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Educational policy analysis archives


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Educational policy analysis archives
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Arizona State University
University of South Florida
Arizona State University
University of South Florida.
Place of Publication:
Tempe, Ariz
Tampa, Fla
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Subjects / Keywords:
Education -- Research -- Periodicals   ( lcsh )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
serial   ( sobekcm )


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Includes EPAA commentary by Frederick Bennett.

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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usfldc doi - E11-00065
usfldc handle - e11.65
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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 4, no. 16 (October 06, 1996).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c October 06, 1996
Includes EPAA commentary by Frederick Bennett.
Review of Computers as tutors : solving the crisis in education / Greg Sherman.
x Research
v Periodicals.
2 710
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
1 773
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
4 856


1 of 5 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 4 Number 16October 6, 1996ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass,Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Educ ation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1996, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.A Review of Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in EducationFrederick Bennett. (1996) Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Educatio n Greg Sherman Emporia State It was with great interest that I began reading Fre derick Bennett's book Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education (1996). Published on the Internet and located at Bennett's book not only represented the first com plete book I have ever tried reading straight off the computer, but it also represented the only book on education I have ever read in which the title purpo rted to have a solution to education's problems. It took me less than twenty minutes to discover tha t the book failed me miserably on both accounts. I initially began reading Computers as Tutors by accessing the web site, skimming the prologue and table of contents, and then settling d own in my office chair to commence reading and digesting Chapter One. With my hand on the mous e, I read the words and scrolled slowly down the Chapter One web page as needed. Things wer e going pretty well as I toggled between my web browser and a word processing program I was using to jot down notes. And then I began to realize that I wasn't paying close attention to the words. I was skimming and jumping up and down the page, scrolling to the bottom of the page to size up the chapter. I soon discovered that I was approaching this book the same way I approach m ost other web pages: skim the text, look for relevant information, and click on links that w ill take me to the precise information I desire. My brain was treating this on-line book like any ot her web site, and I couldn't concentrate. In addition, I couldn't get used to making notes on sp ecific elements of the chapter by typing in a separate window. So I printed off the entire book; over 100 pages of single-spaced text. I three-hole punched the pages, put them into a binde r, settled into my reading couch, and read.


2 of 5Much better. Although Computers as Tutors was a rather lengthy read by web standards, the ma in points presented by Bennett were few and concise: Schools can use technology more effectively Schools must use technology differently Computers can remake education The key to utilizing computers more effectively is through their use as private tutors Throughout the book, Bennett indicates emphatically that computers can solve most of the problems confronting educators today if computers a re implemented as private tutors "...without a teacher interposed between the machine and the ch ild." Bennett spends a good portion of the book describing all the specific benefits spawned b y using the computer to provide effective, individualized instruction. These include relieving the teacher of burdensome and mundane teaching-related chores, providing an opportunity f or all students to fulfill their need to succeed, accommodating the needs of the gifted and challenge d students, reducing the need for substitute teachers, and eliminating prejudice against race an d sex. In addition to these advantages, computer-based instruction could eliminate grades, promote better thinking skills, and provide a means of easily replicating and distributing succes sful learning programs. And because the use of computers has demonstrated the ability to improve r eading skills, illiteracy could be wiped out, resulting in the reduction of such literacy-related problems as crime and poor job performance. Before addressing what I feel are numerous flaws in Bennett's argument that computers as tutors can solve the problems facing educators toda y, I would like to point out some admirable strengths in the work. The writing itself is very w ell-structured, clear, and organized. Bennett describes many of the endemic problems within the i nstitution of public education, and he identifies clearly the need for reform. Bennett ast utely points out that computers are not being used to their potential and can play a vital role i n a systemic reform movement. As they have done in the private and corporate sectors, better u se of computers could provide greater flexibility in daily classroom scheduling, allow teachers to ea sily update and acquire effective materials, eliminate some paperwork, and accommodate absentees and nontraditional schedules. There is no question that public education is in n eed of repair. There is no question that better use of computers can improve conditions in p ublic education. And there is no question that students who perform well in school generally find themselves in better social and economic conditions when they emerge into the real world tha n students who perform poorly. Bennett does a commendable job of delineating the many ways comp uters can change how students might navigate through the system. But genuine reform isn 't about changing how students learn. Genuine reform is more about changing what students learn, something Bennett's ideas regarding the use of computers in schools didn't even begin t o address. Near the beginning of the book, Bennett states: "Wh en American education fully embraces computerized education, the dreadful state of Ameri can schooling will change overnight. Almost every child in the United States will learn to read early in their schooling. They will then be able to enjoy education." The implications of this state ment are twofold: 1) the key to success in education is literacy, and 2) traditional, text-bas ed instruction should be perpetuated. Bennett supports his literacy approach to reform by indicat ing that people who participate in riots, commit felonies, have out-of-wedlock births, or dep end on welfare for support are more illiterate than people who don't exhibit such behaviors. Reduc e the number of illiterate people, Bennett argues, and these types of behaviors will decrease. It is certainly beyond the scope of this review to speculate on whether or not reducing illiteracy will reduce poor decision-making, but my gut tells me that, like crime and welfare dependency, i lliteracy is probably a symptom of a much bigger societal problem.


