of the computer inspired the students to write more than they would have by hand.
There are differences in using the word processor as typewriter vs. the word processor as a composing medium. A student handwriting an assignment and then word processing it is using the computer as a typewriter. To compose and word process at the same time appears to work for both advanced and for weak students -- whether they type or not. The effectiveness of word processing and creativity is not cut and dried however, (Segal,1986). Technology must be used efficiently and with wisdom -- geared specifically to the different needs of different students -- in an integrated, not isolated, part of the curriculum (Adams,1985; Davy,1984). This, perhaps, offers more challenges to educators than they have faced at any other time in history.
Professional writers (Strunk and White,1979; Plotnik,1982; Lechelt et al,1980) agree that revision is one of the most important stages of writing. Book publishers and journalists have an old saying: 'There is no such thing as writing; there is only rewriting'. Nevertheless, revision often is sadly neglected in the teaching of writing. Even after a teacher reviews a student paper and adds comments for improvement, many students are never asked to rework it. As a result many students never develop probing analytical skills nor the ability nor desire to produce work featuring any degree of polished "perfection."
Most students hate to edit, but word processing encourages revision and allows changes to be made quickly and easily. When a computer frees students of the mechanical tedium of rewriting and revising, they focus instead on the task -- and teachers can justify insisting on this writing step. Printed words, with their even shape and spacing, are neutral -- they do not bear the personality of handwritten copy. This neutrality enables the writer to become proficient in identifying areas needing attention. Word processing allows the writer to delete an unwanted letter, word, sentence, or paragraph without damaging the copy or leaving a blank space. New writing can be inserted between letters or words because the word processor automatically creates new spaces. One can find and replace a misspelled word that appears twenty times just as easily as if it appeared only once. Writing can be rearranged without retyping a single word and polished without drudgery.
Writing with a computer also greatly enhances the teacher's ability to interact with each student during the rewriting process. I found I could help students experiment with revisions, and in doing so, promote writing skills far more effectively than I have ever been able to do in my past 23 years of teaching.
This personal proofreading and revision also involves the use of a computer spellchecker. A reliance on spellcheckers and grammar checkers has promoted some controversy. Some (e.g. Adams,1985) feel that the student becomes too dependent on the machine. My practical experience disputes this view. First, the electronic spelling checker does not replace the traditional dictionary -- it only supplements it. Since all students are required to have a dictionary and a thesaurus beside the computer and since spelling checkers never have all the required words or synonyms and antonyms or pronunciations, I have found that students are using these reference books more than ever before. It is often easier to spell the word right the first time than to go through the many electronic steps to correct the mistake. Also, many students have never been good spellers and many have been turned off from writing because of this handicap. This gives them a new sense of power -- they can now have a personal tutor which can identify the errors, then give them a choice of all the words which have similar structure and sound. They still have to make some choices, but they are learning as they go. In addition to this they start to develop a sense of self-worth and pride in their work which many have never experienced. They shake off the twin curses which plague most weak writers -- illegible handwriting and spelling mistakes. This revolution frees the student writer to get on with putting thoughts down on paper.
Upon completion of the first proofreading/revision process, each writer swaps positions with another student and they proofread each other's work. During the proofreading swap, the proofreader does not revise his partner's work, but rather, marks each error in spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and formatting with asterisks (*****) and moves on -- leaving the actual editing for the author. By the time the work is printed out and turned in to the instructor, it has been proofread and revised many times and has gone through all three stages of pre-writing, writing, and post-writing.
Weak language students are reluctant to revise their work -- they think a "good copy" means the original draft with neater handwriting. Pair revision, which I encourage, is not well received on hand-written work. But computer revision does work. Students examine each other's work on the monitor, noting errors that they do not see in pen. They will read aloud, and comment that sentences "don't sound right." My students find computer revisions so simple and are so excited by the near-perfection of their own work, that they will revise "until it is perfect." They would never handwrite six or seven copies of an assignment, nor would a teacher make the request that they do so.
A new, fourth step is fast becoming an integral part of the writing process in this computer age: publishing. The ability to present and to publish writing in a format which looks like literature, increases students' interest in writing. If the appearance of the writing looks more professional, students seem to want to spend more time on their writing. The writer's work can be published in a multitude of different fonts and formats and the look of most professional publications can be approximated. Even simple printouts have an air of excellence about them. They are easy for me to correct and they seem to impress most parents. Most of what I accomplish as a teacher often goes for naught if parents and public perceive it in a different light. A quality end product goes a long way in selling the program. I delay a full desk top publishing emphasis until I introduce the journalism component of my course. Also by that time, classes have commenced the concurrent computer awareness courses, which gives me more time to introduce the Publish It! desktop publishing program. This allows students to produce booklets, newsletters, ads, and even a few issues of a school newspaper.
