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Technology Remains 'in Early Stages' in Larger Districts, Study Finds

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Though sentiment in the nation's largest school districts strongly supports the belief that computers are beneficial to teaching, the process of integrating technology into precollegiate education remains "in its early stages," according to a new national study.

The report by the National School Boards Association, "Thinking about Technology in Schools: A 1988 Snapshot," also indicates that policymakers' wariness about such advanced technologies as "distance learning" and videodisks, coupled with a lack of comprehensive planning at the district level, may mean that the microcomputer will be the electronic teaching tool of choice in most districts for some time to come.

"[S]chools are barely scratching the surface of what can be done with computers and other new technologies to make classrooms more exciting and more effective for stu4dents," said Thomas A. Shannon, the nsba's executive director, in a statement that accompanied the 38-page report.

The organization is touting the survey of the nation's 773 largest school districts--those that enroll more than 10,000 students--as the first of its kind. It is designed, officials note, to serve as a "'snapshot' to which future studies may be compared." It was prepared by the research firm of Anderson, Neihbur, and Associates, Inc. and produced in cooperation with the Control Data Corporation of Minneapolis.

Conducted in the spring of 1988, the survey solicited the opinions of 5,150 educators, including district superintendents, school-board presidents, technology specialists, curriculum specialists, and funding coordinators.

"This is a substantial pulse-taking," said James A. Mecklenburger, director of the n.s.b.a.'s Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education.

"And my sense of it is that it doesn't paint a particularly encouraging picture" about existing conditions or the future of technology in precollegiate education, Mr. Mecklenburger added.

Among the findings of the report:

The surveyed districts' planning efforts for incorporating technology "vary from extensive to none." In addition, "most [of the 213 plans submitted to the researchers] did not have a comprehensive flavor."

Said Mr. Mecklenburger, "I think the most damning part of the report is the section on planning."

Most technology specialists tend to enhance existing systems by purchasing products with which they are familiar, rather than experimenting with new technologies.

"You're not going to see peopleel15lrunning out to buy NeXT machines," Mr. Mecklenburger said.

The NeXT is a recently introduced, highly advanced personal computer designed by a team led by Steven Jobs, the creator also of the Apple system. The new computer is being marketed primarily to colleges.

School officials often are "ill informed about what is or is not happening locally."

The report found, for example, that while 40 percent of school-board presidents, superintendents, and technology specialists said their districts use computers in their classrooms rather than in centralized computer labs, only 20 percent of curriculum directors said that was so.

The 754 technology specialists who responded to the survey, when asked to name the "top two suppliers" of software to schools, named the Minnesota Educational Com4puting Corporation--the choice of 37 percent of those sampled--and Sunburst Communications--favored by 35 percent.

Apple Computer Inc., which ran a distant third, was named by 16 percent of those sampled.

While the majority of educators reported being "very satisfied" with the type of computer used in their schools, only a third of the superintendents and less than a quarter of the curriculum specialists said they were similarly satisfied with the way those computers are used to teach.

Mr. Mecklenburger, a proponent of greater educational use of technology, noted that officials at many smaller districts that have not experimented with technology, might, after reading the report, "not feel so bad that they haven't done much."

Copies of the report may be ordered at $35 each, with discounts for n.s.b.a. direct affiliates, from the itte., 1680 Duke St., Alexandria, Va. 22314.--p.w.

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