2000 Conference Proceedings

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The Role of Computers in Improving Attention and Memory

Myra Lerch
Butte Community College


The Computer Access Resource and Learning Operation (CARLO) Center is one of the first High Tech Centers in the California Community College system. Unlike the majority of High Tech Centers, the CARLO Center is based on an academic model, with courses taught to 15-20 students at a time. We presented this model at the CSUN Technology for Persons with Disabilities Conference in 1991 (Academic and Vocational Models for Computer Access). In addition, CARLO is among the largest computer access centers in California. A variety of courses are offered (e..g., Adapted Computer Literacy), including two classes in cognition designed primarily for individuals with learning disabilities, acquired brain injury and psychological disabilities.

This presentation marks a departure from the traditional focus of Assistive Technologies. In Spring 1999 I spent my sabbatical at the Wolfson Neurorehabilitation Centre in Wimbledon, UK. The primary focus involved working directly with clients who had sustained a brain injury. Using a laptop computer from Butte College, these clients used an array of programs designed for attention and memory rehabilitation. In addition, the sabbatical involved meeting with their professional staff on a regular basis to discuss current theories and approaches in the field. While there, I also offered a number of presentations to professional groups (i.e., Speech/Language Pathologists, Clinical Psychologists, Neurologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists).


This presentation will delineate how computers are integrated into the attention and memory curriculum for a 3-unit, class in cognition. CSCI 206, Computer Assistance for Cognitive Skills, has been taught in the CARLO Center for nine years. Specifically, this course has four main components:

Of these, this presentation will focus on the Attention and Memory components. Concepts and strategies are presented in a three-tiered approach. First, the concept/strategy is introduced in lecture format that typically involves a PowerPoint presentation and opportunities for student input directly into slides. Second, students use a computer program that provides tangible practice using that concept/strategy. Third, for generalization, an assignment is given that requires students to apply the concept/strategy in another setting. Consider the following examples:

Alternating Attention. The concept of alternating attention, or switching between two different cognitive tasks, is presented. It is important to state that some individuals (e.g., individuals with acquired brain injury) may experience mental rigidity that impedes their ability to switch between such cognitive tasks as Multiple Choice and Short Essay on an exam. Students then use the program Stoplight from LocuTour that provides direct practice using alternating attention. The homework assignment involves having the students both reflect on their performance with Stoplight and use alternating attention several times in their work/home setting. A sample assignment is appended.

Concept Mapping. The organizational approach of concept mapping is discussed, particularly as it relates to increasing the functional capacity of working memory. Students use the program Inspiration to create a concept map of increasingly complex material: a news story, interview and then lecture. A sample concept map is appended.

Model of Memory

Using computers to improve attention and memory is not new. None of the six settings I have visited, however, uses an approach that ties the concepts and strategies to a unitary model. Rather, strategies are presented without apparent order. Based on the model of memory created by Baddeley (1982), this course assigns specific concepts and strategies to the encoding phases of the memory process. The pivotal role of organization recognized by Ylvisaker (1998) also receives emphasis. Specifically:

The Role of Computers

The following programs and Assistive Technologies are used in this course: Kurzweil 3000; Inspiration Software, Inc.; Parrot Software; and LocuTour Software. Recent software from Captain’s Log is being evaluated for its potential application in CSCI 206. This presentation will demonstrate the above programs and describe how they are incorporated into lecture, including related handouts and assignments.

Sample Assignment: Alternating Attention


Activity Words Volume Tempo % % %

Correct Error Missed


  1. In the program Stoplight, on which activity did you get your highest score? Red & Green / Yellow / Standard (Circle one)
  2. In the program Stoplight, on which activity did you get your lowest score? Red & Green / Yellow / Standard (Circle one)
  3. What does it indicate if you have more errors reported as % Error? (% Error = Individual pressed incorrect key)
  4. Difficulty with impulse control / Difficulty sustaining attention (Circle one)
  5. What does it indicate if you have more errors reported as % Missed? (% Missed = Individual did not press key when target was present)
  6. Difficulty with impulse control / Difficulty sustaining attention (Circle one)
  7. Did you have more errors reported as % Error or % Missed? How would you see this kind of error in your everyday life?
Alternating attention involves switching between different cognitive tasks or activities. 7. Name one example (academic setting) when you use alternating attention successfully:

Activity 1: _________________________________________

Activity 2: _________________________________________

8. What two activities are most difficult for you to switch between in class?

Activity 1: _________________________________________

Activity 2: _________________________________________


Use alternating attention in an academic, work or home setting.

ALTERNATING ATTENTION: Shifting attention between different tasks.

How did you use alternating attention?

Example: Activity 1: Listening to lecture

Activity 2: Taking notes

1. Activity #1: _________________________________________

Activity #2: _________________________________________

2. Activity #1: _________________________________________

Activity #2: _________________________________________

3. Activity #1: _________________________________________

Activity #2: _________________________________________

Sample Assignment: Concept Mapping

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