Information Age Education
   Issue Number 221
November 15, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

My most recent free book, The Fourth R, has more than 9,000 hits/downloads this year (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R (reasoning, computational thinking) is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum.

Empowering Students and Teachers

Part 2

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.” (Lee Iacocca; American automobile executive; 1924-.)

Being a good teacher has always been a very difficult and challenging task. Now we have computers. This raises the question, to what extent is Information and Communication Technology (ICT) empowering students and their teachers? This current IAE Newsletter is the second of a two-part series exploring this question.

The focus of the first newsletter (October 31, 2017) was the Crosswords editorial that I wrote for the November 1992 issue of The Computing Teacher (Moursund, 2016). That editorial began with a quote from Seymour Sarason:

“... any educational reform movement will fail that is not firmly rooted in giving substantially increased power to students and teachers.” (Seymour Sarason; American psychology professor and author; 1919-2010.)

The newsletter emphasized that ICT had greatly changed our world and empowered many who routinely use this technology. However, ICT has not been particularly successful in empowering students in our schools. When compared with the changes that ICT has brought to business and industry, or to students outside of school, ICT has made quite limited progress in empowering students and teachers, and improving our schools.

This second newsletter focusses on empowering teachers. More than two decades of research findings are unequivocal about the connection between teacher quality and student learning. Quoting from a report of the Center for Public Education (CPE, 11/1/2005):

[Many years of educational research have provided us with a three-part] blueprint for reforming the nation’s schools. They are:
  • What teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what students learn.
  • Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.
  • School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions under which teachers can teach and teach well.
The following section is quoted from Empowering Teachers, an editorial I wrote for The Computing Teacher about 25 years ago (Moursund, December/January, 1992/93). It represents my then-current insights into the way ICT had failed to empower teachers up to that time.

Empowering Teachers
[December/January, 1992/93]

Our educational system has done a miserable job of empowering teachers to make appropriate and effective use of computer-related technology. It isn't just the training—although in most cases it has been woefully inadequate. It isn't just the lack of computer-oriented curriculum—although, in most cases good curriculum materials are not available. It isn't just the assessment system—although, in most cases teachers are still expected to have their students perform well on assessment instruments that are totally unrelated to use of computers. It isn't just the amount of hardware and software available in the classroom—although, in most cases the facilities are quite inadequate. It isn't just the support system-—although, in most cases the teachers are "on their own" if something goes wrong with the hardware or software during a class.

It is all of these things and more, computers have not empowered most teachers. Rather, by and large, computers have decreased the actual and perceived power of teachers. Most teachers perceive their power to be diminished when they are expected to teach topics and deal with questions where their knowledge and skills may be far less than some of their students. Most teachers perceive that their power is diminished when the knowledge and skills they are gaining are obsoleted by rapid advances in hardware and software. Most teachers perceive that their power is diminished when they are told that they should be teaching students to communicate in a multimedia, hypermedia environment, and they have difficulty coping with a motion picture projector and a VCR.
If the above analysis is correct, it will take a long time for computer technology to make a significant contribution to improving education. This long time is will be required to provide teachers with the education, encouragement, incentives, curriculum materials, and continuing on- the-job support needed to make effective use of the technology. If the resources needed to accomplish these tasks are not made available in adequate amounts, computers will not contribute to improving our educational system.

Empowering Teachers (Continuing the Quoted Editorial)

Many schools now have a ratio of one computer per 12 students, or even better. While these machines may vary widely in capability, the total computing power in schools is both quite large and is growing quite rapidly.

So, why isn't education getting a whole lot better? Indeed, why do so many people argue that the quality of our educational system has been declining during the past decade while so many resources have gone into schools acquiring computer hardware and software?

This is a complex question, and I am going to provide a simple answer. The answer comes from the business world. In recent years, business has undertaken a strong movement toward empowering workers. Workers are empowered by being given the authority, responsibility, and education to do their jobs well. This formula has worked well in many countries and in many different types of business.

Business has also faced the problem of dealing with an immense amount of technological innovation. Studies indicate that providing workers with high technology fails—be it in a factory or in an office—if the workers do not receive adequate training, encouragement, incentives, and continuing on-the-job support. If the workers are not empowered by appropriate training and support, the technological innovations prove ineffective.

Teachers (Continuing the Quoted Editorial)

Why should it be any different for teachers? Many schools have acquired a great deal of computer hardware and software. However, few schools have analyzed the amount of education, encouragement, incentives, and continuing on-the-job support needed by teachers. Few educational leaders appreciate the difficulties involved in a teacher learning to make comfortable use of even a single piece of software in a complex educational environment—that is, in the typical classroom.

