A recent article outlined the innovative approach a school in Pennsylvania is taking--letting a computer teach the students. It is a tutoring program using computer guided lessons. This particular program is for mathematics.
These have been around for a while; now there are even computerized automated tutorial programs for writing. However, the key question is how well can a computer address student misunderstandings, and how effective is a standard explanation for when different students click the "help" button. While some computerized programs have gone as far as providing audio and text explanations, and a few even some animations, what they are unable to do is address the subtleties of misunderstandings or "get" what the student is trying to communicate. I don't know about you, but I've yet to find a computer program that "gets" me.
I think it is important to understand where the value of such automated programs stand. Yes, they do provide guided practice. So do textbooks. Yes, they can identify skill gaps--so do tests. They do have value as a supplement to instruction, but for instruction, you need an instructor, not a computer program.
It is fantastic these students are getting additional help and practice. However, a computer can't take the place of a person. Using a program like this coupled with not only classroom instruction, but individual or small group tutoring sessions, is what would be most effective. Students need the individual attention of an educator who doesn't provide them with a standard "help button response" but can take the time to understand the problem they are having and use multiple approaches to help the student overcome the difficulty or misunderstanding.
We can't pass off our children's education to a computer program; however, we can use such programs to enhance and better our children's education.