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Adding a 4th R to the 3Rs of Education
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon
“The only person who is educated is
the one who has learned how to learn and change.” (Carl Rogers;
American psychologist; 1902-1987.)
“Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are
placed in a classroom where nothing else is changed.” (Seymour Papert;
South African/American mathematician, computer scientist, and educator;
This is the fourth in a sequence of five IAE Newsletters focusing on
possible changes designed to significantly improve our educational
systems. The first explored Robert Branson’s Upper Limit Hypothesis
(Moursund, October, 2016a). Branson argues that it will take a major
paradigm shift (most likely based on computer technology) to
significantly improve educational outcomes.
The second of the newsletters explored some of the challenges of
setting and improving educational goals, effectively implementing these
educational goals, and developing good measures of how well we are
achieving the goals (Moursund, October, 2016b). Remember, every student
is unique, and education is a very complex and challenging endeavor.
The third newsletter listed and briefly discussed a number of ongoing
and new changes in our world that are affecting and/or probably should
be affecting education (Moursund, November, 2016). That newsletter
mentions Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a yen and
yang change agent—one having both positive and negative impacts. The 4th R
Reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic (math) are both disciplines of study and tools that
are useful across all curriculum areas. In the early 1970s, when
computers began to be widely available, Art Luehrmann and other
computer-oriented educational leaders strongly recommended that all
students should become Computer Literate (Moursund, 2016b). Many
suggested that all students should learn some computer programming and
that all should learn to make effective use of some basic computer
Clearly, Computer Science is an important discipline in its own right
and computers are also a powerful aid to representing and solving
problems throughout the curriculum. That is, Information and
Communication Technology (ICT) is both a discipline of study and a
broad-based tool, just as are the 3Rs.
More recently, the term Computational
Thinking has come into common use (Moursund, 2016a). This term
can be thought of as describing our current insights into Computer
Literacy (Carnegie Mellon, n.d.):
Computational thinking is a way of
solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior
that draws on concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational
thinking is thinking in terms of abstractions, invariably multiple
layers of abstraction at once. Computational thinking is about the
automation of these abstractions. The
automaton could be an algorithm, a Turing machine, a tangible device, a
software system—or the human brain. [Bold added for emphasis.]
Computational Thinking is a “mouth full” and it seems to me it would be
difficult to convince our educational systems that students should be
learning the 3Rs and Computational Thinking. Hmmm. How about the 3Rs
and Computational Reasoning? Aha! A 4th R!
However, lots of people have thought about adding a 4th R to
the 3Rs. My 11/9/2016 Google search of the expression 4Rsin education produced more than
280,000 results. Considerable browsing led me to the conclusion that
people writing about the 4Rs in education tended to be interested in
variations of Responsibility, Respect, Resourcefulness, and Responsiveness. In some cases, one
of these terms was added to the conventional 3Rs. These suggested
changes to the 3Rs miss the point of each of the 3Rs being both a
discipline of study and a fundamental cognitive tool.
The remainder of this IAE Newsletter
focuses on this definition of the 4Rs. Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
Computer technology first became commercially available in the early
1950s. During the ensuing 65 years, the price to performance ratio of
computer hardware has decreased by a factor of more than a billion.
Moreover, computer software has been steadily improved. Today’s PreK-12
students take for granted such things as computerized toys and games,
Smartphones, the Internet and Web, robots, and artificial intelligence.
Us “older folks” can compare the world of today’s youth with the world
we grew up in. In terms of ICT and other technology, a short summary
is: What a difference!
We all recognize that not all of the change is for the better.
Moreover, there are huge worldwide differences between the “haves” and
the “have-nots” in terms of access to ICT.
One such change that we have all seen is an increasing worldwide
competition for employment and a major change in the nature of
employment. Many middle class jobs have disappeared (Moursund, April,
2014; Moursund, 10/9/2012). Moreover, many of today’s white-collar jobs
require skills in using computers as an aid to solving problems,
answering questions, and accomplishing tasks.
The next section looks to the future and addresses the question, “What
technological developments will have the greatest impact on our future?” Artificial Intelligence Today
Here is a recent answer from Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor
of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of
Earth Review (Kelly, 10/26/2016):
By far, the greatest impact in the
coming decades will be due to artificial intelligence [AI]. It will equal or exceed the scale of
changes brought about by the industrial revolution. That
revolution was ignited by our invention of artificial power—steam
power, motors, electricity—which greatly amplified and extended the
natural power of muscles. Up until then, the only way to make things
was to employ animal or human muscle.
