BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Field of the Invention
The present invention relates generally to educational methods at
the classroom and individual level, as well as systems for implementing such methods.
More particularly, the present invention relates to an educational method which
combines audio-visual and computer technology to shift the teacher's role away
from mass pupil instruction and paperwork and back to the more traditional role
of helping each individual student with his or her unique educational difficulties.
State of the Art
Classroom teaching methods have changed very little since the early
days of our country. The bedrock of education remains the teacher or professor
lecturing to groups of students, commonly in conjunction with a text. homework
is assigned to reinforce the lessons learned in class and tests are administered
to measure students' aptitude and retention of the material. At the early levels
of education, the setting for this instruction has and continues to be the schoolroom,
public or private, where a teacher is responsible for a group of, for example,
fifteen to forty students.
The conventional classroom method of teaching a subject typically
involves a lesson plan which includes a plurality of lectures each having an associated
written homework assignment for the student to reinforce the lecture. The teacher
collects and evaluates the homework and occasionally gives tests to measure the
students' retention of the material. The teacher is also required to perform a
multitude of other subsidiary tasks, such as report card generation and parent-teacher
conferences, to keep the community satisfied with both the students' and the teacher's
performance. Thus under the conventional classroom scenario, teachers must split
their time to assume the roles of administrator and public relation officer, as
well their supposedly primary role of teacher.
Educators have long recognized that while the classroom scenario
provides economies of scale, one drawback is that students of different ages and
aptitudes learn at differing rates and with the need for varying amounts of individual
attention. This recognition led to the availability of private tutoring, for those
who could afford such, provides more flexibility to meet an individual student's
needs. On the other hand, private tutoring has also been criticized since it does
not provide the student with the opportunity to develop social skills which is
inherent in the classroom setting.
Although this traditional method of education has changed little
over the years, the amount of information which students need to assimilate to
be considered well educated continues to increase geometrically. This fact is
graphically illustrated by the technological wonders which surround us such as
microcomputers, DNA mapping, videophones, etc. The increase in information puts
a correspondingly greater burden on teachers to try to cram more learning into
the same amount of time, which leads to an associated increase in the amount of
paperwork to be handled. Moreover, as fiscal resources grow more and more scarce,
teachers have been required to handle even larger groups of students resulting
in even less individual attention.
Although these problems are rapidly becoming more acute, they have
been acknowledged by educators for many years. Many countries have reacted by adding
more days to the school year or sending children to school at an earlier age so
that students have more time to acquire the additional knowledge necessary. This
solution, however, will only provide short term relief since there is only a finite
amount of additional learning time which can be reasonably added to students' schedules,
while our knowledge base will always continue to expand. Additionally, increasing
the school year further aggravates the fiscal problem of education by requiring
even greater economic resources and putting greater pressure on teachers.
Educators have also experimented with alternate teaching methods,
such as self-study programs and videotaped lectures, to both more efficiently use
teacher's time and to provide an element of individuality to a students' study
program. Although these types of methods are somewhat successful at higher levels
of education, they are generally ineffective at lower levels where younger students
lack the discipline to teach themselves. One alternative teaching method is described
by U.S. Patent No. 5,002,491, wherein a central computer is used in combination
with a plurality of student computers.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
It accordance with the present invention, an interactive educational
method has an object of providing a flexible alternative to the conventional classroom
education method which will relieve the teacher of many of the non-teaching burdens
discussed above, while also giving the student the opportunity to learn at his
or her own pace. The teacher will no longer heave the repeated paperwork chores
of preparing a daily lecture, preparing and grading homework, creating and grading
tests, documenting each student's progress and performance or justifying their
evaluation of the student to the parents.
This wil free teachers to use their primary skills of providing individual
instruction to students who have difficulty with different areas of learning. In
other words, the role of the teacher will revert from administrator and public
relations officer back to teacher.
Another object of the present invention in accordance with preferred
embodiments of this novel educational method, is to provide a interactive, audio-visual
system which will encourage each student to learn at his or her own individual
pace. Moreover, each student will be provided with instructional reinforcement
in the form of questions and his or her performance will be monitored by the system.
If a student has difficulty with a particular area, the system will alert the teacher
who can then provide additional help.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
These and other advantages and objects of the invention will become
more apparent from the following detailed description of the preferred embodiments
when read in conjunction with the attached Figures in which:
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
- Figure 1 illustrates a block diagram of the elements of a system for implementing
the educational method according to an embodiment of the present invention;
- Figure 2 sets forth a flow chart which indicates an overall sequence of events
according to a preferred embodiment of an educational method according to the
- Figures 3 and 4 illustrate flowcharts describing subprocesses of the sequence
described in Figure 2.
