SISRO Learning Strategy
What follows is a description of the software learning strategy. Included in this description is a discussion of the rationale for the learning strategy, and its five structural elements. Finally, there is a brief discussion concerning how a structured learning approach can be a useful to new users of software.
All human interactions, in their simplest terms, can be described as processes defined by the following three words: INPUT, PROCESSING, and OUTPUT. Take, for example, the following discourse between a teacher and an elementary student:
TEACHER: "Sam, what is 7 times 4?"
STUDENT: "28, sir."
This short exchange between the teacher and the student represents a lot more activity on the student's part than just his response.
The student, using ears and eyes as INPUT devices, took in the question. Scanning through the question, the student found the key word "times" and immediately drew upon his past knowledge to PROCESS the question. Following the use of a previously learned algorithm and/or table, he was able to OUTPUT his response to the question with his voice.
Think of the hundreds of interactions we all have each day; each requires input of data, a search in our memory for the appropriate matching process and output of information. If one looks carefully at a computer, it is obvious that it was constructed to model human interactions. Travers (1982) stated, "The device nearest to the human as an information storage system is the computer" (p. 15). Psychologists have supported this premise for nearly 30 years. Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, and Campione (1983) stated, "Since the mid-1960s comparisons between human cognition and the computer have motivated psychological models and monopolized theories of human cognition" (p. 79). The following description of human memory in computer terms is a good example of the use of the computer analogy. Carroll (1986) stated,
According to most models of memory, information is initially received in a sensory buffer, referred to long-term memory for interpretation, and put into short-term memory or working memory where it may be either further processed or transferred to a long-term store. (Pp. 102-103)
Rosenbloom and Newell (1988), in a description of the information-processing theory of learning, called it a combination of the behaviorists' and cognitivists' learning theories. The information-processing theory of learning combines the behaviorists' view of the mind as a machine with cognitivists' concepts of structured mental images and analog representations. Current introduction to computer textbooks use the human interaction analogy. For example, Andrews, Thomason, and Fujimoto in their 1986 edition of The Art of Using Computers stated, "As an information processor, you organize data and information dealing with your day-to-day activities" (p. 40). Andrews et al. further suggested, "In truth, the real information processor throughout history has been, and still is, the human mind" (p. 41).
The modern computer's basic design is nothing more than a reflection of this concept. All computers from the 1946 ENIAC to today's microcomputer share this common design. Today, the keyboard serves as the most commonly used input device. The central processing unit (CPU) of the microcomputer is the processor portion of a computer. Finally, the screen or the printer serve as the output device for the results the input moving through the processing section of a computer.
Just as a human use past experiences to solve a variety of problems, the computer's design allows it to solve diverse problems. Just change the program in the CPU, input new data, and you solve a different problem. It is apparent that software, too, is written to match the I-P-O model of interactions. To utilize the existing I-P-O hardware devices of a computer, software programs are structured to match the particular I-P-O devices of a computer to produce information. For example, what good would a multiplication program be if its results could not be displayed?
The I‑P‑O model reflects and links human interaction, computer hardware design, and computer software design. This general model leads to a structured approach to understand the basic operations of the vast majority of software programs regardless of the model of the computer or the purpose of the software program, now and in the future.
Through the examination of several hundred software programs over a 10-year period, the author developed a five-question structural approach, drawn from the I-P-O model, for discovering quickly and efficiently the basic operations of new software. This software learning strategy has proven useful for the author in his classroom, but, more importantly, the learning strategy can be taught to students for use long after they have left the classroom.
The five subsuming questions of the learning strategy are as follows:
1. What is the Startup procedure?
2. What is the Input procedure?
3. What is the Save procedure?
4. What is the Retrieve procedure?
5. What is the Output procedure?
The learning strategy will hereafter be called "SISRO" because of the five descriptive words used in the above questions.
The SISRO learning strategy has two parts. The first part of the SISRO strategy requires the new user of an unknown software package to have or acquire a basic idea of what kind of information will be generated by the type of software package being used. For example, to learn to use a spreadsheet, one must already know that a spreadsheet, at its most basic level, can be described as an electronic general ledger. This conceptual idea of what will be the end product created by the software package serves to focus and guide the learner through the implementation of the SISRO learning strategy. Gagne (1977) supports this calling attention to the purpose of the program as one of his nine steps to improve instruction. Additionally, Glaser (1988) seemed to support this idea. He suggested the shift from a novice learner to an expert learner comes about when the student recognizes the underlying principles and patterns in given tasks. He further suggested that experts use problem-solving skills better than novices do because they "possess knowledge about the application of what they know" (p. 24).
