Chapter 3:

Compelling Developments: New Technologies and New Hopes


Professor Frank Kosier was the chair of the Department of Mathematics at a major midwest university. He was a survivor of the transition of the university into total the electronic environment. As such, he would often muse on the changes. For most part teaching was easier, more exciting, more rewarding, and more informed than it had been in the past.

Tuesday morning he would meet his Math 324, Abstract Algebra, class for the first time; but unlike the old days when he would not know anything about the students in his class, now he felt that he knew them fairly well. He knew their names, their faces, their interests, and as much as he would like to digest about their public records. He had spent several hours memorizing their names and faces and their interests as he displayed them on the workstation in his office. As he did this, he thought about the fact that the informed student would also be looking though similar information about his new teachers and courses for the semester.

This morning Frank was browsing through the syllabus, checking the lecture plans and notes, and looking once again at the feedback that he had gotten last year on lectures that he would be revising for this year. He knew that several presentations were weak and needed additional examples for the students to work on. Their answers on last year's exams confirmed this.

Frank remembered an article in the On-Line Journal of Mathematics that had an example that might work. He clicked on several options on his screen and pulled up the article.

"Yes, there it was. Perfect, " he thought, "Complete with dynamic simulations that could be copied into the lecture software." He confirmed that he wanted to copy the example and indicated the point in the syllabus and lecture were it would be presented. Finally, he certified the transaction that would ultimately result in a small transfer of funds from his teaching account to the author of the article.

Once the material had been copied, it was linked into the lecture, added to homework assignments, and included in several exam questions. It was a if a ripple had occurred throughout all of the electronic environment for Abstract Algebra that automatically incorporated the new material in all relevant activities in the course. Frank confirmed most of these changes and displayed a few of them just to assure himself that they had been correctly incorporated. It was hard for him to believe that in a few minutes he had added new material and integrated it into assignments and exams. In the past it would have taken a least a day or two of his time and would not have had the same quality and richness as the material he had at his fingertips today.

He looked at the clock. It was time to go meet his class.

What makes the electronic classroom promising today when it was a failure only a few short years ago? A lot! Certainly hardware and software advances are key, but there are additional conceptual innovations that help to ensure the successful achievement of the goals of education as sought in the opening scenario. We will consider these advances in this chapter.

The motivating factors for the use of computers listed in this chapter may be surprising to many educators and perhaps mundane to most computer professionals. While many writers focus on the flamboyant applications of hypermedia in education and talk about the techniques of engagement and construction, exploration and knowledge generation, in reality it will be the meat and potatoes, that is, the solid computational power and the vast storage capabilities that will truly drive the benefits to be derived by education in the electronic media.

Administrators, taxpayers, and students paying fees and tuition will no doubt continue to question the major investment of precious resources in creating the electronic environment for education and the infrastructure to maintain it. However, it should be noted that business and industry has invested some $750 billion in computerization over the past two decades. Only marginal increases in profits and productivity have been realized. The primary reason for this failure was the underestimation of the importance and the cost of user training. In short, the entire workforce had to go back to school. In hindsight, it would seem that we did things backwards. We should have invested in the computerization of the classroom first and the workplace second. Then we might have realized the powerful effects of positive transfer from general education to practical application. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of short term gain business and industry incurred major, unanticipated educational and retraining costs.

Within the walls of schools and universities faculty and administrators have been slow to respond to the pervasive change in business and industry. Education has been status quo. The traditional classroom and current educational processes have continued to prepare students for a world that no longer exists. The time has now come for us to rebuild the educational process and the classroom to prepare students for the post-computer revolution world. In this chapter, we will explore the forces that will make this happen.

Compelling Functions of the Electronic Media

What makes the electronic media superior to paper? Why should we exchange our hard copy textbooks for CD-ROMS or textbooks on-line? What is "switched on" when it is electronic? Simply, it is what you can do with an electronic copy that you cannot do with hard copy.