3 of 5 Bennett places a high educational premium on litera cy, and he maintains that computers as individual tutors can get students reading better, faster, sooner. He contends that computers haven't had much of an impact in education because they have not been used as teachers. "This failure to allow computers to teach is the reason t echnology thus far has been a dismal failure in schools." He uses examples of how individual tutors have had profound impacts on the lives of successful people such as Alexander the Great, John F. Kennedy, and Thomas Edison. He describes how Edison was removed from school at an early age, yet excelled as a result of individual instruction from his mother. I certainly agree that Edison's mother probably had a positive influence on his development as a creative inventor, but I am quite certain his achievements were not the result of the effective i nstruction of school-related educational outcomes. People don't learn to become great invent ors because somebody taught them to read. People become great inventors because somebody taug ht them to be great inventors. Edison's early education was probably more about exploration and intellectual encouragement than it was about reading. Reading may have played a part in Edison's early ed ucation, but it was certainly not the goal of his education. Referring to his mother as t utor, Edison said "She instilled in me the love and purpose of learning." Implicit in this statemen t is the purpose of true educational reform: change WHAT is taught, not how. Bennett's book actu ally encourages the status quo in this area. For example, Bennett states that "...computerized e ducation will be far more efficacious for developing better reasoning skills." He then descri bes what he feels are the three requirements for developing better reasoning skills: good underlying education, thought provoking questions, and time to respond to these questions. Based on his id eas up to this point, we can only assume that "good underlying education" refers in no small part to literacy. And "thought-provoking questions" still places this type of educational ex perience in the realm of text-based instruction. Not to mention that this Aristotelian pedagogical a pproach represents a rather simplistic formula for developing higher-order thinking skills. If it were this easy, there would be very little need for any technology in the learning process. What Bennet t fails to address are the opportunities to use computer-based technology as contexts for experienc ing purposeful, meaningful instructional environments where learning to read, performing mat hematical calculations, and operating at higher levels of reasoning are not the end of the i nstruction but the means to a purposeful end. If they are to be used effectively, computers shoul d be part of an instructional environment which supports the learning of skills that students will need in order to be successful in the real world. Reading may be a prerequisite for many of th ese real-world outcomes, but believing the computer can successfully deal with all the outcome s related to literacy, including choosing to read, is narrow and misguided. Bennett states: "[Co mputers] can communicate information more efficiently and they can do it with a certain panac he-they can fascinate while they teach." Substitute the word "television" for the word compu ters and you echo the sentiment of educational reformers in the 1950's who believed te chnology was really going to have an impact on how students learned. And like any other piece o f instructional hardware, computers probably won't have a profound impact on how anybody learns anything. Somebody may be able to learn how to read from a computer as tutor because they h ave an opportunity to practice practice practice, with a certain level of feedback provided But in the end, this is no different than working with an individual or a small group. The co mputer may be able to facilitate learning to read in a more efficient manner, but this is no ind ication that the learner will choose to read outside school, or will choose to communicate in wr itten form, or will enjoy any or all of it. But like television, computers can make a differenc e in what is learned. Because of television, many people in the United States have l earned that owning lots of different, new products is important. As a "window to the world" t elevision has also helped us to know more about people from other countries, and good or bad we know that reading isn't the only way to obtain information about the world around us. Becau se of computers, we can easily communicate


