Educators can take a lesson from the business world's use of dedicated computer systems.
Simplicity, apart from being a virtue as someone once stated, may also be a necessity in the context of using various technologies to facilitate teaching, learning and professional development. Modern electronic computers and the Internet are versatile and enable people to do almost anything they wish to do. The versatility of modern technologies coupled with the complexity that is sometimes associated with their use make them less effective educational tools.
Use of Cognitive Resources The complexity of operating systems, the need to learn something new whenever a system's hardware or software is upgraded, and the need to troubleshoot and fix problems that occur more often than not, stretch and even strain the cognitive resources of teachers and students alike. The cognitive resources that teachers and students utilize to learn how to use new technologies and to solve the problems associated with and presented by such technologies limits the availability of cognitive resources needed to teach and learn new content.
Modern technologies, especially the Internet and the World Wide Web have also contributed a great deal to the phenomenon of information explosion. It is true that students can search and find practically any information on the Internet and the Web. However, the cognitive resources that teachers and students expend in order to find appropriate and useful information and to evaluate the worthiness and value of such information can be better utilized learning appropriate content.
Another component related to the use of modern technologies is time. The time that teachers take to learn to use the rapidly changing tools of technology also reduces the time that they have to use these tools to teach content to their students.
Points of Learning and Teaching Systems (POLTS)
In order to maximize the use of cognitive resources and the time that is available for teaching and learning, educators need reliable tools of technology that help teachers to teach the content and enable students to learn the content without wasting time or cognitive resources. Educators can learn from the business world, where many corporations use what are known as "Point of Sales" (POS) systems. These computer systems are dedicated sales systems. Employees in sales departments use these systems to take orders and accomplish other tasks involved in selling products to customers. These systems do not offer unnecessary or otherwise distracting features that are unrelated to sales.
Educators need simpler, less complicated and dedicated tools of technology similar to POS systems. These tools can be called "Points of Learning and Teaching Systems" or POLTS. Some of the characteristics of the proposed POLTS are described in the rest of this paper.
POLTS Should Be Based on Theory and Research
POLTS should be characterized by simplicity of purpose, such purpose being learning and teaching content in various disciplines such as the natural sciences, social sciences, mathematics, language arts, physical education and fine arts. Based on sound theories and proven research, the features and capabilities of POLTS should be limited to only those that have been known and shown to facilitate learning and teaching. POLTS should be designed not only as a tool for learning and teaching. POLTS should be developed also with the view that, in the long run, they can serve as tools that will facilitate the intellectual development of students and the professional development of their teachers.
Simplicity of Operation
Complex computer systems take time and divert the cognitive resources of students and teachers away from learning and teaching content. This implies that the operating system and the interface should be very simple and easy to use. When the power is turned on, the system should be ready to go, and one should not have to wait for long periods of time for the system to load. Switching from one content area to another should be as easy as touching a part of the POLTS, speaking into POLTS, or pushing a button.
Dedicated to Appropriate Rich Content and Its Manipulation and Expression
The system should only contain content in disciplines that are appropriate for learning and teaching at various age and/or grade levels. Sufficient content should be an integral part of POLTS in order to facilitate learning and teaching and also to encourage further exploration of content based on students' interests and needs. The quality and accuracy of the content included in the POLTS should be developed, reviewed and field-tested by people who are experts in their respective disciplines.
Tools necessary to manipulate, organize, synthesize, and apply the content contained in the POLTS should be included in the POLTS as well. As explained below, POLTS should be truly self-contained learning systems.
All content appropriate for the developmental level of children should be included in their POLTS. At the push of a button, or by saying it, or by touching a part of the screen labeled with the name of a particular discipline, children and their teachers should be able to switch to content in that particular subject area. For example, by pushing a button labeled "Science," teachers and their students should be able to access all the science content that is appropriate for the age and/or grade level of the students. In a similar manner, teachers should be able to access with ease all the strategies, methods and research related to the teaching and learning of "Science," or any other subject. Students and teachers at a given grade or developmental level should have very little need to go beyond the resources offered by and contained within POLTS.
Multiple Sources of Input and Output
POLTS should integrate as many forms of input and output that are available at any given point in time into their designs. Such a variety of input and output systems will ensure meeting the preferences of all users. If after sustained use one form of input or output fails, users can always use the other forms of input and output until the problems with the preferred forms are fixed. The availability of diverse input and output capabilities would also enable people with a variety of disabilities to interact with the system.
Scalability of Content
The content in the POLTS should be scalable. Children develop physically and mentally as they grow older. As children grow so should the content that is available in their POLTS. Teachers also become better with experience. The content embedded in POLTS should mature along with the learners and teachers.
POLTS should be personalized to match the cognitive characteristics of students and teachers. The content should also be matched to the individual interests, needs and experiences of different students. The learning experiences offered by POLTS should be geared towards each student's life experiences, thus making learning more relevant for students. POLTS should bring out the best in students and teachers by enabling them to use their cognitive capabilities to their best advantage.
Interaction With Teachers and Other Students
Using their POLTS, students will be able to network and communicate with their teachers. They will also be able to communicate with their peers. A teacher or a technology-based teacher-surrogate can facilitate such interactions during the days and times that are designated for learning. Proper facilitation by a teacher figure will ensure that time is not wasted and appropriate content is taught and learned during the times allocated for learning and teaching.
Having an increasing number of sources to learn or teach from is not necessarily always better. This is true for both students and teachers alike. Teachers can use POLTS to teach the content that they are expected to teach. Students can use POLTS to learn the content that they need to learn. After the content has been taught and learned, students can, and perhaps even should be encouraged to add to that knowledge by searching the vast amounts of information available on the Internet, the Web, and other future repositories of knowledge.
M.O. Thirunarayanan is a tenured associate professor at Florida International University in Miami where he teaches undergraduate, graduate and doctoral courses in learning technologies. He is willing to work with corporations that are interested in either funding the development of, or collaboratively developing a system such the POLTS that is outlined in this paper. The author's e-mail address is [email protected] and his office phone number is (305) 348-2085.