Computers are being used in the workplace now more than ever. It is nearly impossible to walk into a place of business and not find a personal computer. Computers can be used to make a number of tasks easier to complete if workers posses the proper computer skills. Schools are also using computers more often. They are used in a variety of ways. Nearly every school has access to computers. Simply having access does not mean that they are being used, though. And just because they are being used, does not mean that they are being used effectively. In fact, schools do not help students attain the skills they need in order to use computers in their future careers. This should not be the case. Schools can better utilize computers to help prepare students to use computers in business.
In order to determine how schools can better utilize computers, we must first examine how they are currently being used in classrooms. When computers began appearing in schools many people believed that they could eventually replace teachers as instructor. As a result of this thinking, computers are used primarily in one of two ways. These two ways are as a method of delivering new material or reviewing previously learned material. According to a recent survey conducted by research scientists at the Educational Testing Service, there are three main types of software that teachers use to accomplish these two goals: tutorials, educational games, and drill-and-practice software (Archer 19). These types of software are poor uses of technology.
Tutorials are a type of educational software that is designed to deliver new material to students. They do so by simply displaying the information, briefly explaining the information, and then providing sample questions to be answered by the student. Tutorials appear to be effective because of the fact that they allow students to work at their own pace and are usually designed to advance a new topic only after the student provides the correct answer to the example problems. However, they lack the ability to provide alternative explanation of the material.
This means that if the student does not understand a concept the first time through, they are unlikely to understand it the second or third time that it is explained in the exact same way. Also, there is usually a maximum number of wrong answers that a student can provide before the correct answer is provided for them. Since the students know this, they can easily get through an entire lesson without ever learning.
Educational games are another type of educational software. They are used to review previously learned material. Students have to correctly answer questions or problems in order to successfully maneuver through a game. While educational games are fun for students, they have two main drawbacks. First, educational games focus on rote memorization of facts, formulas, or equations. Second, the information in the games is often lost in the actual game play.
That is, students get so involved in the game that they do not concentrate on the task at hand; which is reviewing material. Drill-and-practice software is the most commonly used form of educational software (Becker 387). Drill-and-practice software encourages rote memorization of facts by simply drilling students with questions or problems. Drill-and-practice software essentially does the same job as old-fashioned flashcards, but at a much higher price. Along with being inefficient and ineffective, these types of software and main uses of technology do not represent how computers and technology are used in the workplace.
In the workplace, computers are used as a productivity tool for solving problems. The ability to use technology has been described by the U.S Department of Labor as one of the five competencies needed by today’s workforce. Ability to use technology is defined as: the ability to select the appropriate technology for a given task, the ability to practically apply technology to the task, and the ability to troubleshoot equipment (SCANS 17). The types of technology and software used in business to solve problems include spreadsheets, databases, word processing software, e-mail, and the internet. These are not abilities that students learn or software that students use currently. This means that our schools are turning out incompetent workers.
Spreadsheets are a productivity tool that allows users to store, organize, and manipulate data with numeric value. The user simply enters the data into a spreadsheet and can then perform different tasks with the data. The spreadsheet can use this data to perform simple calculations. They can also be used to quickly and easily create several different types of graphs to represent the information stored within the spreadsheet. Databases are similar to spreadsheets in that users can easily enter data and that data is stored and organized for them. Databases are used for all types of data, though, not just numeric values. They are also designed for easy retrieval of the data they contain.
By applying the filters built into the software, users can display certain information without knowing exactly where it is located within the database. Databases can also create several different types of reports which contain the information stored in them quite easily. Word processing software is used to create anything that contains text. Letters, legal documents, labels, and envelopes can all be easily created by using word processing software. The biggest benefit of word processing software is that it makes the writing process considerably faster and easier by allowing changes within the document without rewriting it in its entirety. E-mail and the internet are often used at the workplace. E-mail is used as a communication tool, while the internet is used as a source of information.
For schools to utilize computers more like business they must first use computers more as a problem solving tool and less as a delivery method. One way computers can be used as a problem solving tool is for teachers to create student objectives from the problems they are to solve. One benefit of using learning objectives is that they are more precise than the typical questions asked by a teacher. They are also closer to the types of tasks students will encounter in the workplace. By supplying students with a list of objectives instead of a set of questions, they are required to think more as a problem solver.
Another benefit of learning objectives over problem statements is that it is easier to match objectives to a practical computer function. For example, the learning objective “create a table comparing the average snowfall of U.S. states” can be easily matched up with a database where the problem statement “which state in the U.S. has the greatest average snowfall?” cannot be matched with a particular computer function. When designing a lesson, the problems should have real world context to give it more meaning to the students (Bruner 247). Once this is done objectives can easily be developed. So in the earlier example about snowfall, a real world problem statement would be, “if John’s favorite activity is snowboarding, which state would he move to so he would be able to enjoy snowboarding most?” Objectives could then be built around this real world problem.