Once we harnessed artificial power and delivered it as a commodity on a
grid, we could build skyscrapers, railways, factories, and the entire
world of modernity. This artificial power transformed everything in our
lives, from business, to education, to the military, to science, and
With the coming of artificial intelligence, we are going to repeat that
revolution. Instead of merely harnessing 250 virtual horses as we speed
down the highway in our car, we are going to add 250 virtual minds and
make it a self-driving car.
As we deliver this AI as a commodity on the grid so that anyone can
purchase as much AI as they want, we will begin to cognify everything
that we formerly electrified. Cheap,
ubiquitous, ever-improving AI will transform everything in our lives.
It will be a second industrial revolution. [Bold added for
Kevin Kelly emphasizes the steadily growing importance and capabilities
of artificial intelligence. This is an area of research and development
in which thousands of researchers are building on the previous research
and development of their colleagues and previous workers in this field.
I like to think of a new AI-based tool as an aid to human capabilities
than can be mass produced and distributed quickly and widely.
Often it requires only a modest amount of time and effort to learn to
make effective use of such new tools. For example, consider natural
language translation by computer. From time to time I receive an email
message written in a language that is foreign to me. I copy it, and
paste it into a free service such as Google
Translate. I get an immediate translation that typically serves
AI is different from “human” intelligence. Thus, humans and computers
bring somewhat different cognitive abilities to solving problems and
accomplishing tasks. Humans and computers working together can often
out-perform either working alone.
From the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Age
In terms of education, ponder the following question, “If a computer
can solve or greatly help in solving a problem, answering a question,
or accomplishing a task, what do we want students to learn about
dealing with the problem, question, or task?”
You are aware that the same type of question can be applied to the
tools developed during the Industrial Age. We have had well over two
hundred years to answer this question for steam engines and subsequent
inventions such as: trains and steamships; electrical power, telegraph
and telephone; radio and television; gas powered and electric powered
cars; airplanes and space shuttles; and worldwide trade and travel. All
of these except space travel were developed before electronic digital
computers first became available.
Many argue that our current PreK-12 educational systems are still best
described as Industrial Age.
But the world has moved on. The Information
Age officially began in 1956, when the number of white-collar
jobs in the United States first exceeded the number of blue-collar jobs
(Moursund, 2016c). In the Information Age, a steadily increasing
proportion of employment involves working with data, information,
knowledge, and so on. Figure 1 explores Arthur C. Clarke’s Cognitive
Understanding Scale (Clarke, n.d.).
Figure 1: Arthur C. Clarke’s Cognitive Understanding Scale.
As noted in the second newsletter in this IAE Newsletter series, we are now
well into the Knowledge Age,
which began in the early 1990s. Currently there are huge disparities
among the precollege educational systems of the world in terms of how
well they are taking advantage of the technology and steadily
accumulating human knowledge of this new Knowledge Age (Moursund,
Educational Change Agents
The term change agent usually
applies to a person who is trying to make a change in an organization.
I use the term more broadly, as I include computers and other tools as
The Knowledge Age is building on the Information Age, which built on
the Industrial Age, which built on the Agricultural Age. We currently
have a vast range of physical and cognitive tools, and the combined
capabilities of both are rapidly increasing. Robots provide an
excellent example of combining Industrial Age machinery and Knowledge
But wait, there’s more! Consider the progress that is occurring in
cognitive neuroscience, health and medicine, the behavioral sciences,
and our understanding of how poverty, bullying, and social unrest
affect learning. And, consider the fact that the world is facing a wide
range of problems (Moursund, October, 2016b). Many of these problems,
such as population pressures, lack of fresh water, and rising sea
levels, are growing rapidly.
I hope it is clear to you that our educational systems need to
appropriately accommodate the growing host of change agents, and that
these change agents are themselves rapidly changing. I believe that the
foundations of a good modern education now lie in the 4Rs described at
the beginning of this newsletter. It is very important to keep in mind
that the 4th R
strongly impacts the first 3 (conventional) Rs.
Integrating the 4th R
An obvious challenge to integrating the 4th R into education
is the cost of the needed hardware, software, and connectivity. But,
the economically developed nations are well along in meeting that
challenge. The cost is modest relatively to the total costs of
education in these economically developed nations.
The huge educational challenge will be integrating ICT capabilities and
uses into the teaching, learning, and use of the current 3Rs. As
students learn the conventional 3Rs starting in PreK or earlier, the 4th
R comes into play. Their teachers need to be familiar with appropriate
roles of ICT throughout the PreK curriculum as well as in the everyday
life of students outside of school.
This same challenge applies to teachers at all grade levels. We expect
teachers at all levels and in all subject areas to have an appropriate
level of reading, writing, and arithmetic knowledge and skills. By the
time a person obtains teacher certification, the person has been
studying and making use of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic for about
17 or 18 years of schooling (kindergarten through a bachelor’s or
master’s degree). The task of bringing all current teachers and all new
teachers to this level of 4th R knowledge is indeed daunting!