To take a single example, compare a skilled secretary learning to use a word processor to handle correspondence versus a teacher learning to use a word processor as both an aid to instruction and as an object of instruction.

It is obvious that the task faced by the teacher is many times more difficult than the task faced by the secretary. This comes both from the fact that the teacher is not likely to be a skilled typist, but also because the classroom environment is very complex. Teachers not only have to deal with whatever questions arise as they make personal use of word processors, they also have to deal with the full range of questions that occur as their students use word processors. While the secretary most likely uses a single computer that nobody else uses, the teacher may have to deal with several different makes and models of hardware and software that are being used by different students every hour. (Students are very good at messing up computer systems.)

Author’s Retrospective Comments 8/28/08

Occasionally, when I read one of my old editorials, I am amazed about how I was so insightful so long ago. This editorial falls into that category. I believe it still provides an accurate picture of ICT in our schools. Over the past 16 years we have made little progress in empowering teachers in effective use of ICT in their everyday classrooms. Indeed, rapid changes in ICT have made most teachers feel that they are falling further behind rather than moving toward feeling competent and confident in the routine integration of ICT into their everyday work.

Returning Now, to the Present

It has now been 52 years since I taught my first computers in education course for precollege math teachers. When I began this long sojourn, I was absolutely convinced that computers would relatively quickly make a major difference in K-12 math education, and more slowly would change a number of other disciplines.

Here, I draw on my experiences as a teacher of math teachers. It is in math education that I expected we would eventually find the greatest changes in our K-12 curriculum, instruction, and assessment. That is because computers can solve the types of problems and accomplish the types of tasks that historically we have taught students to solve using pencil and paper (or a slate tablet and chalk).

It was not that I expected lots and lots of computers to immediately become available to students in math classes. Rather, I thought that our math education system would recognize the current and emerging capabilities of calculators and computers to carry out the computational aspects of mathematics. I assumed we would gradually decrease the emphasis on developing speed and accuracy in doing computational tasks by hand. This would free up time to learn more about the thinking and problem-solving aspects of math.

Take a look at Figure 1. For many years, when I was teaching precollege teachers about computer use in solving math problems, the students and I would discuss this diagram. I would have the students estimate for the math teaching they were doing, what percentage of the math education effort focused on Step 3. Typically, my students estimated that 75% of the time in the math courses they taught focused on Step 3.


Figure 1. Math problem solving.

You realize, of course, that six-function and more sophisticated hand-held calculators are powerful aids to carrying out Step 3. The push for use of calculators in schools was backed by a 1979 position paper from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and a 1980 position paper from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (Harvey & Bright, 1991; NCSM, 2003). The use of very inexpensive 6-function solar-powered calculators is still being debated at the elementary school level.

Calculators have received a somewhat better reception at the secondary school level. Even the least expensive of the 6-function calculators has a square root key. Perhaps as a consequence of this calculator’s capability, the teaching of “by hand” methods for calculating square root has largely disappeared from the secondary school math curriculum. Slightly more expensive scientific calculators have replaced slide rules.

More sophisticated graphing and equation-solving calculators include computer algebra systems. Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017a):

A computer algebra system (CAS) is any mathematical software with the ability to manipulate mathematical expressions in a way similar to the traditional manual computations of mathematicians and scientists. The development of the computer algebra systems in the second half of the 20th century is part of the discipline of "computer algebra" or "symbolic computation", which has spurred work in algorithms over mathematical objects such as polynomials.

The first computer algebra system (CAS) became available in 1963 (Wikipedia, 2017a). Over the years, these systems have become more and more powerful. In essence, such a system can do step 3 in Figure 1 for all of the types of math problems that students currently encounter in K-14 education. A limited CAS is built into a variety of currently available hand-held calculators, and a number of more powerful CAS systems are available free on the Web (Wikipedia, 2017b).

So, for a great many years, our K-14 math education system has faced the issue of determining to what extent calculators and computers should be fully integrated into math courses and into courses covering areas that can make substantial use of math. For example, in many disciplines, gathering and analyzing data—often making use of graphing and statistical analysis techniques—is important. While some progress has occurred, especially in the use of upper end hand-held calculators, overall math education has been only modestly changed by this technology.

A Parallel Between Math Coursework and All Other Courses

Every discipline of study includes accumulated knowledge that helps to define the discipline, the types of problems it works to solve, and the types of tasks it works to accomplish. Each course taught in schools is designed to help increase student expertise. See Figure 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2. General purpose expertise scale.

