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Computer specialists at a Pittsburgh technical school say making sophisticated microcomputers could require as little as one-tenth the money that a typical manufacturer charges. But they have also found that obtaining adequate computer programs is a bigger problem.

Steven K. Huth and Gary Wisniewski of the School of Computer Technology said that in the last year they have built homemade computers that would normally cost from $5,000 to $10,000. Not counting their own labor costs, the 60 machines they plan to build will cost $1,000 apiece.

Mr. Huth and Mr. Wisniewski decided to build their computer model--which is more powerful than the personal computers used by most schools--when they found that their school's budget was too small for the machines they needed.

The systems analysts so far have built 30 of the 16-bit computers, and now they are working on software that goes beyond the machines' present word-processing and data-entry capabilities.

The project--which the pair hope to cap with a "how to" manual--has taught the computer scientists some lessons that should interest educators.

First of all, said Mr. Huth, computers are cheap enough that every student should have regular access to one. "Even if you look at this with the cost doubled, it would be well within a school district's [budget]," Mr. Huth said.

But the goal of "compatible" software is still a "dream," Mr. Huth said. He and his colleague figure that writing the necessary computer programs will take them another two years.

Researchers at two Texas universities say they have conducted a study with computers that refutes conventional wisdom about the academic abilities of deaf and learning-disabled students.

The researchers gave 44 students--22 3rd- and 5th-grade public-school students, 11 deaf students, and 11 learning-disabled students--a week-long programming lesson with a simplified version of the language logo. The students then tried to solve 10 computer problems.

An initial analysis of student "history files" showed that deaf students have the same "thought processes and problem-solving skills" as the children without learning disabilities, said D. Kim Reid, head of the special-education program at the University of Texas at Dallas.

A history file is the computer-generated record of all of the actions that a student performs with the computer.

Using the computer enabled the researchers to gather stronger evidence for their claims than other methods, such as videotapes, Ms. Reid said. The history files, she said, are "direct information and have a lot less margin for error."

"In terms of the sophistication of the drawings [that the students programmed], the deaf kids did just as well as the others," said Ms. Reid. Learning-disabled students experienced greater difficulty with the problems, but Ms. Reid said the computer histories showed that "they do try to learn." That should break down the image of learning-disabled students as "passive," she said.

Ms. Reid said she and her colleagues would complete their full analysis of the history files by July.

Wayne P. Hresko, associate professor of education at North Texas State University, and Penny Muncaster, a doctoral candidate in education at the University of Texas, were Ms. Reid's research associates.

A new survey by Talmis, an Illinois research firm, has found that the two-computer household may become more common in the future.

In a survey of more than 1,000 families, Talmis found that as many as one in four owners of the inexpensive Timex Sinclair computers plans to buy a second one within the next 12 months. One in ten owners of the more expensive Apple and Texas Instruments machines plans a second purchase in the next year.

The survey also found that the average computer owner was planning to spend $42 on educational software during the course of a year.

Home owners spent 12.5 percent of their computer time using educational programs, according to the survey. However, they spent only 0.4 percent of their time using programs that are designed to teach "computer literacy."

Almost 38 percent of the home computer owners said they planned to use computers for educational purposes.

Of those owners, 43 percent have 6- to 12-year-old children, 38 percent have children younger than 6 years old, and 33.3 percent have teen-agers. The income level was $35,000 to 45,000 for 29.6 percent, $25,000 to $35,000 for 26.9 percent, and more than $45,000 for 21.5 percent of the home users planning to use educational programs.

Drexel University has reached an agreement with Apple Computers Inc. to buy 3,000 models of a new microcomputer that Drexel officials say will be more "user friendly" than any other computer on the market.

The computer will be easier to use than Apple's new $10,000 "Lisa" machine, which responds to a number of screen-touch commands as well as the standard keyboard commands, officials said.

Drexel will pay about $1,000 for each of the computers.

A nursery-school program at West Virginia University has started to offer simple programming instruction to 3- and 4-year-old children--the youngest group of students to use computers in a formal setting, according to the nursery school's director.

Bobbie Gibson Warash said the 26 students in the program, begun in February, use a simplified version of the language logo to draw pictures on the computer terminal.

The nursery school, part of the university's human resources and education school, has not analyzed any results of the early sessions. Ms. Warash said the school would collect and analyze printouts of the children's drawings beginning with the fall semester.--ce

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