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New Learning Styles Required For Computer Era, Expert Says

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Albany, N.Y.--Within the next 30 years, computers will be the dominant mode of instruction in America's schools, replacing print-based materials in the classroom.

That is the prediction of David Moursund, president of the International Council of Computer Educators. Mr. Moursund, who is also professor of computer science at the University of Oregon and editor of the journal "The Computing Teacher," made his assertion in a keynote address here last week at the 17th annual computing conference of the New York Association for Education Data Systems.

Education, he argued, is on the verge of a significant era of change that will come about at an increasingly rapid pace. But for school systems attempting to keep up, the key to making the transition successfully will be the expertise of their workforce of teachers. "We can provide every student with hardware and software," Mr. Moursund said, "but if we don't have teachers knowledgeable about computers, it won't make any difference."

Mr. Moursund suggested to his overflow audience of 400 administrators, teachers, and communications specialists from across the state that education's period of change would be patterned like an S-shaped growth curve. "When you start," he explained, "there is no infrastructure in place--that takes time to achieve. Then you have a 'critical mass' where growth becomes rapid. With 200,000 computers in precollege education now, we are just approaching this stage."

He said continued access to more hardware is assured as the cost-effectiveness of computers increases. But educational software and teachers' knowledge are both lagging behind now. Neither is close to the 'critical mass' point, he said.

Since the number of computers in the schools is growing faster than teachers' ability to learn how to use them, Mr. Mour-sund suggested that "new models for education" and means for achieving them must be identified.

One such, which Mr. Moursund proposed to conference participants, would engage teachers and students, side by side, in learning about computers. He identified six levels of knowledge, each of which would enable students and teachers to become "independent learners" able to use the available technology and to assess how it can be employed most effectively.

At level 1, the learners would be able to load programs into machines, retrieve information, and work with computer-assisted learning materials.

At level 2, activities covered in level 1 would continue. But teachers would be able to evaluate software.

At level 3, teachers and students would learn simple programming in a one-semester course.

Levels 4 through 6 would demand special adaptation of computers to specific academic disciplines and special functions (the ability to write procedures that solve complex problems, the ability to analyze those procedures, and the ability to evaluate them for their efficiency).

'Drop in the Bucket'

While Mr. Moursund conceded that many teachers and students could move from levels 1 to 3 on their own, he said self-training may be only a "drop in the bucket" compared to the training that is necessary for teachers to motivate students to do higher levels of work.

"There are 2.5 million teachers now in classrooms and 100,000 teacher candidates annually who need at the minimum the equivalency of a one-year computer course if the entire student population is to benefit from computers in education," he told the audience. He suggested several approaches to teacher training that might help solve the problem:

Requirements that all teacher candidates be "computer literate" before graduating from education schools.

Pressure from school officials to make knowledge of computers a criterion for employment;

Inservice programs providing more time, opportunities, and incentives for self-education in the use of computers--such as easy access to equipment, free time to evaluate software, and salary credits for attending district workshops or university courses on computers.

A stumbling block to self-education, Mr. Moursund acknowledged, is that some teachers "absolutely refuse" to learn about computers. "These teachers think of themselves as professionals, yet, unlike other professionals, they are unwilling to keep up in their field," he said.

The speaker's view of the difficulty of involving the preponderance of teachers in computer training was shared by conference participants, who repeatedly expressed similar concerns.

Eileen K. Gress, coordinator of inservice education for 465 teachers in Fairport, N.Y., commented that "in every school district there are 'laggers'--people who refuse to have anything to do with computers. How do you get them moving?" she asked.

She said she tries to "find their Achilles heel"--to determine their particular educational needs and show them how the computer can help.

"If it's a classroom teacher, I find him a program to help him record his grades. If it's a superintendent, I look for software to assist him with his budget. And if it's a school-board member, I show him how a computer can be cost-efficient and reduce the secretarial load."

'Technology Push'

She said a "technology push," rather than a "needs poll," has caused many school districts to rush into buying computers without thinking carefully about how they will use them.

Calling staff development the "cornerstone of instructional computing" she disagreed with Mr. Moursund's argument that teachers could acquire a beginning knowledge of computers on their own. What they need, she contended, is "guided discovery," in which the process of learning about computers from and with others is clearly demonstrated.

Two other methods of motivating teachers to use computers were suggested to participants.

Thomas O'Day, a computer teacher in Katonah, N.Y., said he has bought secondhand computers that teachers can trade among themselves each week without worrying about about damaging the machines.

Joseph Stewart, chairman of the science department in the Norwich (N.Y.) Public Schools suggested allowing teachers to take computers off the school premises. "Many teachers," he said, "consider a school setting an intimidating environment in which to learn about computers. They want to use the machines and practice what they've learned in a place where someone is not always looking over their shoulder."

The three-day conference also included well-attended workshops on administrative applications, implementation of computer curricula, and evaluation of courseware.

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