An evaluation of microcomputer assisted instruction for teaching word recognition to mentally retarded adults : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education, Faculty of Education, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Massey University
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This study compared the utility of computer assisted instruction with more conventional interpersonal tuition for teaching word recognition skills to mentally retarded adults. A second aspect of the research was to evaluate acquisition, retention, and transfer of learning using two common methods of instruction; these were errorless discrimination (word-focus only) and paired associate learning (picture-word focus). Recognition of words was selected as the experimental task on the basis that this was a practical academic area that traditionally involves large amounts of teaching time, primarily within the realm of drill and practice procedures. The sample comprised 52 subjects who were drawn from three special education facilities in Palmerston North, New Zealand (a Special School, and two Vocational Training Centres). Subjects were screened initially on tests of visual perception and letter discrimination to ensure that they possessed requisite skills to benefit from participation in training. Pre-testing was carried out to determine whether subjects were able to recall or recognize any of the words to be taught. All subjects entering the experiment knew two or less of 16 words selected for inclusion in the training programmes. Subjects were randomly assigned to computer assisted instruction or individual tuition groups with 26 persons placed in each group. Within each group, subjects were again randomly allocated to receive errorless discrimination or paired associate modes of instruction. This 2 X 2 classification resulted in 13 subjects being placed in each subgroup. Two modules each containing eight words were used for training. Both the individual instruction and computer groups were given a total of 10 training sessions, or five sessions for each of the two modules. A modified microcomputer was interfaced with a sound-on-slide projector to provide both audio and visual instruction. Parallel teaching programmes were developed for administration by computer or individual tuition. The first programme (errorless discrimination) required subjects to select target words from a series of increasingly complex word discriminations with no picture cues provided. A second teaching method (paired associate learning) involved the pairing of pictures and words. Subjects were instructed to select target words from a list of printed items that matched referent photographs. Thirteen senior special education students (Teachers College Graduates) carried out the individual training while the experimenter supervised the computer based programmes. Progress in training was assessed by comparing pre- and post-test performance on Word Recognition (verbal labelling), Word Identification (pointing on cue), and Picture-Word Matching. Transfer of learning was evaluated using situational tests requiring that subjects match printed words with real life objects. Tests of retention were conducted four weeks after completion of training. A repeated measures design was used with counterbalancing to control for possible confounding effects of list order (Modules). The findings revealed that both computer assisted instruction and interpersonal tuition resulted in very similar learning outcomes with regard to acquisition, retention, and transfer of learning. No reliable differences were found between the two groups or modes of instruction in terms of training method. It was advanced that some common features of programmed instruction (e.g. active participation, self-pacing, over-learning, and immediate feedback) may have accounted for these equal gains in performance. In respect to the question of the potential utility of microprocessor technology in special education, this research points to the efficacy of computer assisted instruction for drill and tutorial practice. Specifically, the computer provides a highly structured learning experience that has the potential to assist retarded learners in organising input materials. Evidence from this study suggests that computer related learning environments give the adult learner considerably more control of the teaching situation, and provide consistent reinforcement that is not so readily administered through conventional forms of instruction. Finally, it was proposed that the relatively impersonal, though highly interactive, nature of the computer may avoid the triggering of perceptions of failure that can impede performance of handicapped learners. This dissertation is dedicated to my wife, Beth, whose understanding and support provided me with the encouragement to complete this work.
Word recognition, Computer-assisted instruction, Mentally disabled adults, Special education