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Are there advantages to integrating instructional software in the classroom?

Before examining the advantages of instructional software in the classroom, it is important to know what is meant by “instructional” software. There are many definitions, but Roblyer and Doering’s definition places emphasis on what is important.

What is instructional software?

Instructional software is a computer program (or programs) designed to either deliver or assist with the delivery of instruction. The sole purpose of instructional software is to support instruction and/or learning. (Roblyer & Doering, 2012)

The definition places emphasis on the software’s true purpose, which is to support instruction and/or learning. In order for instructional software to be advantageous it must support the teacher’s instruction and the student’s learning; it is as simple as that.

Yet instruction can become bogged down by choice. There is a lot of so-called “educational” software out there and it is the job of educators to choose wisely. Word of mouth, research and personal experimentation, even personal experiences, will shape a teacher’s decisions. Roblyer and Doering suggest that an educator should consider the five types of instructional software when determing what educational software will support both instruction and learning. Each type of educational software has specific uses and advantages.

What types of instructional software are there?

There are five basic types of instructional software: drill and practice, tutorial, simulation, instructional game, and problem solving. (Roblyer and Doering, 2012)

Drill and Practice: Students work through ‘example after example’ until mastery is achieved. Such programs use repetition, allowing students to practice until the material is learned or memorized. Feedback is immediate.

Tutorial: Students access an entire instructional program on a particular topic. It is a stand-alone unit and does not supplement other instruction.

Simulation: Students learn how a system works by utilizing a computer model that makes the experience seem more lifelike. The computer model either teaches students about something or how to do something.

Instructional Game: Students use educational “games” that are designed to be fun, competitive and motivational.

Problem Solving: Students who use this software are taught problem solving skills such as metacognition, observing, recalling information, sequencing, analyzing, finding and organizing information, inferring, predicting outcomes, making analogies, and formulating ideas.

Does instructional software support teacher instruction effectively?

The simple and most direct answer is yes. “Teachers who use technology frequently to support learning in their classrooms report greater benefits to student learning, engagement and skills from technology than teachers who spend less time using technology to support learning.” (Grunwald and Associates, 2010)

Furthermore, educators, especially those who have a positive attitude towards technology, view instructional software as advantageous because it supplements learner outcomes by meeting specific student needs. Because of class sizes, teachers cannot always give each student the attention required. Drill and practice software allows students who are struggling with certain concepts to practice on their own while receiving immediate feedback at the same time. Such software supports instruction and learner outcomes because it meets individual students’ needs.

Instructional software aids in differentiated instruction as well. The fact that there are five basic types of educational software allows teachers to choose what is best for students, even when considering differing learning styles and curricular outcomes. More importantly, instructional software fosters metacognition skills. Integrating technology “has been shown to enhance pupils’ levels of understanding and attainment in other subjects. That’s because ‘real’ ICT is more about thinking skills than about mastering particular software applications.” (Freedman, 2011) When it comes to nurturing problem solving skills, instructional software is a wise choice. Such skills are a challenge to teach because some students find the problem solving process overwhelming. Students, especially those who have had much success in school, aren’t always sure: where to begin, how to find and organize information, or even how to articulate their ideas. Problem solving software walks students through this difficult process because it helps students “visualize abstract concepts to better understand how to solve more complex problems.” (Roblyer and Doering, 2012)

Does instructional software support student learning too?

Technology is a part of a student’s everyday life. More and more students use smartphones or laptops—to them technology is an extension of who they are and what they do on any given day. They are not intimidated by technology. It isn’t a way of life either—it just is. Intrinsically speaking, they “know” its worth because they have grown up with it.
More importantly, if used effectively, instructional software is beneficial to students because it cultivates: engagement, motivation, interest in learning, and personalized learning.

Educational games are fun, competitive and motivational. Because these games utilize interesting, amusing and entertaining formats they quickly capture students’ attention and motivate them to learn. (Robyler and Doering, 2012)

What might be even more appealing though is this: instructional software promotes personalized learning. These materials bolster students’ freedom by giving them control and flexibility. Learners can set the pace at which they learn, and choose the path or paths they want to follow. Likewise, because “computers don’t get frustrated or give disgusted looks” students can practice and practice until they feel they have mastered the material. (Roblyer & Doering, 2012).

Marshall McLuhan once said, “We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” This statement is even truer today. The instructional software chosen by educators definitely shapes both instruction and learning. If educators choose wisely, they will find effective tools that subtly shape learners for the better.

To explore this topic further, please visit the following websites:

http://edtech2.boisestate.edu/frankm/EDTECH575/home_is.html

http://www.education.com/reference/article/how-does-technology-facilitate-learning/

References

Freedman, T., (2011, March 3). 13 reasons to use educational technology in lessons – Articles – Educational Technology – ICT in Education. ICT in Education: The Educational Technology Site. Retrieved September 23, 2012, from http://www.ictineducation.org/home-page/2011/3/3/13-reasons-to-use-educational-technology-in-lessons.html

Grunwald and Associates. (2010). Educators, technology and 21st century skills: Dispelling five myths. Retrieved September 23, 2012, from Walden University, Richard W. Riley College of Education website: from http://www.WaldenU.edu/fivemyths

Roblyer, M., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Instructional Software for 21st Century Teaching. Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th ed., pp. 74 – 109). Boston: Pearson.

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