A system for implementing the educational method according to a preferred
embodiment of the present invention will be described with reference to Figure
1. In this exemplary embodiment it is envisioned that each student will be provided
with a workstation 10 that may comprise all of the devices indicated in block form
within the dotted lines of Figure 1 linked together via system bus 12. The workstation
10 can, for example, be an enhanced microcomputer and the CPU 14 could be that
which is commonly associated with the enhanced microcomputer. For example, an
IBM PC having an Intel 80386 microprocessor could provide the platform for the
workstation. Alternately, more or less powerful computer systems could be used.
The workstation 10 can be integrated within or around an ergonomic
environment. Each station can include an ergonomically designed chair (not shown)
so that the student can remain comfortably seated for extended periods of time.
The display 16, which can be a conventional VGA monitor attached via a serial port
to the system bus 12, can be mounted within a student's desk under glass at about
a 45 degree angle. Alternately, the display can simply rest on the desktop. In
some preferred embodiments of the invention, the display will be touch sensitive
so that a student can enter data and respond to questions from the computer via
The keyboard 18, floppy drives 20, and hard drive 22 are all conventional
components attached via suitable interfaces to the CPU 14. The auxiliary input
device 24 can be any type of pointing device such as a mouse, digitizing tablet
or light pen. The CD-ROM device 26 and laser disk 28, for providing text data and
video data, respectively, are also of a conventional design and can be either
built-in to the workstation or provided as stand-alone models.
Each of the TV input module 30, audio interface 32, and stereo input
module 34 can be off-the-shelf boards which are designed to plug into the expansion
slots of a microcomputer in a known manner. The TV input module 30 is a board
which allows a computer to receive television signals via either antenna or cable
and convert those signals into image signals which can be displayed on all or
part of the display 16. The audio interface 32 is an input/output board which allows
the computer to send sounds, including voice and music, to a student via headphones
(not shown) which plug into the board and receive such sounds via a microphone
(not shown). Alternately, the audio interface could simply be a speaker which
would be connected to a sound board and/or a voice synthesizer as is well known
in the art. The stereo input module 34 is a board which allows the microcomputer
to receive radio transmissions or signals from a tape player, CD player or any
other type of audio device, which a student could listen to as background music.
Printer 36 can be any type of microcomputer compatible printer, including dot
matrix, inkjet or laser printer, which communicates with the CPU in a known manner.
All of the student workstations are in constant communication with
a teacher's workstation 40 via a LAN interface 42 and local area network (LAN)
44. As described in more detail below, this real-time communication between student
workstation and teacher workstation allows the teacher to be informed of the students'
progress and activities as well as allowing the teacher to tailor instructional
programs for each student.
The foregoing description will be understood by one skilled in the
art as merely an example of one system which could be used to implement the various
embodiments of the educational method of the present invention described in detail
below and that various other configurations and devices could also be used. Reference
to the conventionality of the various I/O devices described above is made merely
to emphasize that one skilled in the art will recognize that the system described
in Figure 1 can be implemented using known interfaces and software packages.
Initially, one advantageous feature of the educational method according
to the present invention is that courseware can be uniquely developed for each
class, school, school system or any other segment of a student population so as
to provide a curriculum desired by the educators using the system and method of
the present invention. The term "courseware" as used throughout this specification
is meant to comprise the combination of control programs and data which provide
each lesson to the student at a workstation and includes, for example, both the
information stored on the hard drive, laser disk, and CD-ROM, as well as that input
through the TV input module, and the programmed presentation of that data. The
phrase "lesson segment" is used to denote a block of material presented to a student
which is intended to be viewed and interacted with in one sitting, typically 15-40
minutes. A lesson segment can also be a test which evaluates the student's retention
of one or more lesson segments or a whole semester's worth of material.
As a simplified example, history courseware dealing with the American
Revolution might comprise a plurality of lesson segments. One lesson segment might
include, for example, a narrative story of George Washington's role in the revolution.
The text of the story, read from the CD-ROM, might occupy one half of the display
while illustrations, from the laser disk, occupy the other half of the screen.
After each segment of the lesson, the program could test the student's comprehension
by asking the student to answer a series of questions via the keyboard which relate
to the previous segment of the lesson.
Thus the teacher or school system can select material including,
for example, text, illustrations, length of lesson and questions to be answered,
to comprise the courseware for any subject. This courseware development step in
the educational method according to the present invention advantageously provides
teachers and parents with the opportunity to create and update the educational
material for presentation to the students.
One skilled in the teaching art will appreciate that many other teaching
tools could be integrated into the courseware, in addition to those mentioned above,
to present various topics. For example, some topics, such as biology, are particularly
conducive to teaching via film presentation. This material can be input via the
TV input module and displayed while an accompanying voice description is listened
to by the student on the headphone set.