TEACHER AS A MENTOR
During the entire writing process I am freed to go from workstation to workstation, where each student's embryonic writing is clearly visible on his monitor. For the first time in teaching, we have the privilege to be there during the writing process, right there when the decisions get made and the students can appreciate the immediate relevance of what we have to teach. This new approach almost feels like being able to coach as a little voice in a student's pencil. It is for this reason that the role of the teacher takes on more importance than ever -- it becomes clear, as the program goes on, that it just does not "fly" without the active participation of a qualified English teacher. It takes a skilled teacher to realize who needs help, and to provide it in the most profitable and least intrusive amounts.
The word pro approach I have been developing could lead to schools being radically different from what they are now. Since students can truly work at their own paces, and since many students are very motivated through their own inner resources and by the challenge presented by the learning environment, they could conceivably graduate many years earlier than now. Students would not spend much time in groups, listening to lectures or watching demonstrations. In addition to working with the computer integrated curriculum they would be reading, solving problems, doing exercises, taking tests, meeting with proctors or their instructor. The student would proceed through a course, one unit at a time, and then go on to the next course. This would lead to no grades, no normal curves, no comparing one student with another. The student's transcript would merely be a listing of the units, or perhaps courses, completed -- all presented in a sort of catalogue of student achievement.
For microcomputers to be successfully integrated into an English program, new teaching techniques and new assignments must be created. Old methods do not work with new technology. Much of the criticism so far directed at computers in education really should be fine-tuned so as to aim at those initiators who are attempting to put the square peg of old methods into the round streamlined pocket of the new technology.
Roles are changing in computer classes. Teacher-centred structures are being replaced by student-centred environments, and it must be accepted by the teachers using computers, that they may not know the technology better that their classes. Kids have home computers, and they have more time to experiment with them than we.
As I have tried to point out, an important feature of the classroom use of microcomputers is the individualized programming it allows. Students working at different speeds should be allowed to progress at their own rates -- microcomputers facilitate this in a way a classroom teacher never can. Motivation, attention to detail, improvement in language skill, computer literacy and self-esteem have never been higher.
Computer technology makes all this possible. At present we have much of the technology needed but it is being used in an antiquated educational system, with its group instruction, grades and all the rest of it. Computer use in an English classroom must be an integrated, not an isolated, part of the curriculum. The process of writing has been changed by the presence of computers. As with all educational tools, they must be geared specifically to the different needs of different students. The computers themselves are not going to change the establishment but what I am proposing is the first step -- the integration of computers into a modified traditional curriculum. It is working. The biggest "problem" is the fact that some students do not want to leave the building at the end of the school day.
Information is conveyed to students through an fully integrated approach using video, audio, computer, and elecronic media. Because of the wide variety of different media employed, my imagination has had to stetch its normal parameters. I can certainly identify with Frye's (1963) view of the theory/practice relationship: seeing theory and practice as two amorphous bodies melding into a third level of the mind -- a zone of transition where emotions and intellect come together in an aura of hunch and common sense. I sense myself constantly probing into the realms of theory and then practice to pick fruit which I bring back to the third zone where I can mix up some palatable trifle to try out on the diners in the practice room.
Of particular interest to me and to my position as a teacher is the De Bono observation (1972,1990) that feeling by itself is not enough to get things done -- that we need organization to channel the energy of feeling, and ideas to give it form (Campbell,1988). Thinking is no use without feeling, but feeling is no substitute for thinking (De Bono,1972:20). As I ponder this, I realize just how important the three components of feeling, ideas and organization are to any creative teacher -- any one without the other two can never lead to a fully interesting, worthwhile and challenging curriculum. It is also very evident that most of my students prefer feeling to thinking. This often comes from plain laziness -- thinking can be hard work when you are not used to it. I have to agree with De Bono to some degree, however, when he says that some of the problem may lie in the fact that academic thinking has tended to become an artificial game in itself without relevance to life -- people soon come to the realization that life does not fit into neat logical equations -- so, they replace thinking with feeling. Feeling is seen as being more valid than the fancy word games of thinking. I see coming out of this a tendency for young people, and indeed, people of all ages, to live for the moment -- for momentary pleasures. When people have been brought up with rigid, dogmatic, two-dimensional ideas, they are very often unable to cope when cracks appear in the system. I can see these problems occurring all around me -- whether it be in our schools, on city streets, or on the international front. "A Clockwork Orange" (Burgess,1969) mentality is still very much a part of our society.
CONTENTS (QUICK LINKS)
Introduction: Abstract ~ Acknowledgements ~ Contents
PART I: Background to the Problem
PART II: Statement of the Problem
PART III: Key Question
PART IV: Method
PART V: Description of Procedures of
Integrating Computer Technologies
into the Language Arts Curriculum:
SCRIPT: Summary of Computer Integration Procedures:
Script for Our Video Documentary
PART VI: Conclusions and Recommendations
APPENDICES: Links To Our Related Websites