From a functional point of view an electronic copy opens up a number of enhancements that support educational processes. These pertain to abilities made possible only in the electronic media. They will be termed: input-ability, display-ability, store-ability, search-ability, copy-ability, access-ability, link-ability, manipulate-ability, compute-ability, and simulate-ability. Each of these abilities facilitate and enhance education in the classroom in a powerful new way.

Input-Ability: Input of materials in traditional education is either written (pen and paper with text and graphics), oral (lecture and dialogue), or gestural (expression, dance, and drama). No one can deny that this input to the educational process has been rich and voluminous. The educational material fills blackboards, lectures, discussions, textbooks, notebooks, and libraries. In the recent past, input of educational material into the electronic media has been rather shallow and limited, being restricted to the keyboard. While the keyboard is an efficient mode of input, it limited to text.

Fortunately, the computer interface is rapidly expanding to include graphic input with the mouse, touch screen, and scanners. Graphical input allows students and instructors to input drawings of higher quality, precision, and complexity with greater ease than possible in the paper medium. Graphical draw programs make it a snap to draw near perfect circles and boxes without the use of a compass and straight edge; they can fill with color and texture nearly instantaneously; and they can resize, rotate, and copy without having to redraw everything again. Furthermore, electronic input often provides a product whose resolution is often superior to traditional hard copy generation of material. The compelling factor is that if the input is into the electronic medium, then it opens up a range of things that one can do with electronically encoded information.

Furthermore, technology is expanding the range of input possibilities. Penbased systems allow written input using handwriting recognition. Digitized sound and speech recognition have opened up the channel of audio communication. Video systems allow visual input for gesture recognition; and data gloves and data suits provide input of movement. Finally, digitized images and video have opened up the visual channel that is in the past was limited to few that had the facilities for still photography and film. Table 3.1 lists the kinds of materials that can be input and gives some examples of each.

Table 3.1

Types and Examples of Electronic Educational Material

Type of Material Example


Simple URL

Formated Manuscripts URL

Simple B&W Graphics URL

Color Graphics URL

Animation URL

Audio URL

Video URL


What does this mean in the switched on classroom? It means that instead of the poorly drawn figures on the blackboard, the instructor will have rich diagrams and figures; instead of the reference to a person, place, or painting, the teacher with be able to show the picture; and instead of imagining the a sequence of movements in a engine or a heart value, the students will see it operate. The sparse, colorless, static classroom environment will burst into a rich, full color, dynamic display of information because of the ease of input.

Display-Ability: The other side of input is display. In the hard copy classroom, input and display are tightly linked. As the instructor writes on the blackboard, it is displayed to the class. As the students write their exams, the display is generated to be viewed at a later time by the instructor. As students write down thoughts in their notebooks, the display is recorded for future reference.

In the electronic environment there is generally a de-coupling of input and display that results in some unique advantages. The student in the back row that could not see the blackboard has no trouble seeing the instructor's notes now de-coupled from the input and displayed on his or her screen 18 inches away. Instructors can view a student's exam on their own monitor as it is being written at the student's workstation and avert any misunderstandings or problems before it is handed in. Whatever is input at one point can be displayed wherever it is needed at another point. The interesting thought written in the student's notebook can be displayed on a wall monitor for the whole class to see.

Display technology is improving rapidly. As the number and richness of the electronic input channels is increasing, there is a corresponding ability to display that information. Someday the display may even approach the limits of human perception thus rendering it impossible to tell the difference between the original and the copy by the naked eye. When resolution of the output display surpasses our ability to detect any further improvements, display technology will have arrived. Until then the primary advantage of display-ability is in the fact that material can be displayed on a variety of devices large and small, near and far.