Next, Figure 2 illustrates an exemplary preferred embodiment of an
overview of an educational method according to the present invention wherein the
student is using the workstation and the system has been loaded with the developed
courseware. In block 100, the teacher initializes the system and then the students
enter their homework assignments from the previous day into the system at block
110. The homework assignment can be entered manually by the student typing the
answers on the keyboard. Alternately, an optical scanning device (not shown) can
be provided which is used to scan the homework paper and digitize the answers.
In either case, the homework answers are compared to the expected answers by the
CPU of each workstation and the results transmitted via the LAN to the teacher's
workstation as indicated by block 120. The homework answers are stored in database
files corresponding to each student name or ID number in the hard drive at the
teacher's station for future use.
The teacher and/or a system program can then use the results of the
homework assignments in conjunction with each student's progress, which has been
stored in another database file at the end of the previous day, to assign lesson
segments to each student as the process flow continues to block 130. This assignment
process allows the teacher and/or a system program to determine how much and what
type of material each student can access for a given period of time, and provides
the first of several opportunities for the teacher and/or system program to tailor
each student's individual learning program.
Within the system, this assignment process is controlled by the CPU
of the teacher's station which downloads the control programs corresponding to
the lesson segments selected by the teacher and/or a system program from the hard
drive or other storage device of the teacher's workstation to the selected student's
station through the LAN. Alternately, a single control program could be downloaded
to the students' workstations which will allow selection of lesson segments already
stored on the hard drive of each student's workstation. When run by the student
these control programs access the various information storage devices to retrieve
the audio and visual data created for each lesson segment.
In block 140, the process flow moves to the next step of displaying
the main screen at each student work station. In addition to lesson segments, this
screen can also include selections such as games, movies or educational video
programs, and creative writing or drawing activities. These selections can also
be chosen by the teacher, student, and/or a system program and can be downloaded
through the LAN to each student workstation. As mentioned briefly above, depending
on the educational level at which the system and method are being implemented,
the student can make selections in a variety of ways. Younger students, for example,
can make a selection by touching color-coded figures displayed on a touch-sensitive
screen. More advanced students can make a selection by using the workstation's
pointing device to click on the appropriate icon.
In decision blocks 141, 143, 145, and 147, the process flow checks
to see which selection is made from the main screen. For exemplary purposes only,
the choices of LESSON SEGMENT, GAME, VIDEO and END are illustrated in Figure 2,
however it is to be understood that many other different types of selections can
be provided. Based on the determined selection, an appropriate subroutine 142,
144, 146, or 148 is executed. The LESSON SEGMENT selection will now be described
with reference to Figure 3 which illustrates an exemplary flowchart breaking down
some of the steps of a lesson segment subroutine as diagrammatically indicated
at block 142.
A control program corresponding to the selected function which was
previously stored on the hard drive or other storage device of the student's workstation
during the assignment process is initiated in block 152. The student then watches
and listens to the audio-visual presentation created by the control program as
the process flow continues in block 153. The control program will also provide
software control options for the student such as adjustment of speed or volume
of the presentation and the ability to stop and restart the presentation so that
the student can take a break or ask the teacher a question as discussed below.
At decision block 154 the control program checks to see if it has
presented all of the material for the lesson segment. If so, the subroutine ends
and the control program goes to block 180 in Figure 3 to execute a quizzing subprocess
described below. If not, the control program polls various flag variables associated
with the commands available to the student during the presentation as shown at
decision block 156. If a flag has not been set, the control program loops back
and continues displaying material at block 153 and then again checks if the lesson
segment is over. If a flag has been set, indicating that the student wants to change
or stop the presentation, the flow proceeds to a decision tree to implement the
A first such exemplary subroutine is shown beginning at decision
block 158, wherein it is asked whether the flag representing the STOP command was
set. If not, the flow proceeds to the next command checking decision block 160.
If the student has activated the stop command, the process flows to decision block
159 where the student is asked if he or she wishes to save the current position
in the lesson segment and return to the main screen. If so, a pointer indicating
a last displayed time frame in the lesson segment is stored and the process goes
back to block 140 in Figure 2. Otherwise the presentation is temporarily frozen
at block 162. Next, the control program checks to see if the student has activated
the restart command at decision block 164. If so, the process flow returns to
block 153 and continues to display material in that loop. If not, a counter is
incremented at block 166 and the count is compared, at block 168, to a predetermined
number, for example, a number equal to 5 minutes, to see if the teacher should
be notified of the delay. If the current number is equal to the predetermined
number, a message is sent over the LAN to notify the teacher at block 170, otherwise,
the process flow loops back to again check if the restart command has been given.
The SPEED and VOLUME control commands are checked for and implemented
at blocks 160, 172, 174, and 178 in a similar manner. Since these functional subroutines
are not themselves part of the present invention and are well known in the art,
they are not described in further detail herein. Moreover, one skilled in the
art will appreciate that a plurality of other commands can be made available to
the student by simply adding such subroutines to the decision tree and providing
icons or areas of a touch-sensitive screen which will set a flag corresponding
to that function.
