Teachers of computer courses have long suspected that computers encourage students to work together rather than separately. Researchers say they now have evidence to confirm that suspicion.
Marion Perlmutter, professor of child development at the University of Minnesota, says an experiment involving preschool children revealed that children work together more when they use computers than when they work on other projects.
After giving 60 3- and 5-year-old students about 30 minutes of instruction in using the keyboard and other features of a computer, researchers at the university's Child Care Center allowed students to use computers during their one and one-half hours of free time. The researchers observed 60 students for three days a week over a nine-week period.
The average child spent about 75 percent of his time on the computer working with other children, Ms. Perlmutter and her research associate, Alexandra Muller, found.
Most children of that age spend little time working with their classmates, Ms. Perlmutter said. When students worked on jigsaw puzzles, they spent only about 10 percent of the time with other children. The way students worked on the computer, she said, "was not very typical of preschoolers."
Prior to starting the research last fall, Ms. Perlmutter said, she shared the reluctance of many educators to introduce the computer to such young children. She said she thought such children might be able to use only computers that had speech-synthesizers. But she said students learned to use the keyboard quickly.
Ms. Perlmutter said she would expand her research to other preschool programs in the Minneapolis area over the next three years with a $70,000 grant from the National Education Association. The new research will concentrate more on "problem-solving skills" as well as the social environment that computers create.
A growing number of guidance counselors have begun to use computers to analyze the capabilities of their students and how those capabilities can be put to work in classes and the workplace. Two projects in California now offer comprehensive information on such uses.
The Santa Clara County Office of Education in California is updating its directory of computer software produced for guidance counselors. The next edition will be available in January. The county agency's book is believed to be the only compilation of information about the software.
The H.B. McDaniel Foundation in Fullerton, Calif., is funding a study of the issues that guidance counselors will face in the next 20 years. The educators working on the project--led by H.B. Gelatt, the director of the Future Directions Project at Stanford University--released their first findings this summer.
The year is 1994, and President Daniel Patrick Moynihan finds the public-school system in dire need of federal support. Public schools enroll only 13.2 percent of all students nationwide--a situation that has resulted from the proliferation of microcomputers in society and the passage of tuition-tax credit legislation.
That is the vision of Robert C. Snider, a research assistant for the National Education Association. In one of 11 articles about computers in education published in this month's Phi Delta Kappan, the monthly magazine of the education fraternity, Mr. Snider warns that computers could undermine all of education.
The microcomputer is such a revolutionary machine, Mr. Snider fears, that it could transform schools into places where only "the most visible technological underclass of the 1990's will be found."
Among the other topics covered in the Kappan issue devoted to computers in education: the extent to which tommorow's economy will demand "computer literacy" from today's students; the advantages of learning by computer; the task of implementing computer use in the school; the role of the teacher in computer learning; and the use of computers to conduct daily school business.
Secondary schools generally have supported training for their mathematics and science teachers to enable them to teach computer-science courses. Now at least one college has formally embraced that practice.
Clarkson College in Potsdam, N.Y., this summer used a $216,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to retrain faculty members in the sciences to serve as computer-science instructors. The two-year program is run by the Mathematical Association of America and the Association for Computing Machinery.
The National Institute for Retraining in Computer Science includes faculty members from the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Notes: The Annenberg/cpb Project--a program funded by the Annenberg School of Communications and run by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting--has announced grants for studies of technology and education. The Electronic Text Corporation will conduct a $1-million study of ways in which electronic text and graphics can be used in higher education. The University of South Florida will use a $200,000 grant to investigate the usefulness of electronic-mail courses, such as the those offered by a new company called TeleLearning Systems Inc. (See Education Week, Sept. 21, 1983.). ... The new Miss Teen of America, Denise Wallace, is a computer-science major at Bradford University in Bradford, Va. Ms. Wallace, 18, won a $15,000 scholarship in the competition. ... Schools in the Yukon-Koyukuk School District in Nenana, Alaska, district are experimenting with a battery pack to supply electricity for microcomputers. The 12-volt battery will be used in areas where the electrical current is not consistent enough for computers to operate without ''crashes."--ce