Selecting Good Tutorial Software
Being a good teacher is a difficult assignment for any human, let alone a computer. However, software must accomplish this task to fulfill tutorial functions. In addition to meeting general criteria for good instructional software, well-designed tutorial programs should also meet the following standards:
- Extensive interactivity — Good tutorials, like good teachers, should require students to give frequent and thoughtful responses to questions and problems and should supply appropriate practice and feedback to guide students' learning. The most frequent criticism of tutorials is that they are "page-turners"— that is, they ask students to do very little other than read. Interactive tutorials have been shown to present cognitive benefits for learners (e.g., Schwan & Riempp, 2004).
- Thorough user control — User control refers to several aspects of a tutorial program. First, students should always be able to control the rate at which text appears on the screen. The program should not go on to the next information or activity screen until the user has pressed a key or has given some other indication of having completed the necessary reading. Next, the program should offer students the flexibility to review explanations, examples, or sequences of instruction or to move ahead to other instruction. The program should also provide frequent opportunities for students to exit the program if they like.
- Appropriate pedagogy — The program's structure should provide a suggested or required sequence of instruction that builds on concepts and covers the content adequately. It should provide sufficient explanation and examples in both original and remedial sequences. In sum, it should compare favorably to an expert teacher's presentation sequence for the topic.
- Adequate answer — judging and feedback capabilities Whenever possible, programs should allow students to answer in natural language and should accept all correct answers and possible variations of correct answers. They should also give appropriate corrective feedback when needed, supplying this feedback after only one or two tries rather than frustrating students by making them keep trying indefinitely to answer something they may not know.
- Appropriate graphics — Although some authors insist that graphics form part of tutorial instruction (Baek & Layne, 1988), others warn that graphics should be used sparingly and not interfere with the purpose of the instruction (Eiser, 1988). Where graphics are used, they should fulfill an instructional, aesthetic, or otherwise supportive function.
- Adequate recordkeeping — Depending on the purpose of the tutorial, teachers may need to keep track of student progress. If the program keeps records on student work, teachers should be able to get progress summaries quickly and easily.
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