Store-Ability. Storage is one of the most compelling aspects of electronic information. As storage capacity increases, again we have experienced a decrease in price. Electronic storage is more competitive than hard copy storage not only economically but also in terms of space. A book shelf of 20-25 books occupying 1600 cubic inches can be reduced to one CD-ROM occupying 10 cubic inches, including plastic case. Not only will our personal libraries of information increase but the institutional libraries will expand to manage the terabytes of information that our civilization is generating. While debates rage on about the pros and cons of electronic storage over the hard copy book, the market forces of storage will eventually sweep over and transform libraries and educational institutions in the same way that electronic storage has swept over business and industry. The electronic media may never totally replace books, magazines, and newspapers; but, it give them a good run for their money. This has a number of intesting implications.

As educators and as students, we make choices about what we store. In the hard copy educational environment, we generate and store resource materials such as books, films, slides, and lecture notes. We also store some of the products of education such as exams, grades lists, and written papers. These fill up our file cabinets and every so often we discard old materials and final exams that are perhaps over seven years old. If such materials were electronic, storage would not be such a problem and there would be little reason to discard them since they would not occupy any real space.

Why store such volumes of old exams, exercises, and term papers? The reasons are many. First, there is some historical interest in such materials. It would be interesting to examine materials for drifts in theme, social issues, and quality. Second, these materials can serve as a examples and study materials for current students. Third, the materials can be used by the instructors as examples of right and wrong approaches. Finally, the materials over a number of years can be used to guard against grade inflation.

In current educational systems, there are many things that are not recorded and not stored. It is unusual for lectures or class sessions to be videotaped, for the complete contents of the blackboard to be stored, or for all of the questions asked by the students to be logged. Furthermore, there are innumerable interactions among class members and with the materials that go unrecorded. In the electronic classroom, the expanded input-ability of information will result in the store-ability of new types of information. Complete transcripts of interactions can be stored. Both instructors and students will be able to go back and verify what was said and when. Instructors will be able to track the recorded study patterns, homework completion, etc. of the students. The electronic trail of interactions can be used to monitor educational activities and manage information. More will be said about this in Chapter 11.

Search-Ability. Of course, one of the major benefits of electronic storage is the ability to rapidly search for information. Where was that example about hydraulic breaks in the textbook. Where did the author refer to Blaise Pascal? In the hard copy world of books, tables of contents and indexes work well, but have never totally solved the information search problem. With 112 statistics textbooks on my bookshelf, it is no easy task to locate all of the examples of power analysis or to find that one discussion of the origin of the word "statistics" that I remember once reading somewhere. The problem is that there is no super index across books. Furthermore, many works are not indexed such as novels, lecture notes, student notes, and final exams. After many years of collecting materials, we have a problem finding what we need in that collection. In the opening scenario of this chapter, search-ability was necessary to find the right example to use.

If materials are stored in electronic form, they may be searched electronically. There are several ways of finding things. One of the most powerful is string search. The instructor enters a string such as "Pascal" and issues a command to go and locate all occurrences of that string. Alternatively, the computer system may generate super indexes, order materials by topics and date, or use more sophisticated query techniques.

Search-ability is greatly facilitated when the information is originally stored in an organized way and indexed to provide cues for retrieval. Interfaces for electronic storage often invite hierarchical organization of materials in directories or folders and subdirectories and subfolders which facilitates search.

While the electronic media has the capability of search-ability, the search problem may never be totally solved. As the amount of information grows exponentially and as instructors store information haphazardly, the search problem is not easy. Nevertheless, increased search-ability is at least a possibility in the electronic media whereas it is hopeless in the hard copy environment.

Copy-Ability: In the ancient days of education, students and scribes dutifully copied by hand the information to be disseminated and learned. The printing press allowed a number of copies to be generated from one master. The copy machine today allows any number of copies from any number of originals. Similar but historically more recent technologies exist for audio and video information. In the hard copy environment, copies tend to be time consuming, of degraded quality, and expensive. However, if the information is digitized and electronic, copy-ability is greatly facilitated and enhanced. Copies are fast, of the exact same quality, and inexpensive. A paper copy of a 300 page manuscript would cost $15 at 5 cents a page. A disk copy of the paper would be the cost of the disk, under a dollar.

