Educators and technologists have long held hope for technology to transform teaching and learning—to dramatically improve learning and reduce failure. In practice, much educational software has demonstrated little or no positive effect (see Overview). Educational software has tended to be behavioristic and didactic in which the software leads the student to correct answers. Constructivism, the prevailing learning theory for the past two decades, strongly suggests an alternative approach. In fact, this more student-centered approach using tool software, educational games, and simulations was found to lead to higher student achievement.
In this spirit, Transformative Applications explores several computer-based applications that help achieve the grail of transforming teaching and learning. In the pages that follow, there are a broad variety of applications. Phun is a physics animation system that captivates both children and adults. GeoGebra allows teachers and students to make animated connections between an abstract formula and the graph that it describes. Molecular Workbench aims to help young and old learn about the latest discoveries in molecular mechanics such as nanotechnology self-assembly. NetLogo is a classic agent-based simulation that models emergent phenomena in the sciences and social sciences. Some, like GIMP have been around many years, but it may still represent a powerful way to create and interact with still images. Some software is designed to transform learning in a narrow field in domains like the military and health care; Nerveblock Simulator is such an application designed to change how medical field learns new skills.