According to Roblyer (2016, p. 75), instructional software is defined as software specifically designed to support learning and instruction. Instructional software should not be confused with “software tools”, such as word processing software (Google Docs). Software tools may have implications for learning but were not designed specifically for delivering instruction. The most common categories of instructional software are drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, instructional games, and problem-solving software. As technology has become more advanced, instructional designers are finding ways of incorporating several types of instructional software into one package. While this may seem advantageous for learners, teachers must ensure that instructional software aligns with lesson objectives and meets student learning needs (p. 77).
Drill and Practice
Drill and practice software requires students to answer questions after which students are provided with immediate feedback, typically in the form of “Correct” or “Incorrect”. When evaluating drill and practice exercises, teachers must ensure that feedback in meaningful. For instance, if a student chooses an incorrect answer, does the instructional software provide a reason why this is not the correct answer?
There are several relative advantages for using drill and practice software. One relative advantage is that students are allowed to practice and progress at their own pace. When drill and practice takes place in the classroom, there are students in the class that have already demonstrated understanding alongside students that are having difficulty. Nevertheless, the class is required to move at the same pace. Drill and practice software, on the other hand, provides opportunities for self-pacing and individual mastery of content. English language learners in science classes can benefit from drill and practice software to support concepts and language inside and outside of class.
Drill and Practice Example
Quizlet is one example of drill and practice instructional software. Quizlet is a flash card web app that also allows for images and audio recordings. This tool would work well in a science classroom with English language learners because of the support offered by the audio and visual components. Quizlet allows teachers to create lesson-specific flash cards to ensure that students are acquiring language necessary to meet learning objectives.
Tutorial software is defined as an instructional series through which students learn about a topic. The software is meant to be a standalone learning tool and is not meant to supplement classroom instruction. Therefore, practice exercises as well as feedback should be included in the tutorial software (Roblyer, 2016, p. 83).
The relative advantages of using tutorial software in science classes include self-paced instruction and intelligent tutorial systems (p. 85). Students complete the tutorial software at their own pace, receiving feedback from the software based on their answer choices, and revisiting instruction where needed. Intelligent tutorial systems also provide learners with instruction and questions based on learners’ needs. For instance, if learners answer consecutive questions correctly, the tutorial software may make the content more challenging and vice-versa for incorrect answers.
Tutorial Software Examples
Achieve3000 is an online instructional program. The program offers engaging materials with appropriate visuals as well as materials of different lexile levels to support English language learners. The lessons provide necessary vocabulary and explanations to successfully complete the comprehension quizzes. If a student marks an answer wrong, then the program will provide feedback explaining why the chosen answer is incorrect. Based on the criteria set by Roblyer (2016, p.84), this tutorial software may be considered well-designed.
Simulation software is defined as software that models real-world or theoretical systems to support learning (Roblyer, 2016, p. 87). Simulation software may be used to facilitate the learning of laboratory, medical, or engineering procedures. Flight simulators may be used in pilot school, or stock market simulators in business schools. The key to most successful simulators is that they are as closely linked to real-world systems as possible.
The relative advantages of using simulation software in science include safe experimentation, repetition, and cutting down on costs and resources (p. 90). Safety is of major concern when conducting science experiments, especially when using chemicals. The ability for students to repeat simulations without using resources saves money over time. Using simulations before an experiment will familiarize students with the procedures beforehand and better prepare them for performing the real-world experiment. Finally, for English language learners, simulations offer a low-stakes and safe environment to practice procedures and familiarize themselves with concepts. Though language demands may be high, the visual cues offered by most simulation software will balance the cognitive load placed on language learners.
The PhET simulations provided by University of Colorado Boulder provide learners with realistic interactives to teach physics. The interactives are not visually stunning, but provide realistic interactives with simple user interfaces to support concept learning. This are excellent tools for allowing English language learners to construct meaning and demonstrate understanding of physics concepts learned in class. Many of the simulations’ elements can be manipulated to show or hide mass, velocity, and force to increase complexity.
Instructional games are defined as instructional software that include game-like mechanics and/or include competitive elements (Roblyer, 2016, p. 92). Students tend to be more engaged and motivated by instructional games compared to more conventional instructional software. One of the many drawbacks to instructional games includes the costs of developing games for instructional purposes (p. 93). Due to these drwabacks, teachers have found unique ways of incorporating tradtional games into the classroom, such as Minecraft, Simcity, Second Life and Microsoft’s Project Spark.
The relative advantages of using instructional games include fostering healthy competition and collaboration among students. Students are also more engaged as “learning” has been transformed to “playing” (p. 94). In science classes, instructional games provide English language learners with engaging visual content to support learning of content and concepts. Learning language (and many would argue learning in general) is a social process, and games, especially online games, provide English language learners opportunities to collaboratively learn language and content alongside their native English speaking peers.
Instructional Game Example
Release on April 14, 2016 on Steam, Tyto Ecology gives students the opportunity to build their own ecosystem and populate it with various animals and plants. The game allows users to choose different biomes and track their health, including updates on recent events within specific biomes. The game overall seems very useful for students to learn about ecosystems and the interdependence of living and non-living things. The game comes with a price tag of $6.99.
Problem-solving software is defined as software designed for “achieving a goal when the solution is not obvious” (Roblyer, 2016, p. 97). Problem-solving software can be subject-specific or for the general purpose of enhancing problem-solving ability (p. 97). Many of the subject-specific problem-solving software packages are geared toward learning math and science.
Problem-solving software has several advantages for English language learners in a science classroom, such as visualization of complex concepts, increased interest and motivation, and application of content (p. 98). For English language learners, authenticity increases motivation and problem-solving software creates learning environments that are more authentic than rote learning methods in teacher-centered learning environments. Visual support systems provided in problem-solving software packages can also assist English language learners in understanding concepts and demonstrating understanding to teachers, greatly reducing language demands in situations where conceptual understanding is more critical.
Problem-Solving Software Example
Kerbal Space Program at first appears to be a game, but it’s quite literally rocket science. The KerbalEDU branch of Kerbal Space Program includes teacher resources and standards alignment. The program requires students to design rockets, attach payloads and send them off into space while accounting for an array of technical specifications that can and will cause problems at launch. Students must go through the design cycle and problem-solve in the hopes that their rockets will one day make it to space. This program is especially useful for English language learners as the language demands are very low relative to the amount of concept knowledge attained through trial and error. KerbalEDU offers educational licensing.
Roblyer, M.D. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson Education.