In the switched on classroom, the electronic media allows copies of materials to be generated and disseminated instantly to the students. The days of the ditto machine, mimeograph, and even the copy machine are over.

Access-Ability. Related to copy-ability is access-ability. We often make multiple copies so that we can use them at different places, in the office, at home, during travel. However, in the electronic media, one may have multiple copies in different locations or one copy that is accessible anywhere. The latter is preferable, since changes made to the one copy do not need to be made to all of the other copies.

When materials are electronic and networks provide for access anywhere, the materials are ubiquitous. The nightmare of picking up the wrong folder and marching halfway across campus to class only to find that I left all of my notes or handouts back in my office is over. Materials that are prepared at home or in the office are accessible in the classroom and vice versa. The same goes for students. The excuse that a student forgot the assignment at home no longer makes sense. Their notes and assignments are ubiquitous. In the ubiquitous electronic media, if it exists, it is accessible.

Access-ability also requires an increase in the number of computer workstation. With the rising power of computers and the simultaneous falling cost, we are quickly coming to the point when computers will be more plentiful than students. A strange thought? Yet we see the need for pencils and desks and books for every student. Soon it will no longer be a question of having a computer for each student, but rather filling the classrooms so that we have a student at each workstation.

Why can't students share a computer? Why can't they wait in line or schedule it during off hours? While such questions could be entertained in the past, they are no longer credible. Computers will be everywhere: in the classrooms, in the labs, in the offices, in the dormitory rooms, at home, and in the backpacks of the students.

Access-ability is a new dimension in education. It opens the classroom doors to anytime, anywhere education. When carried to its extreme, access-ability results in the "virtual classroom." The idea is that students can access all of the materials and interactions that would have occurred in a classroom without actually entering the classroom. More will be said about the virtual classroom and distance education in Chapters 4 and 15.

Link-Ability: Most of what we do in both thought and deed can be represented as associations between one point and another. From lesson plans to knowledge networks, we go from one point to another. Consequently, the link-ability of information in the electronic environment is a compelling force in the rehosting of education in an electronic media. Link-ability refers to the ability to generate and traverse links within the electronic media. Several illustrations will help to explain the idea of link-ability at this point before we explore the topic in more detail under the names "hypertext," "hypermedia," and "hypercourseware."

Our current view and organization of information tends to be extremely hierarchical and nested. Libraries contain collections, collections contain objects such as books or periodicals or audio recordings, objects such as books contain chapters, and chapters subheadings, and so on and replicated for various types of objects. If one wants to browse for information on a certain topic, such as the reaction of the Vatican to the Reformation, one would have to find relevant sources and dig into them. After much research, one might generate a bibliography of references which would aid future researchers. But this bibliography is a yet another object.

In the electronic media organization my be hierarchical or lateral or any type of web. The researcher may generate links between text passages. In a real sense, the researcher and instructor may generate a trail or a path through the information. Furthermore, multimedia links may be generated so that in a discussion of a painting, a link may point to an electronic copy of that painting which in turn may point to a biography about an individual in the painting.

A second, more mundane but very important link, is one that is used to navigate activities. In education, we move among different types of activities: reading, notetaking, completing assignments, running experiments, taking exams, discussion, etc. If each of these activities is now mediated by the computer, there must be a way to navigate among the activities. Links from one activity to another provide the navigational mechanism. While reading, links may be established to a notetaking tool, to copy and annotate information. While running an experiment, data and observations may be linked to a laboratory report. Finally, the syllabus may be used to link dates and topics to activities for each day.

Link-ability is the new electronic glue to stick one thing to another and the electronic bridge to go from activity to another. Link-ability will not only make information more accessible, it will help to order it in an instructional framework. Although information may be initially stored hierarchically, it can be linked laterally to allow instructors to lead their students through a pedagogically meaningful path and to allow students to explore it according to their interests.

