This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
Tutor, Tool, Tutee, and Toy
“In brief summary, I tend to think the the main goals of education are
to learn to communicate effectively, learn some of humankind’s
accumulated knowledge and where/how to “look it up,” learn to think and
solve problems, and learn to be an effective learner.” (David Moursund,
The authors of this newsletter were born before the development
of electronic digital computers. During our professional careers we
have watched as computers came into common use in business, government,
and education. One of us (Moursund) wrote a Foreword for Robert
Taylor’s 1980 book, The Computer in the School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee
This book provided a framework for analyzing how computer technology
could be (should be) used in schools. Tutor refers to computer-assisted
instruction; tool refers to making use of a library of application
programs, such as word processor, spreadsheet, and so on; tutee refers
to computer programming and other aspects of telling a computer what to
By 1980, microcomputers were coming onto the scene, and computer games
were well entrenched. Robert Taylor considered including
“Toy” (Entertainment) as a fourth category of usage, but decided
this would detract from the scholarly-academic nature of the book.
(Remember, higher education faculty members thought abut promotion and
tenure even back then.)
The concepts of computer literacy and computing literacy
were first published by Arthur Luehrmann (1972) and Conference Board of
the Mathematical Sciences (1972). These two seminal publications (now
38 years old) defined computer literacy and pushed for having all
precollege students gain some fundamental knowledge and skills in using
During the past 38 years, computers have indeed come into the K-12
curriculum. The Tutor, Tool, Tutee model developed by Robert Taylor
provided a framework as many millions of students learned to use
computers. Instruction in programming in the languages BASIC and Logo
became widespread as microcomputers became available. The 1983 report, A Nation at Risk
The teaching of computer science
in high school should equip graduates to: (a) understand the computer
as an information, computation, and communication device; (b) use the
computer in the study of the other basics and for personal and
work-related purposes; and (c) understand the world of computers,
electronics, and related technologies.(National Commission on
Excellence in Education, 1983).
However, computer programming has nearly disappeared from the
elementary and middle school curriculum, and only a modest percentage
of high school students take a computer science course that includes
What has happened is that steady improvements in microcomputer tools
eventually overwhelmed the computer-programming component of computer
literacy in the schools. In addition, the computer became a “black box”
that one could use effectively without knowing much about its insides.
The tools are useful! Nowadays, we take it for granted that secondary
school students can use a variety of tools such as a word processor,
e-mail, and a Web browser. We are not surprised to hear about students
developing Websites and Blogs. Students engage in such activities with
very little understanding of the underlying computer science and
We all are well aware that students of all ages have learned to play a
variety of computer games and also make use of multimedia technology
for a wide variety of other forms of entertainment. Indeed, recent
research indicates that on average, students spend well over twice as
many hours per year using various entertainment forms of computer
technology (including television) as they do in school (Kaiser Family
Foundation, 2010). It is now commonplace for students to have a high
level of skill in texting, making use of social networking computer
sites, and gaming.
The New Computer Literacy
If Robert Taylor had included Toy (entertainment) in his
discussion of computers in education, then one could claim that our
current informal and formal educations is doing quite well in
incorporating computers into education. Indeed, many people seem to
believe that the computer-related entertainment prowess of students
constitutes a high level of computer literacy.
However, most of this gaming-oriented and communication-oriented
computer knowledge and skills is far removed from basic goals of
education, such as given in the quote from David Moursund at the
beginning of this newsletter. Students are not learning to use
computer-related technology to represent and help solve problems that
require higher-order, critical thinking. They are not learning how
computational thinking is now important in every academic discipline
and that two brains—human plus computer—are better than one. See http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking and http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One
Reasons for this are many and varied. Your authors’ best guess is that
it is a combination of curriculum content and the assessment system.
The curriculum content in a discipline rarely reflects the capabilities
of computers as an aid to representing and helping to solve the
problems that help define the discipline. Our assessment system
is not “open computer.” It does not reflect the fact that if a computer
can help a person to represent and solve problems outside of a school
setting, then this outside of school use is perfectly acceptable and
commonplace to use computers. That is, as computer technology continues
to improve what we teach and how we assess it is steadily growing less
The open computer—including open connectivity—concept is simple enough.
Give students an education that prepares them to be responsible,
productive adults in today’s and tomorrow’s world. Give them an
education that includes a strong emphasis on recognizing, posing,
representing, and solving challenging, novel problems. Help them learn
to learn and to take an increasing level of responsibility for their
own learning. Immerse them in learning and problem-solving challenges
that stretch their minds. Give them routine practice in just-in-time
learning that draws heavily on resources such as computer-assisted
learning, distance learning, and other Internet resources.
The Flynn Effect
The previous issue of this newsletter mentioned the Flynn Effect—IQ
increasing over the past 70 or 80 years in all countries that have
long-term data. This increase has mainly been in the components of IQ
measured by use of use of non-verbal tests such as Raven’s Progressive
Matrices test of general intelligence (Spearman’s g). See http://wilderdom.com/intelligence/IQExampleTests.html.
Thus, you would expect that from generation to generation, students
would be much better at higher-order thinking and problem solving. When
this topic was discussed at a recent meeting attended by one of your
authors, a participant remarked: “Perhaps this lack of progress
reflects a major flaw in our educational system.” Our current
curriculum and instruction has considerable room for improvement in
helping students get better at higher-order thinking and problem
Each discipline taught in our schools is being influenced by the
steadily increasing capabilities of Information and Communication
Technology. Our current K-12 curriculum content and assessment system
do not adequately reflect what is going on in the world outside of
formal schooling. Efforts in school improvement and educational reform
need to include a major focus on computational thinking and learning to
make effective use of the combination of one’s human brain and the
brainpower of computers. We need to provide more focus on preparing
students to think and solve problems in an open computer, open
Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (April 1972). Recommendations regarding computers in high school education. Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences Committee on Computer Education. Retrieved 10/5/09: http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/200-recommendations-regarding-computers-in-high-school-education-1972.html.
Kaiser Family Foundation (January 2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year olds. Retrieved 5/22/2010 from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/8010.pdf.
Luehrmann, Arthur (1972). Should the computer teach the student, or vice versa? Retrieved 5/16/2010 from http://www.citejournal.org/vol2/iss3/seminal/seminalarticle1.pdf.
National Commission on Excellence in Education (April, 1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Retrieved 5/22/2010 from http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/recomm.html.
Taylor, Robert (Ed) (1980). The Computer in the School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. New York: Teachers College Press.
About Information Age
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is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology
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