Let’s use writing, one of the current 3Rs, as an example. We have long
included use of graphic images as part of writing for books, magazines,
and journal articles. But, “ordinary” people could not take a
photograph and integrate it into their written letters and other
writings. Now, children can easily accomplish this task of adding
images as they write using a computer.
In writing using a word processor, one can easily take advantage of
aids such as spelling and grammar checkers, a wide variety of type
faces and sizes, nicely formatted tables of data, and so on. So, our
educational systems now face the challenge of teaching students topics
such as design, layout, use of various fonts, and use of graphics in
desktop publication. Moreover, when writing for online publication, one
can also make use of video, as well as touch sensitive buttons and
other links. This is another huge educational challenge, and it is
certainly not beyond the learning capabilities of even relatively young
Nowadays, tables and collections of data are generated using
spreadsheet and database software. However, it is by no means easy to
learn to make effective use of spreadsheets and databases. These are
powerful aids to representing and solving a wide range of problems, and
many people skilled in their uses make their living applying such
knowledge and skills. So, this constitutes another challenge to
implementing the new 4Rs.
You can see the gist of the conversation. The 4th R —which
includes all aspects of the discipline of Information and Communication
Technology—is both a major area of study in its own right and is a
powerful change agent in each of the traditional 3Rs.
ICT-based Aids to
Learning the 4Rs and Other Curriculum Content
The development of reading, writing, and arithmetic created a need for
formal schooling and certainly changed the world. For the 5,200 years
since these tools were first developed, our educational systems have
gradually become better at teaching the 3Rs. However, as pointed out in
the first newsletter of this miniseries, this progress seems to have
nearly plateaued perhaps 20 years ago (Moursund, October, 2016a).
Through the work of Benjamin Bloom and others, we have long known that
a knowledgeable and skilled individual tutor is a powerful aid to
learning (Moursund, August/September 2000). For many years, educators
have been working on developing computer-assisted learning systems that
incorporate some of the characteristics of an individual tutor. We now
have a growing number of Highly Interactive, Intelligent
Computer-assisted Learning (HIICAL) systems. While these have not yet
reached the level of highly skilled individual tutors—they have
surpassed many of the skills of teachers working with classes of 20 to
40 or more students (Moursund, 9/11/2011). We can look forward to the
time that HIICAL-based units of instruction and full courses span the
curriculum. Learning to learn from HIICAL systems is a key component of
a modern education.
Remember that HIICAL is steadily improving. Also, HIICAL systems can
make use of information stored on the Web, voice input, voice output,
computerized language translation, and so on.
Moreover, good HIICAL systems are both tutor and tool. That is, the
software needed in a good HIICAL system can solve or help to solve a
very wide range of problems. This is a key idea, so let’s carry it a
little further. We are used to the idea of learning to read and then
reading to learn. We are also used to the idea of the Web as a gigantic
online library that can help in solving a very wide range of problems.
Thus, think of the Web as both a tool and an aid to learning, much as
we think of learning to read and then reading to learn. Final Remarks
We are well along in moving from the Information Age into the Knowledge
Age. In the future, artificial intelligence and other computer-based
aids to posing, representing, and solving problems will greatly
supplement the physical and cognitive capabilities of humans. This
ongoing change will require ongoing changes to all levels of our
Our educational systems can be greatly improved through the thorough
integration of the newly defined and expanded 4Rs of reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, and
reasoning. Our educational systems can also be improved (will
be) by integrating the routine use of HIICAL into the curriculum at all
I suspect that most people do not understand the magnitude of the staff
development challenges faced by current teachers and the changes that
will need to occur in our preservice teacher education programs. Our
current educational systems are based on curriculum content,
pedagogical processes, and assessment that are thoroughly intertwined
with a three Rs-based educational system and largely ignore the 4th
The 4th R greatly adds to and changes the current 3Rs. In
addition, it is both a large content area in its own right, and it is a
major change agent in curriculum instruction, and assessment. I believe
the 4th R will produce more change in education than all of
the changes we have seen since the current 3Rs became such a powerful
force in our educational systems many hundreds of years ago.
The magnitude of this challenge suggests we need a major change in
inservice education and continuing professional development for all
teachers. The task of being a professional teacher must include
substantially more time and resources for staff development than our
schools currently provide. Learning on the job must become a much
larger part of being a professional teacher. References and Resources
Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University
of Oregon, and co-editor of the IAE
His professional career includes founding the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive
officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral
students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and
workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books
and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free
online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books. In 2007,
Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free
online educational materials via its IAE-pedia,
IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.
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