Manipulate-Ability: Electronic material has the virtue that it can be electronically manipulated and transformed. While hard copy material can be folded, cut, pasted, and stapled, the types of manipulations are limited, time consuming, in some cases destructive, and sometimes expensive. Moreover, electronic material can also be enlarged, shrunk, rotated, reordered, and transformed in many other ways. Transformations are generally fast, inexpensive, and nondestructive.

We are only beginning to explore the educational possibilities of manipulate-ability of information. Hands on experience in education has always been important because it allows the student to experience the immediacy of cause-effect relationships. Manipulate-ability allows the student, in essence, to reshape conceptual structures as if one were molding clay. What happens if ... ? Manipulate-ability extends the range of experiences and allows the student to be in control. Exploration by manipulation helps to engage the students as a participant rather than a passive recipient of facts. More will be said about manipulate-ability in Chapter 7 as it relates to the educational benefits of interactivity and engagement of students with the materials.

Compute-Ability: An important function of computers is still computing. Compute-ability refers to the ability to calculate. In addition to numerical computations in math ad science, computations are important in managing the learning process. In education we are accustomed to computing percent correct, grades, averages, and the like. To do so with computers requires entering the data. However, when education is in the electronic media, the data are already in the system. Moreover, compute-ability in education can be applied in some new ways to solve some old problems.

Compute-ability can be used to help the student plan study time. If the computer calculates that there are 3500 words in the text to be read, 10 study questions requiring about 25 words to be typed for each, and the student has an averaging study reading time of 180 words per minute, typing speed of 25 words per minute, and thought time of one minute per question, the computer can calculate that the student needs at least 39.5 minutes to study. The student's weekly schedule of activities can be updated to accommodate this need.

Many other performance measures can be computed for grading, evaluation, and self-monitoring. Many students fall behind because they do not have the self-monitoring skills needed to assess their performance relative to course standards or to peers. Compute-ability can be used to provide more accurate information to help the students change study and learning activities.

From the teacher's perspective compute-ability can be applied to monitor the performance of the class and the effectiveness of various educational activities such as lectures, readings, assignments, etc. Compute-ability can be used to answer questions such as "How long will it take to explain and learn a particular concept? How many questions can be included in a 50 minute exam?"

Finally, compute-ability can, of course, be applied during lectures, assignments, and exams in mathematically oriented subjects to speed up the number of examples and increase the complexity of examples that can be covered. The tedium of mathematical computations should not bog down or distract from the primary learning objectives and activities of the teacher or the student.


During the past two decades, many educators have been attracted to the ability of computers to simulate complex systems. Simulations have allowed students to experience, experiment with, and analyze systems in ways that are not possible in the real world. Simulations allow students to speed up (e.g. evolutionary models, models of epidemics) or slow down (e.g., internal combustion engines, nuclear chain reactions) the time line so that they can observe the changes in a reasonable length of time. Watching simulations in process help students to identify patterns, observe sequences, and discover inter-relationships in the system being observed. The most compelling benefit of simulations is that they allow the students to run experiments. Students can set the initial conditions, define relationships and objects, start the simulation, and see what happens. Experimentation may extend from unsystematic playing around to controlled experiments in which independent variables are systematically manipulated and their effect on a set of dependent variables is observed. Simulations vary in the degree of control (e.g., number of parameters, proportion of variance accounted for by the parameters versus random variables), the continuousness and directness of control (e.g., joy stick or steering wheel input versus keypad input) afforded to the student, and the delay of effect of control (e.g., immediate versus delayed consequences).

