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Instructional Technology

Instructional Technology (IT) refers to any technology that is used in an

education setting. This includes presentation technology such as interactive
whiteboards as well as educational software. AT can also be considered IT,
but typically, IT refers to standard technology used in a classroom setting. IT
use in a classroom promotes a universal design for learning (UDL)
environment. In a UDL environment, materials are presented in forms that
benefit all learners and responses can be given in various forms. For
example, a teacher can enhance a standard lecture by using an interactive
whiteboard to display a powerpoint presentation as well as closed caption
video clips on the day's topic. By using different technologies, the teacher is
engaging all students, including those that have learning disabilities that affect
their ability to read standard lecture notes. As evidenced by this and other
examples, many types of IT can benefit both students with and without
disabilities by enhance the skills of those without disabilities while also
providing needed support to offset difficulties for those with disabilities.
IT used in the presentation of materials plays an important role in helping
initially introduce new concepts to both students with and without disabilities.
Following this introduction, students can use computer-based IT to further
their understanding of the topic. Computer-based IT can be categorized as
either Computer Assisted Instruction or Instructional Software.
Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI) has been applied to different
educational settings for more than 20 years. CAI uses computer technologies
to enhance (for students without disabilities) or facilitate (for students with
disabilities) learning. It has been widely used and researched in the general
curriculum tasks of reading and writing. An example of a CAI technology for
reading is scan and read programs such as Kurzweil 3000, Read and Write
Gold, WYNN Reader, Open Book, and Scan and Read Pro. These types of
programs provide students with dyslexia, visual impairments, or physical
impairments access to printed reading material by reading scanned material
aloud with customized speed, voice, and text highlighting options. This type of
program, although designed for people with disabilities, can also benefit
students without disabilities. Studies such as the Iowa Text Reader Project
have shown that students without disabilities have experienced increased
reading comprehension by using scan and read programs to listen to reading
material while simultaneously reading it. Other examples of CAI include
concept mapping programs, customizable keyboards, talking word

processors, and word prediction software. These will be discussed further on

the next page.
Although it has benefits for all students, CAI software has its greatest impact
on students with learning disabilities. Whereas CAI software is used to
enhance the skills of typical students, it provides a means of access to
students with learning disabilities by eliminating the barriers their disabilities
Instructional Software (IS) programs include pictures, sounds, animations,
and other various stimuli used to enhance the development of skills such as
reading, writing and problem solving. IS programs provide individualized
experiences used to enhance the general curriculum and mastery of skills
through extra practice, simulations, and problem solving opportunities. The
three categories of classification for IS programs are as follows.
Drills and Practice Programs provide opportunities to master skills
previously taught while providing corrective feedback. These types of
programs teach a skill and then give multiple opportunities to practice
this skill. For example, if the skill being taught is spelling, the student
would initially be presented with a word and then would participate in
multiple activities, typically involving pictures or some other desirable
media, that would require the student to practice spelling that word.
Simulations provide practice for decision making in cause and effect
situations. Of all of the IS programs, simulations are most closely linked
to AT. These programs are often specifically designed for students with
disabilities. Programs designed for students with autism that simulate
social situations are particularly successful. They allow students to
practice responses to social situations before actually encountering
them in order to teach proper social interaction. These are effective
because they utilize a tool, the computer, that many students enjoy
Games provide opportunities to reinforce skills through activities that
motivate the students. These can be successful for students with
various types of learning or cognitive disabilities. These games typically
teach by providing motivating multimedia rewards when the student
accomplishes a task. Potential problems can arise when students focus
on the reward and do not pay attention to what is being taught.

For any of these types of instructional software programs to be effective, they

should be rooted in research-based skills. Teachers should also review any
software intended for classroom instruction before using it in class to
determine the integrity of the instructional design of the software.
Educational/Instructional software was first used as a tutoring tool for students in the 60s and 70s, but over the
past 30 years, it has evolved into software that incorporates some or all of the five functions for helping
students learn including drill and practice, tutorial, simulation, games, and problem solving. As you will find
from the many examples in this Web site, it is difficult to define many of the instructional software packages
into one category. Universities, software companies, and open source projects have all developed software for
educational purposes that blends two or more of these five categories of instructional software. Today's
instructional software also uses both objectivist and constructivist learning concepts in its design, which
benefits the learner since both concepts are valuable to accomplishing educational goals for students.
Educational software is valuable to all ages of students for many reasons including making learning more fun,
motivating students, helping with long-term memory of the material, and providing a thorough educational
experience that incorporates many proven learning concepts into the curriculum. Educational software is best
used to augment classroom curriculums, but in most cases, should not be the only instructional method for
learning. Educational software no longer is thought to be a replacement for teachers, but a tool that helps
teachers do a better job of teaching their students. There are literally thousands of educational software
packages that provide learning tools for all subject areas. Before purchasing any educational software, it is best
to research the product to ensure it provides the intended learning goals for you and/or your students.

