Kinds of Technology

Discuss Kinds of Technology Issues Here

Computers are not a monolithic medium. They have been called the first meta-medium because of the ability of the computer to replicate so many other media: From text to movies to audio recordings, including the addition of interactivity.

That range and versatility implies that there is a wide range of computer-based technologies, each with their strength and weaknesses. Here are some tables comparing some of the technologies (broadly defined:

Delivery and Development Technology What is it? What are the main strengths of this kind of technology? What are the main weaknesses? How expensive is it? Can it handle multimedia? Can it support student interaction?
CD-ROM Software provided on optical disks The main strength is the ability to provide 500 megabytes cheaply. Hand a disk over and POOF you have a whole lot of information. It's frozen in time -- you can't save more to it. It also tends to be platform specific. (If you support both Windows and Macs, for example, you have to provide copies of each software on the CD.) It's super-cheap to deliver -- less than $20 per CD. It can be expensive to develop for, though. 500 Mb is a lot of space to fill. CD-ROM excels as a delivery mechanism for multimedia. Audio and video files can be huge, and 500 Mb is just right for those kinds of files. It can support some kinds of student interaction. A student can manipulate a simulation or a multimedia presentation, but can't collaborate through a CD.
World-Wide Web with Forms The World-Wide Web is a protocol for sharing multimedia (text, graphics, audio, video, etc.) across the Internet. Forms are the kind of text and buttons that most WWW browsers typically support. Platform independence -- UNIX, Windows, Macs all run the same files. It also is excellent for group activities. Narrow pipes -- it takes a long time to move big files across the Web. You wouldn't want to send the same huge multimedia that you'd put on a CD on the Web. Access to the Web is becoming ubiquitous. Creating basic Web pages is very cheap. Multimedia can be supported, to an extent. Long movies at high resolution are too big to send over the Web, for example. But short clips work great. Interaction is supported, but limited. You're not going to move sliders around and see dynamic simulations on basic WWW pages.
Java Java is a language that can be used to create small, downloadable applications over the Web. Relative platform independence. Currently, there are battles over just how platform independent Java is -- and should be. But the big win is interactivity. Java can support really neat interactivity. Java requires mid-range, not cheap, computers. Not all Java applets run on all platforms. Cheap to deliver, but can be expensive to develop. Java is not an easy language to work in. Java excels at multimedia. You have the same network weaknesses of the Web, but you have much more expressive flexibility. Java can support a wide variety of interaction styles, from dragging objects around on the screen to video games.
Director, Authorware, etc. Software that supports the creation of interactive multimedia Can create synchronized audio, video, graphics, text, animations, and other media relatively easy and, in some cases, with a high degree of platform independence While it's easy to get something up, complicated things are really complicated to build -- perhaps even more complicated than they might be in Java or other tools The software is very expensive: Several thousand dollars per copy This is the current state-of-the-art in multimedia development Student interaction is relatively limited. Authorware is better than Director, but both are best at simple, easily-defined kinds of student interaction. Long text and collaboration are examples of things that these tools are not good at.

Types of Software Technologies What is it? What are the main strengths of this kind of technology? What are the main weaknesses? How expensive is it? What learning problems does it address? Is it effective?
Simulations Representing the physical world (typically in an abstract form) on the computer, for ease in studying (e.g., with visualizations) and manipulating You can simulate things more slowly or quickly than they might in the real world, and visualize (make visible using computer graphics) things that you might not normally see "All simulations are wrong" -- you're always abstracting away some detail. The key is for the invisible detail to be the unimportant stuff. Simulations can be ultra cheap (like simple predator-prey simulations) up to very expensive virtual reality simulations. Multimedia for Engineering Education is mid-range expensive Allows students to see detail or relationships that might otherwise be missed. Also helps students to get feedback on ideas (tested through simulations or manipulating existing simulations) before implementing in the real world Simulation can be very effective, when combined with thoughtful student interaction. Simulation alone (e.g., a movie, simple push-button interaction) can lead to students thinking of it as a videogame, with no real-world connection
Collaboration Spaces Networked-based writing (and other activity) spaces where students can share work and conduct dialogs Can encourage students to question and critique one another, and can encourage students to articulate thoughtful responses Hard to get students to use. Doesn't always integrate easily into traditional classes. Can be very cheap (e.g., CaMILE) to reasonably expensive real-time video collaboration Encourages students to question themselves and others, and in this way, address misconceptions and design fixation Some studies have shown significant improvements in depth of learning and in students' critical thinking through collaboration
Intelligent Tutoring Systems AI-based software that poses problems to students and guides them through performing and learning from the problems (see EPITOME) For well-understood domains, exceptionally effective at getting students to learn the content in minimal time Not applicable to domains which cannot be easily defined, such as design and debugging. Relatively expensive, though toolkits are appearing to make it easier to do. In any case, ITS development typically involves building software. Helps students to learn complex but well-understood domains (such as algebra, geometry, program construction) Extremely effective for the domains in which it has been applied. Performance can improve by two standard deviations, in literally a third of the time
Case Libraries Collections of "stories" (Relevant artifacts, lessons-learned, process details), indexed in ways that make sense for students' needs and for the real meaning of the content Cognitive theories suggest that we learn best through (and in fact, our own memory is organized in terms of) stories. Case libraries can present the right kind of information in a way that the students can really use it Can be expensive to build (e.g., expert case libraries), though some success has been had with simple and inexpensive case libraries (e.g., based on student projects). Big challenge: Coming up with a good index! Provides students with examples, strategies, approaches, and process -- the kind of knowledge that is critical but is often missing from textbooks Studies have shown improved performance and learning through effective use of case libraries.

Last modified at 11/21/97; 2:40:27 PM
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