After a lesson segment has finished being presented, the control
flow according to this exemplary embodiment of the present invention goes from
decision block 154 to block 180 which executes a quiz subroutine illustrated in
more detail in Figure 4. At the end of each lesson segment, which can be designed
at the courseware level to be of an optimal attention span length for the intended
grade level of the student, typically there will be a series of questions retrieved
from a database of questions associated with the particular lesson segment for
the student to answer at block 182. The student enters his or her responses via
the keyboard and the workstation CPU compares these responses to the correct answers
stored in the database at blocks 184 and 186. If desired, a grade on the student's
responses can be generated and transmitted to the teacher's station for storage
in the student's file.
At decision block 186, if the student has correctly answered all
of the questions the flow loops back to the main screen block 140 of Figure 2,
whereat the student can access another lesson segment, request recreational material,
or end for the day. If the student has incorrectly answered some questions, the
process flow loops back to block 153 of Figure 3 and the program retrieves and
replays only material relating to those questions which were missed. This replayed
material could be excerpted from the original presentation or it could be new
material specifically designed to explain the correct answer to each incorrectly
answered question. The process of replaying this material includes all of the steps
discussed above with respect to subroutine block 142 and the subroutines of Figure
After playing this remedial material, the same or different questions
as those previously answered incorrectly will again be displayed and answered at
blocks 182 and 184. The workstation CPU will again check the answers at decision
block 186 and transmit the results to the teacher's station for storage. If all
of the answers are correct, the process flow returns to the main screen block
140. If, however, after a predetermined number of tries the student still fails
to grasp the material and answers some questions incorrectly, the process flows
to block 190 and the student's workstation will send a message to the teacher's
workstation indicating which material the student is having problems with. The
teacher can then use his or her own methods to personally help the student to
grasp the material.
In addition to lesson segments, blocks 144 and 146 generally indicate
game and video subroutines, respectively, which can be selected by a student from
the main screen if they have been sent to the student workstation by the teacher
and/or a system program. These selections can be used to reward the student or
merely to provide a break from the more educational materials. Like the lesson
segment function described above, the selection of these functions initiates a
control program which allows the student to play a game or watch a program for
a predetermined time. After the predetermined time has elapsed, the program will
return the student to the main screen where only lesson segment selections will
be available so that the student can complete the assigned lessons for the day.
Further detail regarding particular games and video programs and their control
are beyond the scope of this disclosure and can be readily implemented using conventional
means. Again it should be noted that games and videos are detailed herein only
as examples of other functions which can be integrated into the system and method
according to the present invention and that many other selections and functions
can be readily implemented by one skilled in the art.
The END function which is recognized by decision block 147 and implemented
at block 148 of Figure 2 can be selected by the student at the end of the day or
as a logoff feature if other students need to use the workstation. Housekeeping
software will update the database files at the teacher's station regarding the
student's activity during the session being terminated. Homework for the following
day corresponding to the lesson segments completed during the session can be can
be retrieved from memory and generated by the printer. Additionally, progress
reports or remedial notes can be generated at the printer for the student to take
home to his or her parents.
The teacher's workstation 40 can comprise a system similar to that
of the student workstation 10 enhanced to provide sufficient processing resources
to control the LAN and provide monitoring capabilities of each of the student
workstations tied into the LAN. The teacher's workstation can include a more powerful
CPU, larger on-board memory and a larger hard drive to store, for example, all
of the various lesson segment control programs which can be assigned. In addition
to the functions discussed above, the teacher's workstation also provides the
teacher with other capabilities including, editing the databases associated with
the materials and questions of the lesson segments and report generation features
which allow the teacher to easily generate grade reports on any or all of the students
using only a few keystrokes.
Although the foregoing description has been directed to an exemplary
system for implementing the educational method according to the present invention,
one skilled in the art will appreciate that many other systems or variations of
the system described above could readily be configured to implement an educational
method according to the present invention. For example, other types of memory
storage devices and communication systems linking the student workstations to the
teacher workstation could be readily implemented. Methods according to the present
invention are also not limited to a single group of student terminals linked to
a single teacher's workstation, but could include an entire school's workstations
Moreover, one skilled in the art will readily appreciate that emerging
multimedia technologies and computer developments readily lend themselves to integration
with various embodiments of the present invention. For example, expert systems
could be used as part of the courseware so that the system develops its own questioning
and remedial presentation techniques. Moreover, the advent of computer voice synthesis
and recognition provides another alternative for both student input and system
The foregoing description which sets forth exemplary preferred embodiments
of a novel educational method and system for carrying out such a method is merely
intended to be illustrative of the present invention rather than restrictive or
limitive thereof. On the other hand, the scope of the invention is set forth in
the appended claims.