Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in the Classroom

Instructional software is used to deliver instruction or assist with the delivery of instruction on a topic.  Five specific types of instructional software include drill and practice, tutorial, simulations, instructional games, and problem solving.   

Drill and Practice

Drill and Practice software provides exercises where students work examples and receive immediate feedback for their answers.  It includes flash card activities, chart fill-in activities, branching drills, and extensive feedback activities.  Drill and practice is often looked down upon, but it does have its benefits.  Roblyer (2016) states that drill activities provides effective rehearsal for students and allows them to transfer newly learned information into long term memory.  Once students master lower order skills, they can use these skills for higher order thinking activities.   Drill and practice software provides immediate feedback to the students, can increase motivation, and save teacher time. Even though drill and practice software is sometimes criticized for being outdated, teachers should seek the use of this software to meet specific needs for their students (Roblyer, 2016, p. 81).  Quizlet is an example of a drill and practice software that I use in my fourth grade library class.  Quizlet is a website that allows teachers and students to create and share flashcards.  While studying literary genres, students can read and listen to the literary genre terms and definitions. They can use the program as flashcards, take a fill in the blank quiz, practice spelling the terms, and play games that involve the terms and definitions.   Through drill and practice, games, and quizzes, the students will be able to spell the literary genre words and identify the meaning of each genre.

Tutorial

Tutorial software provides instruction on a topic much like a teacher instructing in a classroom.  With tutorial software, students should be able to learn the material without any additional help or materials. There are two types of tutorials, linear and branching. Linear tutorials provide the same instructional sequence regardless of student performance.  Branching tutorials are more sophisticated and lead students along different path based on how they respond to questions and how they show mastery of the material (Roblyer, 2016, p. 83-84). Tutorials are generally used with older students who are able to read and are more popular in military and industrial training.  It can serve the needs of the classroom that use the flipped classroom or screencasting strategies.  Tutorial programs provide a more self paced review for students who need further instruction in a topic area.  They also allow more advanced students to move on to additional learning activities at their own pace when a teacher is not available to present the material (Roblyer, 2016, p. 84-85).  In my fourth grade library class, I use screencast-o-matic to record tutorials for all my research lessons and post them on my classroom website. When researching and completing projects, students work at all kinds of speeds. The screencasts help the slower students go back and review information I already presented and they help the more advanced students work ahead at a faster pace.

Simulations

Simulations are a computerized model of a real or imagined system that is designed to teach how the system works.  There are two main types of simulations. The first type teaches about something.  The second teaches how to do something. Simulations are predominantly used in science. Simulations are best used when a real situation is too time consuming, dangerous, expensive, or unrealistic for a classroom setting (Roblyer, 2016, p. 92).   In the past, I have not used simulation software in my fourth grade library classes, but this year I am working on having centers set up when the students come to class.  I was able to obtain some laptops and iPads for my centers and found PhET to be good quality simulation software. PhET is an interactive simulations project at the University of Colorado Boulder.  It provides free and interactive math and science simulations at all grade levels. Using these simulations in the library would allow my students the ability to further explore and process topics that they have learned in class.   

Instructional Games

Instructional games software adds game-like rules and/or competition to learning activities.  They are often used in the same way as drill and practice games and simulations, but they are considered separately due to their different instructional elements.  Instructional games have rules, an element of competition, and are entertaining for the students.  Schools have been slow to adopt instructional games due to the cost, inadequate hardware to run the games, and good quality software has been hard to find.  Instructional games are beneficial because they provide the element of play and enjoyment for the students.  Teachers can capitalize on this enjoyment and spend more time on a curriculum topic with their students. Educators do have concerns with instructional games.  Some educators worry that students will get caught up in having fun and this will draw attention away from what is to be learned (Roblyer, 2016, p. 92-96).  In my fourth grade library class, I have used Jeopardy games to review library concepts.  It is a fun way to review topics at the end of a unit and circle back on old topics covered throughout the year.  We don’t play the game all the time so the novelty makes it more exciting for the students.  The students work together in teams to answer questions and the game is more engaging than providing review worksheets because we can discuss answers together and clear up any misunderstandings with the material.  

Problem Solving Software

Problem solving software is used to teach problem solving skills.  There are two main approaches used in problem solving software.  They are content-area problem solving skills and content-free problem solving skills.     Content- area problem solving software focuses on teaching skills mainly in math and science.  Content-free problem solving software focuses on teaching general problem-solving abilities.  Effective problem solving software must be clearly linked to cultivating a specific problem solving ability in students.  Problem solving software can be interesting and motivating for students; however, it is important to test the software for its effectiveness in teaching problem solving skills before adopting it with the students.  There is also concern that students will not be able to transfer knowledge they learned using the software to other areas (Roblyer, 2016, p. 97-100).  One example of problem solving software to use in my fourth grade library class would be Kidspiration.  The students at this age are still very new to looking up information, synthesizing and outlining the essential information they need, and using that information to write a well constructed report.  Inspiration provides the logical steps a student would take to perform these functions at their level.  Students can begin with a graphic organizer, then create an outline from the graphic organizer, and finally use the outline to create their report..  Students could work individually or with others.    Using this software might be more time consuming with the students, but the information created might be more coherent for the students to read rather than using paper and pencil.        

There are numerous amounts of instructional software available to deliver instruction in a variety of ways. It is important that educators are careful in selecting these programs to ensure that they provide the best possible educational experience for their students.   All programs have their benefits and limitations, yet can be integrated in a meaningful way.   

References:
Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed., pp. 81-100). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
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