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Schools Urged To Weigh Value of Computer Networks

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Schools are investing in "integrated instructional systems" without carefully considering whether the computer-based teaching networks are worth their potentially high costs, a new analysis argues.

Unless schools carefully weigh up-front expenditures, educational benefits, and long-range maintenance costs before buying, warns P. Kenneth Komoski, executive director of the Education Products Information Exchange Institute, the teaching systems "could become the most expensive educational bandwagon ever."

Epie, a nonprofit "consumers' union for schools" based in Water Mill, N.Y., last month released The Integrated Instructional Systems Report, a 427-page study that analyzes how the sys4tems are used and evaluates their advantages and disadvantages.

The report was released within weeks of the publishing firm Simon & Schuster's acquisition of the Computer Curriculum Corporation, a leading producer of the machines. (See Education Week, March 21, 1990.)

The report, the product of a yearlong evaluation, analyzes the effectiveness of the eight major systems currently on the market.

In contrast to stand-alone microcomputers, integrated systems typically consist of centrally controlled networks of computer terminals and are generally used as drill-and-practice devices to teach entire classes of students at a time.

The report contains descriptions of site visits as well as interviews with current users of the systems and analyses of the software and pedagogy employed by each system.

The report specifically avoids calling the machines "integrated learning systems"--a term commonly used by both the producersand the users of the devices--because, Mr. Komoski said, most systems are not yet sophisticated enough to warrant such a description.

Companies have "kind of adopted that term to make the systems seem a bit more than they really are at the moment," he said. "Essentially, these systems at this point offer pretty straightforward, straight-line instruction, so we felt that it would be important to flag that important fundamental characteristic."

Copies of the report are available for $250 each, with discounts for large orders, from the epie Institute, P.O. Box 839, Water Mill, N.Y., 11976.--pw

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