The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Computers in the English Curriculum (examples of exploration and play mode for computer assisted learning)

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Computers in the English Curriculum
         by Larry Press
University of Southern California
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This paper discusses and presents some examples of what I will loosely call the
exploration and play mode for computer assisted learning. The examples will all
be drawn from the area of English, since the humanities are generally neglected;
however, I have had positive results using a similar approach in classes on
operations research (1) and Papert (2) advocates exploration and play in
mathematics.
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Another reason for choosing English is that I hope to stimulate others with
substantive backgrounds in English to build upon my ideas. I am not an English
teacher and elaboration of my examples should improve then considerably.
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EXPLORATION AND PLAY
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Let me illustrate exploration and play by contrasting it with a more typical
drill and tutorial approach to learning parts of speech. A hypothetical drill
and tutorial program might present questions such as:
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GIVEN THE SENTENCE:
   THE BOY RAN TO HIS HOME
WHICH WORD(S) ARE NOUNS?
WHICH WORD(S) ARE VERBS?
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The student's response would be matched with "boy", "home", "ran" and judged
either right or wrong. If right, he would be congratulated and presented with a
new "frame". If wrong, he could be shown some tutorial explanation of nouns and
verbs, and re-tested. The system would record his progress through this sifting,
brach network. 
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A pure drill and practice version, might just list words and ask for a judgment:
"noun" or "verb". The mistakes would be marked and a total score tabulated. This
could even be done on a timed basis (e.g., 5 seconds per word or try to get as
many correct as you can in one minute).
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Compare these hypothetical programs to the INSULT dialogue in figure 1. (In
reading this, as well as all other printouts in the paper, keep in mind that it
was generated sequentially in a conversational manner). The key difference is
that there is no "right" answer in figure 1. The student explores – he types
in words and gets sentences. The computer never says "right" or "wrong", the
student's ear is the judge of his work. He plays as well. The "insults" are
funny and he soon learns to amuse himself with sense and nonsense responses. It
is only a matter of time until he discovers that he can use dirty words if he
will – another source of fun. He can use slang, abuse the computer, etc.
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The emphasis in drill and practice programs, as well as much of our non-computer
based education, is on getting the right answer. Failure to do so results in a
slight re-buff and success a small reward. As Holt (3), has shown at length,
concentration upon getting the right answer is\
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RUN
INSULT

HEY STUPID! WHAT'S YOUR NAME ANYHOW??
? LARRY

ALLRIGHT LARRY. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NOUN?
? COW

IT FIGURES! WELL. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE VERB?
? PAINT

HEY LARRY, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO PAINT A COW ????
DONE
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RUN
INSULT

HEY STUPID! WHAT'S YOUR NAME ANYHOW??
? LARRY

ALLRIGHT LARRY. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NOUN?
? HORSE

IT FIGURES! WELL. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE VERB?
? TICKLE

HEY LARRY, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO TICKLE A HORSE????
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counterproductive. Holt has observed it to be a source of anxiety in students
and sees it resulting in a low tolerance for ambiguity. He sees concentration
upon mechanics and strategies for beating the system rather than
understandability. Holt reports much failure correlated with fear; and a machine
that says "wrong" is, indeed, rather frightening.
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The student is also in a passive role in the drill and tutorial mode –
responding to the demands and judgments of the machine. In the INSULT example,
the student soon learns that he is in control and actively directs the course of
his exploration.
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MORE EXAMPLES
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I will present 3 more examples of exploration and play programs in English. The
first, and simplest, is for small children and is adapted from the TV show
Sesame Street. It is illustrated in Figure 2 and the dialogue is self
explanatory. It could obviously be generalized by programming other "families"
of words.
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RUN
SESAME

LET'S MAKE THE UN-FAMILY WORDS! I NEED YOUR HELP
YOU GIVE ME THE START AND I WILL PUT IN THE "UN",

GIVE ME ONE OR MORE LETTERS? R
R PLUS UN GIVES RUN!!

GIVE ME ONE OR MORE LETTERS? F
F PLUS UN GIVES FUN!!

GIVE ME ONE OR MORE LETTEFS? OREG
OREG PLUS UN GIVES ORGUN!!
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Next is the program WISHES, which is illustrated by the conversation of Figure
3. This program is adapted from Koch (4), a fascinating book on teaching poetry
writing to grammar school children (it also presents much grammar school
poetry). Koch recommends that each session begin with a warm-up such as that on
color

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