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12 Nations Will Study Technology in Education

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Columbia, SC--An international group of educators representing nine European nations, Canada, Israel, and the United States, met last week at the University of South Carolina to lay the foundation for a three-year unesco study on technology in education.

Hosted by the South Carolina College of Education and the university's president, James B. Holderman, who is chairman of the U.S. national commission for unesco, the meeting was the first in a series that will culminate in the publication by unesco of a major international report on technology in education.

The study will review what is happening in the field of educational technology in each of the participating countries and will identify the significant literature being published on the subject.

It will look primarily at the application of technology in education, but also will address the issues that underlie the technology, said Lawrence D. Grayson, the U.S. coordinator for the project and adviser for mathematics, science, and technology with the National Institute of Education.

Potential Contributions

As a first step in preparing the unesco report, conference participants at the South Carolina meeting reviewed the state of the art of a variety of audio, audiographics, computer, and video technologies in relation to their potential contributions to education.

They discussed the educational strategies that these technologies make possible, the possibility of adapting them to teaching and learning needs, and their integration with other educational media.

Participants also identified and discussed significant issues involved in applying technology to education, including such topics as teacher training, the role of the teacher, the development of high-quality course materials, and the impact of technology on school organization and on society in general.

Publication of the unesco study will be a particular boon for American educators, according to Mr. Grayson, because many of the participating countries do not as routinely share their developments as does the United States. The language of the study will be English, he said, further adding to its value for American educators.

"The countries represented at this conference are participating because they see a need for better understanding of technology in education," Mr. Grayson said. "We are here and are undertaking this project because we want to learn from one another."

The primary audience for the unesco study will be education planners, decision makers, and researchers, but a secondary and quite important audience will be grassroots educators, Mr. Grayson said.

The attitudes of ordinary teachers and administrators toward technology may not be very positive, but they are not as negative as a many people assume, according to Peter J. Birr, associate director for research and evaluation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and one of a number of specialists who made presentations at the South Carolina conference.

"Educators are not opposed to using technology, but they don't have a clear vision of what it can do in the classroom," Mr. Birr told the unesco participants.

Other speakers at the conference cited as problems the lack of high-quality materials, both in telecommunications programming and in computer software.

"One researcher has estimated that 95 percent of the material available now is not very good," Mr. Grayson said. "Local teachers face a very difficult task in deciding what to use. They have to locate good materials mixed in among a lot of pure junk."

Producing more sophisticated materials and making them readily accessible to educators are keys to making the new technology useful, Mr. Birr agreed. "The attitude among teachers toward television and radio materials is quite receptive," he said, "but the problem is the availability of appropriate materials. Teachers are asking for more, and we need to provide them with more high-quality materials."

Effective research is essential to the production of better teaching aids, said Keith Milkie, executive director of the highly praised educational program, "321 Contact," developed by the Children's Television Network.

"We must do the research that will bring kids and their opinions into the production of the shows," he told the conference participants.

Research Commitment Needed

Without this research commitment, educational programming can hinder rather than aid learning, he noted. As an example, he cited a "321 Contact" episode that when tested had a negative impact on learning among the children who saw it.

"It was an episode that dealt with the question of whether there could be giant ants, and we used some footage from science-fiction films. In testing, we discovered that we had convinced some of the kids that, indeed, there could be giant ants. And we, of course, had to change our approach," Mr. Milkie said.

The federal Education Department hopes to provide more help to educators in locating effective materials and also plans to serve as a clearinghouse for information, said Donald J. Senese, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement.

The federal government, however, will not provide funding for hardware or software in the schools, Mr. Senese said. Nor will it intervene directly to speed up the local processes incorporating technology into education.

"We want to avoid any bribery or coercion by the federal government, but we want to help the schools move at their own pace in incorporating technology into their programs," Mr. Senese said.

Other nations are taking a more unified and direct approach, Mr. Grayson said. The French have a national plan for moving technology into French classrooms, and although it is unlikely that the United States will copy this approach, he noted, the French experiment may provide useful information for the U.S.

Future project meetings in other participating countries will review what those nations are doing regarding new educational technologies, Mr. Grayson said. "The purpose will be to stimulate our thinking as we progress on this study and enhance sharing of information," he said.

Countries participating in the unesco study include: Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Additional countries may join the project as it progresses.

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