The second part of the SISRO learning strategy consists of the student discovering or being shown the particular local environment conditions (hardware, software, manuals, etc.) for each of the five basic software operational questions. For example, one of the local environment sources is the instruction or reference manual for the unknown software. Consciously using the SISRO questions with the instructional or reference manual has the effect of imprinting on the manual, a structured approach that can make even the most poorly written and voluminous one a useful reference source.
The old Chinese proverb, "a thousand mile journey begins with its first step," is a good analogy for the first question of the SISRO learning strategy, "What is the Startup procedure?" The first part of the answer to the question is to find out the specific switches, buttons, and other hardware manipulations that must be occur before the specific software is loaded into the memory of the computer. These computer environment procedures are very specific to the particular hardware systems and local networks that may be present. The second part of the answer is to find out the particular operating system and software commands to get to the main data entry point of the software. Once this is accomplished, the user is at the end of the startup procedure.
The second question of the SISRO learning strategy is "What is the Input procedure?" The number of steps necessary to accomplish this depends on the accompanying data entry structure. For example, with word processing once you get to the general entry screen, you just start typing. However, with a database program you would first be required to create the input structure and only then could you enter data points. In either case the entry of data again assumes the user knows what he or she is generally trying to create from the type of software being used.
The third question of the SISRO learning strategy is "What is the Save procedure?" With this question the user is confronted with three basic scenarios that require saving the data. The first scenario is when the user wishes not to lose a significant portion of the data due to an interruption of power. Therefore, a sub-procedure is found for continuously saving the data at regular time intervals so that if the power is interrupted, the user only has to reenter a small portion of the data. The second scenario is when the user wishes to save one set of data and then begin work with a completely different set of data. For example, you finish a letter to one person and wish to save it and then type another letter to someone else. Again a sub-procedure must be found to save one set of data and seamlessly begin work with another set. The third scenario is when you wish to save your current data and quit entirely the software package. Here again, a sub-procedure must be discovered to save and then exit the program.
The fourth question of the SISRO learning strategy is "What is the Retrieve procedure?" The ability to recall previous data that are 1 hour or 1 year old permits the computer user to build and update data in a timely and efficient manner. The previous Save procedure evoked by the user will dictate what operating and/or software commands are necessary to retrieve a data file. For example, if the user has the computer physically turned off and wishes to update a database record, the user would first have to do some or all of the startup procedure before invoking whatever commands are necessary to edit a particular database record.
The fifth question of the SISRO learning strategy is "What is the Output procedure?" The institutions of our society from the IRS to the local grocery store still demand printed materials in one form or another. It seems ironic that while your paycheck may be electronically transferred to your checking account, within a few days a printed receipt of the transfer is sent to you to verify the transaction. Therefore, it seems, for the near future, computer-created output of the printed type will continue to dominate this procedure. The software steps necessary for output are usually standard from one location to another with the exception that initially the local printer specifications must be set up inside the software program's output defaults.
A sample of SISRO teacher presentation materials and SISRO student notes are at the end of this paper. In one sense, the goal of encouraging the adoption by students of the SISRO learning strategy is an attempt to move them quickly from being a novice in implementing the use of computer application software to being an expert. Carey (1990) believed understanding of a schema relevant to a problem is one of the seminal differences between a novice learner and an expert learner. Experts use schematas to help grasp a problem in ways that a novice cannot (Carey, 1990). Glaser (1988) defined a schema "as a modifiable information structure that represents generic concepts stored in memory" (p. 25). By consciously and methodically following the SISRO learning strategy just described, it is hoped that a user gains a less anxious, more self-confident, more efficient, and more self-directing approach to learning new software. Mager (1992) seems to be supporting this belief when he states, "The most powerful way to give me self-efficacy [self-confidence] regarding my ability to do something well is to teach me to do something well" (p. 34). Further, this SISRO learning strategy approach may lead to a large and diverse section of our population becoming capable of discovering the basic operations of software programs in a non-stressful, independent, efficient, and self-confident manner.
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