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Stress on Computer Drills Diminishing

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Schools that use computers tend to give greater emphasis to programming and less to computer-assisted instruction as they gain experience with and knowledge of the technology, a new survey by a research organization at The Johns Hopkins University has found.

Teachers who responded to the survey also said the computer's greatest impact was on improving the social atmosphere of the classroom, and that the computer improves the performance of "above-average" students more than the performance of others.

The report by the Center for Social Organization of Schools reflects 990 survey responses that were received by March 11, said Henry Jay Becker, the project's director. He said the responses are representative of all public and private schools nationally.

As both elementary and secondary schools gain experience with computers, the report said, their emphasis on programming appears to increase while their interest in drill-and-practice uses diminishes.

'Index Scores'

Mr. Becker used "index scores"--an average of the percentages of teachers who said they used the approach at issue "regularly or intensively," "intensively," and "regularly or intensively" and for more than 15 hours per week--to chart the changing uses of computers.

The index score for programming jumped from 18 to 46 from the first to the third year of use in elementary schools, and from 38 to 64 percent in secondary schools.

Drill-and-practice programs received index scores of 38 for elementary schools and 27 percent for secondary schools in the first year of computer use, compared to scores of 33 and 14 in the third year.

Responding to another question, 35 percent of elementary teachers said they used drill-and-practice less than they had anticipated; 26 percent said they used programming less. The corresponding figures for secondary-school teachers were 34 percent and 11 percent.

The change in schools' approach to computers, Mr. Becker said, reflects the "limited" instructional value of drill-and-practice programs. He said that it also reflects that teachers keep adding to their knowledge about other computer uses and that families express interest in a wider variety of uses.

The computer has had its greatest effect on the social life of the classroom, the survey respondents said.

For example, 30 percent of the teachers said the computer had produced "much more" general enthusiasm for school; 18 percent reported that students were working "much more" independently; and 15 percent said that students were helping each other "much more" with classroom exercises.

Schools that obtained microcomputers before July 1981 reported that they used the technology mostly for instruction in programming.

Positive Effect of Achievement

Teachers reported that computers had a positive effect on the academic achievement of students, but that students who were already "above average" were most likely to gain.

Twenty-four percent of the teachers said computers contributed to "much more" learning by above-average students. The computer contributed to "much more" learning for 7 percent of the below-average students, and 6 percent of the average students, respondents said.

The report rebutted what Mr. Becker said was a general "misperception" that more computers are used in elementary schools than in secondary schools.

By January, 85 percent of all high schools, 77 percent of all junior-senior high-school combinations, and 68 percent of all middle- and junior-high schools owned one or more computers--compared with only 42 percent of all elementary schools.

Secondary schools also increase faster the number of computers that they own, the report said. Of the secondary schools that did not have computers last July, 46 percent had obtained them by January.

Only 16 percent of the elementary schools without a computer in July had one by January.

"Perhaps more significantly," the report said, "the proportion of secondary schools that had five or more microcomputers nearly doubled during this period and now encompasses two-fifths of all U.S. schools."

Even the quality of the computer equipment is better in the secondary schools, the survey said. For example, while only 12 percent of the high schools with computers do not have the disk-drives that expand computing capability, 37 percent of the elementary schools with computers did not have them.

Ten percent of the computer-owning high schools have their machines linked in some way to other machines. Only 1 percent of the elementary schools have any "networking" capabilities.

More Stable Curricula

Mr. Becker said that computer companies are more interested in marketing to the elementary school because of its more stable curricula, and that extensive advertising campaigns resulted in the misunderstanding about where computer use is most prevalent.

The least likely owners of computers are small private elementary schools and public schools in poorer districts, the report said.

Mr. Becker said the information about the number of schools using computers was obtained in December and January, and the center is still accepting responses on how computers are used.

He said the additional responses would not significantly change the report.

Future reports, which will be drawn from the same survey, will deal with how most schools get involved with the new technology, how schools deal with scheduling and curricular issues, and various teacher-related issues.

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