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Computer Software and Applications in Education

~ Types of Instructional Software ~

Drill-and-practice programs allow students to try several examples of problems of exercises related to the concept they are learning about. The computer software is generally then able to tell the student whether they have answered the questions correctly or not. Some programs give detailed descriptions about how to arrive at the correct answer or provide worked-out solutions to the given problem, while other programs respond with a simple "Yes" or "No."

Drill-and-practice software can include flashcards, randomly ordered questions, or progressively more difficult questions as students answer successfully. An effective drill-and-practice program should allow students to work at their own pace, give motivating feedback, and be user-friendly.

This type of instructional software has several relative advantages. The repetition of practicing several examples from one concept helps to store the information in long-term memory. Practicing even basic skills can help students perform better on more complex tasks in the future. Drill-and-practice software gives students immediate feedback without a teacher having to respond to each exercise. The use of computers as opposed to pen and paper can also be a great motivator for some students.

This type of instructional software actually teaches a new concept or idea. A tutorial serves as a method of presenting instruction more so than a supplement to classroom instruction. An effective tutorial should also give students opportunities to practice exercises demonstrating understanding of the material presented. A tutorial can be linear, providing the same instructional content in the same order for all learners. There are also more sophisticated branching tutorials that can divert students to different types of exercises depending on whether they have demonstrated mastery.

Good tutorials should give learners frequent opportunities to interact with the computer by answering questions or solving problems. Graphics should be used appropriately to enhance the instruction, and the academic content itself should be accurate and comparable to that which would be presented in a face-to-face classroom situation.

Some of the relative advantages of tutorials are that they allow learners to progress at an individual rate, learn new information without needing an instructor present, and practice a new concept while learning about it. Computer-based tutorials can also be used to help students review instruction on their own or differentiate instruction for learners of various readiness levels.

Simulations provide a model of a real-world scenario or system that students can go through on the computer. Simulations can teach about something or teach how to do something. Students generally have the opportunity to determine the order in which they go through the process. They also get to manipulate things and see the results of the decisions they make.

An effective simulation needs clear instructions so that users know what they need to do. It also needs to accurately depict that which it intends to simulate. Graphics and design do not always need to be perfectly realistic, but accuracy should still be maintained.

There are several relative advantages to simulations. They can speed up or slow down processes that would normally not fit into a time span that would work for students. They can also allow students to complete experiments and explore situations that would be unsafe or impossible to recreate in the classroom.

Instructional Games
Instructional games add elements of competition and fun to learning experiences. They are used primarily as motivators to help learners practice concepts in a more exciting way. Many of today’s students spend a considerable amount of time at home playing computer or video games. Bringing a similar experience into education helps students connect what they are doing at home with what they learn in school.

Good instructional games should be interesting and visually appealing. They should also include some uncertainty to keep the learners attention. It is also very important for instructional games to be educationally valuable. They are not worthwhile if they do not help students master the concept they are learning.

Several of the relative advantages of using instructional games in education have to do with motivating students. If students are engaged and enjoying what they are doing, they are more likely to put greater effort into practicing and mastering concepts.

Problem-Solving Programs
Problem-solving techniques may be explored in different types of software, however, problem-solving programs focus primarily on this skill. Some of these programs are geared toward a specific content area and ask students to solve problems that require them to demonstrate skills and understanding of that subject. Other programs focus on general problem-solving techniques that could be applied to various situations in and out of school.

Problem-solving software should be challenging and engaging for students. Each program should also describe what specific skills students will be learning by using the software.

The relative advantages of problem-solving programs include increased motivation and focus on academic skills. The problems students work to solve also promote relevance of the subject matter and help students connect concepts they are learning to the real-world.

Descriptions adapted from:
Roblyer, M.D. (2006). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.