Information Age Education
   Issue Number 84
February, 2012   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education project. See and the end of this newsletter. All back issues of this newsletter are available free online at

This is the tenth of a series of IAE Newsletters exploring educational aspects of the current cognitive neuroscience and technological revolution. Bob Sylwester (Newsletter # 75) and Dave Moursund (Newsletter # 76) provide two introductory articles. Newsletter #77 and subsequent newsletters are mainly being written by guests. However, Sylwester and Moursund also intend to contribute to this emerging collection.

For the most part, these articles will focus on cognitive neuroscience. However, Dave Moursund will provide Information and Communication Technology follow-up commentary to the articles. In addition, readers are invited to send their comments using the Reader Comments directions near the end of this newsletter.

We encourage you to tell your colleagues and students about the free IAE Newsletter. Free back issues and subscription information are available at

Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education:
Using Computers to Translate Educational
Theory into Practice

David Moursund
Emeritus Professor, University of Oregon

I taught in the College of Education at the University of Oregon for many years. This College of Education is a powerhouse in educational research.

I taught preservice teachers who already had extensive educational coursework and I also taught many inservice teachers. With each new batch of students, I liked to start out by pointing out the hundreds of educational research studies and papers that have come from the UO, and that this is a very small percentage of nationwide and worldwide educational research. I would then pose the following question for class discussion:

Give examples of educational research that has made a significant difference in the quality of education of students you are preparing to teach or have taught.

I was always disappointed by the paucity and quality of answers. My students did not seem to think in terms of how education is being improved by educational research and translating this research into effective, everyday teaching practices. They had little insight into roles of computers in this translation process.

Theory Into Practice: A Personal Example

A number of years ago one of my grandsons and his parents were living in my home. At the end of the second grade this boy’s report card indicated he had made no progress in reading during that year.

Somewhat by luck and happenstance, my summer reading for that summer included the Sally Shaywitz’s book Overcoming Dyslexia (Shaywitz, 2003). As I read the book, I soon decided that my grandson had dyslexia. Subsequent testing indicated he was severely dyslexic. A long intervention included about an hour a day of one-on-one help from well-trained and educated specialists. I am happy to report that recently my grandson was inducted into the high school national honor society and is well prepared to go on to college.

This is a good example of translating educational research theory into practice. My grandson’s K, 1, and 2 teachers did not recognize his dyslexia problem. And, once recognized, the school system was slow to mount a strong intervention. The Individual Education Plan (IEP) planning process and implementation were slow and did not initially commit the necessary resources. Fortunately, I knew the right people in the school district leadership, and the end result was good.

This example illustrates a major challenge in our educational system. In summary, the challenge consists of:
  1. Early detection of a problem.

  2. High quality research that has focused on the problem leading to the production and wide dissemination of effective methods for detection and solution.

  3. High fidelity implementation of a solution. There is also the issue of cost effectiveness. Our overall educational system has limited resources and so must balance the use of these resources among many different worthy demands.

Wide Scale Detection and Solution

It is my opinion that my grandson’s dyslexia problem should have been detected by his K or 1 or 2 teachers, and immediately been referred to a specialist.
Recently I have been reading about dyscalculia. Roughly speaking, dyscalculia is to learning arithmetic as dyslexia is to learning to read. The comorbidity of these two learning disabilities is about 60% (Mills, 2011). Both dyslexia and dyscalculia strongly affect perhaps six to eight percent of the population. Both can be detected at an early age. Quoting from Mills, 2011):

… about 60% of those diagnosed with either dyscalculia or dyslexia have the other condition as well  Further, it was already known that dyslexics had significant problems with math as well as with reading. Landerl's studies, however, showed clearly that the two conditions, dyscalculia and dyslexia, had completely different cognitive profiles and the symptoms were additive in the combined ("co-morbid") group. This suggested strongly that the two conditions affected different brain centers.

Dyslexia has been much more thoroughly studied than dyscalculia. Multi-sensory intervetions have proven successful.  Uses of computers range from providing dyslexic students a with a word processor having a good spelling checker (see to use of computer software designed to help poor readers (see the work of Nadine Gaab described at

Wouldn’t it be nice if cognitive neuroscience researchers could identify the specific brain area associated with dyscalculia and develop interventions that would alleviate the problem? The good news is that this has been accomplished.

Early research is summarized in (Attridge et al., n.d.). Quoting from that source:

There is evidence that humans and some non-human animals have an innate Approximate Number System (ANS) that allows us to rapidly, but only approximately, represent numerosity. Children and adults appear to use these representations to compare, add and subtract non-symbolic quantities with above-chance accuracy.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that the ANS may be the basis of formal mathematical ability in humans, and a relationship between individual differences in ANS acuity and mathematical ability in children has been demonstrated. Following from this hypothesis, interventions have been designed to strengthen the relationship between ANS representations and symbolic number representations in children, with the hope of improving their mathematics skills.

Mills (2011) presents more recent research on the detection as well as success of computer-based interventions.
In this document he also reviews various poorly designed and/or poorly implemented interventions.

Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning

We know a great deal about reinforcement schedules in learning, immediate feedback, wait time in accepting student responses in teaching, study skills, and so on. However, consider the challenge of training/educating millions of precollege teachers to implement such ideas with high fidelity. It is clear to me that our preservice and inservice teacher education system is not up to this task.

However, such research-based practices can be implemented in well-designed computer-assisted learning systems. Modern systems of this sort are often called Highly Interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning (HIICAL) systems. In a variety of teaching environments such systems are proving to be considerably more effective than traditional teaching by traditional teachers (Moursund, 2012).

This educational progress is based on our increasing understanding of the capabilities and limitations of human and computer brains (Moursund, 2011). High quality HIICAL is not a magic drug (like an antibiotic) that cures some diseases. However, HIICAL is gradually becoming the tool of choice in a variety of education and training situations.

Final Remarks

Good progress is occurring in educational neuroscience (Sousa, 2010). I have mentioned a few areas in this IAE Newsletter in which computer technology can help in solving some major educational problems.

Generally speaking, educational improvement interventions that are partially or fully computerized lend themselves to:
  1. Easy gathering of data during the intervention process.

  2. Incremental improvement based on an analysis of the intervention process data.
Of course, data gathering about summary results and long-term residual impact face the same problems that researchers face in dealing with non-computerized interventions. Information and Communication Technology is not the “be all end all”. As an example, consider stress related to growing up in poverty and other challenges students face in and outside of school. Merely providing students with computers to use at home and at school does not address these sources of stress. Or, consider what we now know about roles of good diet and adequate exercise as they relate to the human brain. While computers may help a little in this problem area, they are far from being a solution.


Attridge, Nina and four others (n.d.). Reliability of measuring the Approximate Number System (ANS). Retrieved 2/8/2012 from

Mills, David (2011). Math learning difficulties: Dyscalculia. Retrieved 2/8/2012 from

Moursund, David (2012). Retention of knowledge and skills from education and training. Retrieved 2/8/2012 from

Moursund, David (2011). Comparing human and computer brains. Retrieved 2/8/2012 from

Shaywitz, Sally (2003). Overcoming dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Sousa, David (Editor) (2010). Mind, brain, and education: Neuroscience implications for the classroom. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.

David Moursund

David Moursund earned his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught in the Mathematics Department and Computing Center at Michigan State University for four years before joining the faculty at the University of Oregon.

A few highlights of his professional career include founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), serving as its executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was a major professor or co-major professor for more than 80 doctoral students. He has authored or coauthored more than 55 academic books and hundreds of articles. More recently, he founded Information Age Education (IAE), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving teaching and learning by people of all ages throughout the world.

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