Many simulations can be conducted as games to make otherwise dull systems interesting and challenging. The object of the game is to define or to set conditions so as to lead to favorable outcome conditions. A very early simulation game is lunar lander. The computer simulated the landing on the moon of the Apollo spacecraft. The player merely controlled the amount of thrust delivered to the retro-rockets of the ship. The object was to slow the craft down sufficiently for a smooth, safe landing without running out of fuel. Since then we have seen hundreds of simulations from flying fighter airplanes to building cities, civilizations, and even worlds. Simulations have been written in also every discipline from psychology with simulations of learning processes to business and management with simulations of the stock market. In each case simulations can be used to bring vague concepts and hidden relationships to the forefront for observation and exploration.

Simulations can get even more interesting when it is not just the individual playing against the forces of the system, but rather individuals or teams competing with each other across the media of the simulation. Two players can have a dog fight using a flight simulator, they can set up businesses and complete with each other using a market simulation program, or they can direct armies against one another in a battlefield simulation. Interpersonal competition in game simulation further heightens the level of interest and involvement that can be achieved with simulation.

Compelling System Level Forces

What has made all of this possible and where is it going in the future? It can be summed up in three words: faster, more, and cheaper. These adjectives apply to four areas of the electronic environment: hardware, software, communication networks, and hypermedia materials.

Little needs to be reiterated about hardware. Every year the manufactures develop faster machines with greater memory and storage. Display devices, printers, and other peripherals for video capture, scanning, etc. increase in quality, features, and power. No end to this development is in sight. It is fueled by competition as well as the challenge of each new technological achievement. It has been observed that in the last year or two we pasted the point in hardware development required to make truly operational multi-media, direct-manipulation workstations price competitive.

A similar story of development can be told for software as it resides on faster and cheaper machines. Software developers are compelled to write programs with greater functionality and usability. Furthermore, off-the-shelf software is becoming readily available to cover almost all of the needs of general users for word processing, graphics, communications, and file management,. In addition, high level languages are available to allow end-users to write applications to fill in the balance of needs.

The most exciting developments currently in education are in the areas of networks and hypermedia. Computer networks have expanded the reach for information beyond the hard drive to shared local servers and beyond to servers around the world. Networks will eventually provide access to unprecedented amounts and types of information. It is not inconceivable that in the near future all printed text, graphics, and recorded audio and video will be on-line somewhere.

Finally, hypermedia as a system of linking information must be mentioned again and emphasized at this point. It is not sufficient to merely have information on-line. It must be found and retrievable. This is no small problem and it gets worse and worse as more information comes on-line. Hypermedia as a way of linking, locating, and retrieving knowledge is particularly relevant in education. Very simply, a hypermedia system is a collection of information nodes with links from one node to another that allow the users to meaningfully navigate through the information. Links may go to the next page or the next chapter of a book, to related articles, to illustrations and definitions, or any web of associations. These systems are becoming more and more powerful and will provide a important engine to drive the educational environment.


A few years ago the idea of an electronic classroom was inconceivable except in the eyes of science fiction writers. But as the abilities of computers have grown, as their application across a wide variety tasks has expanded, and as their prices have dropped, their broad application in the general classroom has become very compelling. We are consequently on the threshold of a major electronic revolution of the classroom. We have experienced the benefits of computers for individual use, for productivity, and for communications at work and at home. There are computers everywhere used for every purpose under the sun. Now we will see a massive influx of computer workstations and systems into the classroom. The next section will discuss the building of this new electronic environment for education both in terms of hardware design and particularly in terms of the software architecture and human/computer interface.

Exercises and Projects

1. Find a working example for each of the "X-Abilities" in the electronic media in existing software.

2. Generate a new example of each of the "X-Abilities" in the electronic media that have not been mentioned in the text.

3. Explore the idea of a cost/benefit table for the hard copy vs. electronic environment for each of the "X-Abilities."

Suggesting Readings

1. Begoray, J. A. (1990) An introduction to hypermedia issues, systems and application areas. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 33, 121-147.

2. Shneiderman, B. (1993). Engagement and construction: Educational strategies for the post-TV era. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 4, 106-116.

3. Weiser, M. (1991). The Computer for the 21st Century. Scientific American, pp. 94-104.

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