Educational software that incorporates the concepts of drills and practice is similar to flash cards, but with
more features. Software that uses drills to enhance learning uses repetition to help students learn the material.
For example, math software will repeat the same types of math problems over and over in order for students to
log the types of problems into long-term memory. Drills and practice are a form of objectivist learning and is
excellent for students to prepare for tests and/or learn concepts that are simple or even sometimes complicated,
but require memorization of the material. Some of the drills and practice software are also intuitive since it
might track the student's progress and continue to display questions until student's answer the questions
correctly a given number of times before moving on to the next type of question, or a more difficult problem
type. This is called branching. The software "knows" when a student has mastered a given problem type, and
also knows when the student has not. Many of the educational software uses drills and practice along with one
or more of the other five types of educational software.

Tutorials are different from drill and practice software in that tutorials should be designed as a complete
instructional program for a given topic. Students who complete tutorials should learn everything about the
subject that might otherwise be taught in a classroom by a teacher. Tutorials are sometimes mistaken for drills
because drills are often incorporated into the tutorial to test the student's knowledge after a sequence of
instructions. Tutorials, like drills, often use branching by allowing students to move to the next topic after
mastering a section, or keep the student in the current section if they have not mastered the material. Tutorials
are more objectivist than constructivist learning since students have little or no input into what is taught.
Tutorials are difficult and expensive to develop, which explain why developers choose tutorials less than other
types of educational software to develop. Tutorials should use a comprehensive approach to instruction and
simulate a real classroom experience to teach students the entire learning goals of a subject.


Simulations are educational software tools that simulate the "live" learning experience for students. Examples
of the types of learning environments to be simulated are a chemistry experiment, operation of an automobile
or airplane, or biology or medical procedures. Students use simulations in place of the live experience usually
in advance of the simulated activity. The use of simulations saves money and replaces activities that might be
not practical or may be even dangerous until the student learns the activity. Simulations usually allow many
different students the opportunity to participate in the simulated activity an unlimited number of times in order
to master the activity before participating with the actual activity they are learning.

Games are a form of educational software
designed to be fun, competitive, and
motivational for students. It is best for teachers
to integrate games as part of an entire learning
curriculum, but not focus on games as the only
activity. A good method of integrating games
into the curriculum is as a reward or change of
pace to regular learning activities. Some
educators frown upon games because some
games have an element of violence and
discriminate against students who do not excel
in games. Plus, the educational benefit for
games is sometimes difficult to predict. Games incorporate drills and practice, and simulation, but differ
because of the rules and format. Games provide a stimulating learning environment if used effectively, and
allow students to learn while enjoying the activity.

Problem Solving
Educational software that provides an environment for recalling information, sequencing, analyzing,
organizing, predicting outcomes, and formulating ideas is probably classified as problem solving educational
software. This sounds like allot of characteristics for a learning environment, which is exactly why it is
difficult to classify software as problem solving type. Many integrated educational software packages
incorporate problem solving as part of an overall learning environment, and might be combined with drills,
simulations, and tutorials all in one package. Like many educational software packages, problem solving
software is difficult to define, but usually requires students to do exactly what the name says, which is solve
complex problems related to the learning activity. Problem solving software helps students learn a sequence of
events that leads to the solution, and is often included in math and science educational software packages.
Problem solving software is motivational and improves the interest of the subject for students, but it is often
difficult to measure its effectiveness and can sometimes frustrate students who have difficulties reaching the
final solution. Problem solving software can provide both an objectivist or constructivist environment
depending on the software's activities and approach to learning.

Integrated Learning Systems

An integrated learning system (ILS) might provide a combination of the learning activities like problem
solving, drill and practice, and tutorials, but also incorporates a management system for teachers and students
to track progress. The ILS is designed to provide a "one-stop" learning activity for students and teachers. An
excellent example of an ILS that uses both drills and problem solving is the Aleks_Math learning system.
Aleks is an intuitive environment that uses mostly drills for different math categories to teach students problem
solving skills for Algebra, Geometry, and most other common math categories. Aleks provides comprehensive
feedback and tracking to both students and teachers, and requires students to master a given topic before

moving on to the next. Aleks later re-tests students for recall on past subjects after a student has already moved
on to higher levels. Aleks is Web based and provides students and teachers results using pie charts, graphs, and
other statistics, and is very good at motivating students to finish each level in order for students to move on to
the next. Unlike drills, simulations, and the other educational software types, an ILS can be a complete
learning environment for students and teachers, and is often used for advanced students so teachers can focus
on students who are having more problems with learning. The ILS also is an excellent tool for students who
are falling behind and need to use educational software to meet the learning goals as set forth by
the No_Child_Left_Behind_Act. An ILS is also an excellent tool for students who are home schooled and
provide the structure needed for students to maintain an excellent curriculum. Another great use of an ILS is
for rural areas that cannot provide subjects like foreign languages where the demand for classroom space is
low. The negative viewpoints from critics of an ILS are they believe it is unreasonable to replace teachers with
a computer and ILS, and also an ILS is sometimes cost prohibitive. An ILS usually incorporates several of the
educational software types to ensure students receive more than one learning program.