Depending on the discipline, a person might demonstrate their level of expertise in solving problems and accomplishing tasks through performances, presentations, competitions, products produced, speaking and writing insightfully about the culture and history of the discipline, and so on. In essence, we want students to be able to pose, recognize, and solve a variety of problems and accomplish a variety of tasks related to each discipline they study.

Notice that I did not include multiple choice tests in the list of how one can demonstrate expertise. The “real world” outside of schools seldom presents people with T-F and multiple choice types of problems and tasks.

As we explore ICT and empowering teachers, we need to decide what teachers should know about roles of computers in learning the disciplines they teach and in solving the problems in the disciplines they teach. This situation reminds me of a time many years ago when I was talking to a school district superintendent. He proudly told me, “All of our teachers are computer literate.” When I asked for more detail, he told me that all had participated in ten hours of inservice about computers. Nowadays, this level of knowledge and skills leaves a teacher at the absolute novice level!

ICT has affected every discipline of study through a combination of a) its aids to storing and retrieving accumulated knowledge; b) its aids to teaching and learning; and c) the computerization of some of the tools that the discipline employs. Reading, and writing, for example, now include making use of the full range of sound, graphics, audiovisual materials, and interaction, in addition to conventional text.

Clearly, some disciplines of study have been more strongly impacted by ICT than others. I used math education as an example in this newsletter because I know the most about that discipline and because computers are such a powerful aid to solving math problems.

You know, of course, that math is far more than just being able to carry out Step 3 in Figure 1. When I was much younger, a brilliant math researcher who was one of my professional colleagues told me that he was atrocious at arithmetic calculations. Math is far more than skill in paper and pencil arithmetic computations! Math is a language, a broad and deep accumulation of knowledge, a way of representing and thinking about problems, and so on. Learning math, as in learning any discipline, involves gaining cognitive knowledge, skills, and understanding in one’s head. With any discipline of study, we have the issue of what to store in one’s brain/body, and what tools to learn to use. In summary, learning involves gaining cognitive knowledge and skills, physical skills, and knowledge and skill in the “tools of the trade.”

As cognitive tools become better and better—that is, as researchers and developers continue to make progress in artificial intelligence—schools face the challenge of determining what we want students to learn to do without using cognitive tools, what do we want them to learn to do using a combination of human and artificial intelligence, and what we want to leave strictly to computers. Our math education system, with its continuing very strong emphasis on “by hand” methods for carrying out Step 3 in Figure 1, shows us a particular type of resistance to change. We can create a Figure 1 type of analysis for each discipline of study. Each discipline has its own current level of Step 3, and we see varying levels of change. The graphic arts and architectural drawing provide good examples of changing with the times. Music, with its computerized instruments (synthetic music) and editing facilities provides more good examples.

Final Remarks

Today we are at a new crossroad. Our schools are making some progress in learning to make effective use of the capabilities of Information and Communication Technology. But, the rate of progress in improving education-related capabilities of ICT, as well as progress in the use of ICT in avocations, vocations, and daily life outside of school, is far outstripping progress in the use of ICT in our schools. I strongly believe that we must take a much bolder approach to using the full capabilities of ICT all in grades and in all curriculum areas in our schools.

Last year I wrote and published a book titled The Fourth R (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R is Reasoning (Computational Thinking) using a combination of human brain power and computer brain power (including artificial intelligence) to solve the types of problems and accomplish the types of tasks that one encounters both outside of school and in school. I recommend that this 4th R be integrated into PreK-12 education at all levels, in all content areas, in all pedagogy, and in all assessment.

References and Resources

CPE (11/1/2005). Teacher quality and student achievement: Research review. Center for Public Education. Retrieved 10/26/2017 from

Harvey, J.G., & Bright, G.W., ed. (1991). Teaching mathematics with technology: Using calculators in mathematics changes testing. Arithmetic Teacher. Retrieved 10/7/2017 from

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from Download the PDF file from Access the book online at

Moursund, D. (2016). Moursund, D. (2016). Moursund editorial: Crossroads. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/12/2017 from

Moursund, D. (December/January, 1992/93). Empowering teachers. The Computing Teacher. Retrieved 10/7/2017 from

Moursund, D. (November, 1992). Crossroads. The Computing Teacher. Retrieved 10/7/2017 from

NCSM (2003). National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics 35th Anniversary. Retrieved 10/7/2017 from

Wikipedia (2017a). Computer algebra system. Retrieved 10/11/2017 from

Wikipedia (2017b). List of computer algebra systems. Retrieved 10/11/2017 from

Free Educational Resources from IAE

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. 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

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 Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.


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