4 of 5 in writing to people all around the world, we can a ccess precise information needed in a number of ways, we must discern between the relevant and t he irrelevant, and we can create, simulate, and explore in countless ways. These are the reason s why computers can make a difference in schools. These indicate that different things can b e learned in school. Like Edison's mother, computers can be used to provide a purpose for lear ning things that are important to us. And these types of outcomes go far beyond and around li teracy. Bennett summarizes his work by stating that "Comput erized education will mean a profound alteration in the manner in which schoolin g is carried on." Bennett does a good job of pointing out exactly how schooling could change as a result of using computers as tutors. But no reform movement is carried very far by addressing s chooling. We need to address learning, which isn't necessarily related to schooling. So if you want to read about all the different ways computers can address more effective ways of doing what public education tries to do today, read Frederick Bennett's Computers as Tutors: Solving th e Crisis in Education. But if you think the crisis in education has something to do with what e ducation tries to do today, you would be better off reading Seymour Papert's The Children's Machine or Howard Gardner's The Unschooled Mind These books address real change and real reform. And although you can't access them on the Internet, you will probably save in the long run because they are already printed out for you.About the AuthorGreg Sherman is an Assistant Professor in the Divis ion of Instructional Design and Technology, The Teachers College of Emporia State University Copyright 1996 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesEPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles are archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author a nd the Volume and article number. For example, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LISTSERV@a and making the single line in the letter rea d GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, tha t is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL.The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is Policy Analysis Archives are "gophered" in the directory Campus-Wide Inform ation at the gopher server INFO.ASU.EDU.To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include the single l ine GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, Glass@asu.ed u or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Sta te University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)


5 of 5Editorial Board Greg John Andrew Coulson Alan Davis Sherman Dorn Mark E. Thomas F. Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G. Richard C. Anthony G. Rud Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.


1 of 1 Contributed Commentary on Volume 4 Number 16: Sherman A Review of Bennett's Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education 9 October 1996 Frederick Greg Sherman has reviewed somewhat critically my bo ok Computers as Tutors: Solving the Crisis in Education. I would like to make a few comments about his piec e, because I think he misses or misinterprets some of what I try to sa y. I admit that I stress strongly the need to elimina te illiteracy in American schools. He seems to agree that computers can probably do this. I do not see this as the only goal of educational reform but I believe it is absolutely c rucial to beginning any serious change in this nation's schooling. Many other profound improvements, however, will fo llow, some of which he points out. Although disadvantaged students will make great adv ances, I believe the major beneficiaries of computerized education will be the more gifted stud ents. I spend an entire chapter on their potential gains. Dr. Sherman likens computerized education to telev ision which some in the 1950's thought could reform schooling, but which failed. H e neglects to mention the predominant difference that I stress so frequently between comp uters and any other supposed means of reform in the past the interactive component of these un ique machines. This magnificent feature could be augmented much further by programming that could be developed if computers were teaching without a human interposed between the machine and the pupil. The most unexpected part of Dr. Sherman's review i s his failure to comment on the position I see for human teachers in computerized e ducation. This is particularly surprising since he is on the faculty of a teachers' college (at Emp oria State University.) I use several chapters delineating how I envisage the role of teachers wil l change, how their position will be enhanced, and how much they will contribute to advancing educ ation for all students. I emphasize that I believe "innovative teachers will use their new fou nd time to devise ways to enrich students that we can't imagine today." They will aid the learning process immeasurably, which I agree with Dr. Sherman, is crucial in all schooling.

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