Reforming the educational system is clearly a vast task. Just as clearly, ILS, working on its own, will not be able to produce the volume of software which we think will be required. While ILS develops self-contained application systems like those I have shown you, a critical part of our mission is the development of software tools that will vastly shorten the time it takes to create similar applications in the future and that will make it possible for those with modest technical expertise to create these applications.
Building these applications requires a variety of tools. We are currently developing six broad categories of tools.
1) Simulation-Based Learning By Doing Tools
ILS is developing tools that will enable people to "learn by doing" by placing them within simulated situations that replicate real world environments. Building such simulations is a daunting task. To provide realistic simulations of social and physical environments, it is necessary to have tools that facilitate the creation of such environments.
2) Knowledge Organization and Retrieval Tools
The potential of video in informational and teaching programs has barely been tapped. Libraries of short video clips in which experts answer questions or tell their favorite "war stories" can serve many important functions, for example, as corporate memories, or as teaching archives that make experts available on an as-needed basis. Information in such a video database can add to other information in the database, thus facilitating retrieval of opposing points of view, answers to follow-up questions, historical background, simplifications, and amplifications of the viewed material. In order to build such systems, we need tools that can help organize the massive amounts of video, textual, and machine readable data required.
3) Teaching Tools
There are many ways to teach, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses in various situations. ILS is creating tools that will support different teaching methods which are appropriate in different contexts. For example, the existence of a large case library provides an opportunity for Case-Based Teaching while a detailed domain simulation supports Simulation-Based learning by doing. Further, ILS is creating tools which help determine which teaching method is appropriate in a student's current context. All of our teaching tools are intended to help educational software designers integrate effective, diverse teaching into the learning environments they are creating.
4) Tools to Enhance Thinking
The computer has the power to serve as a real thinking aid by asking pertinent questions that help the user clarify his thoughts. We can use this power as the basis for systems which teach thinking skills by having the computer pose problems in the user's domain of interest and help him work out solutions to those problems, illustrating in the process important ideas about thinking and problem solving in general.
5) Interaction Tools
There are many ways to enhance the power of teaching programs that have nothing to do with teaching per se, but instead facilitate the process of interacting with a computer generally. The ILS Button Pad, which provides a standard set of buttons students can use to put themselves in control of their software, is one example. Other examples are graphic tools which help produce interface designs which aid understanding or natural language processing tools which endow software programs with a limited ability to understand English.
6) Course Creation Meta-Tools
We hope to enable people whose job it is to create educational software for business or for schools to do their job better and with less need for computer expertise or for solid grounding in a theory of learning. We want to give these designers tools that will let them build educationally and computationally sound programs by:
(a) asking relevant questions about the domain to be covered and suggesting designs;
(b) providing system prototypes that can be used as frameworks for the construction of new instructional programs;
(c) providing tools to help non-programmers customize existing software
Through such tools, we hope to create a new generation of powerful instructional design methodologies. These tools can take advantage of the knowledge that teachers have by helping teachers themselves create new software.
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