Today’s educational technology can go far beyond simply “entertaining” kids in a classroom. According to Roblyer (2016), “Instructional software is a general term for computer programs used specifically to deliver instruction or assist with the delivery of instruction on a topic.” Instructional software can be divided into five main categories: drill and practice,tutorials, simulations, instructional games and problem solving software. Most of this software takes a directed learning rather than a constructivist approach to education, however all types can enhance the educational setting.
Drill and Practice: This type of instructional software usually consists of exercises or activities that students answer one at a time and receive immediate feedback. Sometimes explanations are given for incorrect answers and a “reward” may be offered at the end of a series of questions. Students are able to work at a self paced rate on isolated skills.
The relative advantage of drill and practice software is trifold: immediate feedback (and sometimes praise) is given, students are motivated to practice to receive a reward, and teachers save time correcting students’ work. Another advantage is that basic skills or knowledge can be recalled automatically, known as automaticity Gagne (1982) and Bloom (1986). This type of software can be especially useful for students with learning disabilities.
An example of drill and practice software that could be used in 6th grade world geography is a flashcard generator such as Quizlet to review countries and capitals. Another example would be Lizard Point software. This program offers a variety of customized geography quizzes. Students can keep a personalized quiz tracker to track their progress.
Tutorials: This type of instructional software is similar to a teacher’s classroom instruction in that it follows a self contained unit and should provide students with enough information to learn the topic. Good tutorials also provide the student with practice and feedback so they require more than just watching a video. In today’s 21st century classroom, tutorial software is often used in what is known as “the flipped classroom”. Extensive user interactivity, thorough user control, appropriate graphics, and adequate record keeping are all key to well-designed tutorial programs.
The relative advantages of tutorial software are similar to those of drill and practice. They offer immediate feedback, can motivate students, and save teachers time. In addition, tutorial software can provide instruction that is complete on its own. Students can complete a self paced review or move ahead when the rest of the class is not ready to advance. Tutorials can assist students who miss class or fill in for a teacher who may be unavailable.
An example of tutorial software that would benefit world geography students in 6th grade would be Educreations. Educreations allows a teacher to record their voice while using an Ipad or tablet as a whiteboard to create a video lesson. Teachers can post their videos to YouTube, Twitter, or share via email. Videos can also be saved in a dropbox or on Google Drive. Students are then able to access the videos through any laptop or mobile device. Sophia Learning offers a variety of tutorials that help students to identify major forms of government and compare and contrast the major features of different forms of government. After viewing the tutorials, students can take a quiz and earn points for correct answers.
Simulations: “A simulation is a computerized model of a real or imagined system that is designed to teach how the system works.” (Roblyer 2016) Using a constructivist approach, simulations allow learners to take control of the tasks. Two types of simulation software include those that teach how to do something, known as procedural simulations, and those that teach about something, known as situational simulations.
Because simulations take a constructivist approach, the relative advantage is multifaceted. Students become involved in decision making and therefore see the relevance of the lesson. The interactive capabilities allow students to experience real life activities. Simulations can also save money and other resources and still offer a quality learning experience. Simulations can allow repetition with variations (students can repeat a simulation as many times as they wish) and they can allow observation of complex processes such as elections or the workings of a government.
One example of a simulation in world geography would be a virtual field trip. A class in the United States may not be able to take a trip to the Taj Mahal, but through a simulation they could explore and examine the features of this amazing monument. Programs such as Classroom 2.0 and http://www.taj-mahal.net/ both offer trips to India. Another type of geography simulation would be a program called Civilizations. According to the website https://civilization.com/, “Civilization is a turn-based strategy game in which you attempt to build an empire to stand the test of time. Become Ruler of the World by establishing and leading a civilization from the Stone Age to the Information Age. Wage war, conduct diplomacy, advance your culture, and go head-to-head with history’s greatest leaders as you attempt to build the greatest civilization the world has ever known.”
Instructional Games: Instructional games combine the fun of gaming with entertainment and education. Simply put, they add rules and competition to learning activities. The most difficult part of integrating instructional games into education is making sure that the game offers appropriate instructional value. While students are clearly motivated by the idea of gaming in the classroom, it is easy to lose sight of the objectives of the lesson.
Relative Advantage: According to Edutopia magazine, “Video games can do a lot of things that traditional teaching cannot. As Squire’s class showed, they can get unmotivated students fired up about — can it be? — ancient history. Games can also be an effective way of reaching students who haven’t responded to conventional teaching methods, and they can get gifted students to apply critical-thinking, problem-solving, and other higher-level skills to subjects they already know.” (Schreve 2005) Educational games can be used as rewards and are a strong motivator to those resistant to other forms of instruction. It is important that the teacher emphasize the content-area skills first.
There is a huge variety of game based software for education. Jeopardy type games can be adapted to almost any subject and learning environment. Sheppard Software also offers many fun, interactive geography video games.
Problem Solving Software: This type of instructional software aims at teaching students valuable problem solving skills. In a world where collaboration, critical thinking, and communication have become essential skills for future success, problem solving software can give students the opportunity to practice those skills. The software can be directly related to content or be independent of the content and teach general problem solving skills. Students can enter environments that challenge them to solve complex problems.
The relative advantages of problem solving software are: students can visualize complex problems and solutions, student motivation and interest may be increased, and students can make connections to the “real world”.
GIS or geographic information systems are computerized systems that create layered maps and analysis of geographic data. According to Edutopia magazine, “Thanks to a recent $1 billion pledge from software developer Esri, free access to cloud-based mapping software is coming to 100,000 K-12 schools across the country. The donation of ArcGIS Online, the same software that governments and businesses use, has been pledged through ConnectED, a White House initiative to improve education in the STEM fields.” Such software allows students to “take learning and problem solving in new directions by developing their geospatial literacy. Being able to analyze data and present information visually are important skills, whether you are investigating global issues or trying to solve problems in your backyard. Adding GIS to the project-based learning toolkit opens all kinds of opportunities for rich inquiry.” (Boss 2014)
Boss, S. (2014, July 28). Students Map Real-World Issues with (Free) Geospatial Tools. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/students-map-real-world-issues-free-geospatial-tools-suzie-boss
Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Pearson.
Shreve, J. (2005, March 23). Let the Games Begin: Entertainment Meets Education. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/video-games-classroom
What Is Successful Technology Integration? (2007, November 6). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description