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The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment has embarked on a national study of how computers and other technologies can be harnessed to improve literacy.

At the request of the House Education and Labor and the Senate Labor and Human Resources committees, the agency is undertaking a "comprehensive assessment of literacy and the technologies to improve it." The ota hopes to produce an initial draft of the report by 1992.

In a letter to the o.t.a.'s director, John H. Gibbons, lawmakers said they commissioned the study as part of a comprehensive national strategy to combat illiteracy.

The study, they added, should help educators and policymakers meet the national goal, established by President Bush and the nation's governors, of ensuring that every American adult is literate by 2000.

"The Committee ... wants to ensure that all resources are brought to bear, and believes that the ability of technology to reach new audiences, cross institutional and geographic boundaries, and multiply existing opportunities might prove crucial" in reaching the goal, according to a letter signed by the ranking members of the House panel.

In addition to commissioning case studies and contracting for reports, the agency proposes to convene a series of workshops on the topic to bring together practitioners, scientists and researchers, state education-agency officials, and community and business leaders.

The workshops will focus on such issues as the teaching of English as a second language, family literacy, and the changing requirements for literacy and higher-order thinking skills in contemporary society.

Linda G. Roberts, who conducted the agency's national study of distance-learning programs, dubbed "Linking for Learning," and its survey of technology use in schools, entitled "Power On: New Tools for Teaching and Learning," will direct the new study.

The Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation has reorganized its Center for the Study of Educational Technology to provide practical and timely assistance to classroom teachers who use computers.

The mission for the St. Paul-based center, which was established in 1987, was recently revamped to put information about technology--and how to use it effectively as a teaching tool--directly into the hands of front-line teachers, according to Jane Belisle, the center's coordinator.

"We're asking teachers what information they need and what questions do they have that they need answered," she said. "And we hope to do research that will offer insights into those questions."

The mecc center, a partnership of three universities and seven local school districts, also supports the work of collaborative research teams consisting of classroom teachers, university researchers, graduate students, and mecc staff members.

In addition to a local panel of advisers, the center has appointed a national advisory board of leading researchers and practitioners.

Members of the national board include Christopher Dede, a professor of education and futures research at the University of Houston; Rita Oates, an instructional supervisor in computer education and technology with the Dade County, Fla., public schools; Robert Pearlman, a consultant on educational technology with the American Federation of Teachers; and Joseph Scherer, the executive director of the National School Public Relations Association.

The center will focus its efforts in four broad areas: the effective use of technology in instruction; the role of technology in restructured schools; the value of technology in school organization; and the effective design of educational-technology products.

More information is available by writing the center, 3490 Lexington Ave. N., St. Paul, Minn. 55126, or by calling (612) 481-3677.

The state of Florida, meanwhile, has established a center to provide teachers in 10 counties with the latest information on electronic teaching aids.

An $83,000 grant to the Florida Institute of Technology will be used to establish the Center of Excellence in Science, Mathematics, Computers, and Technology.

The center's initial emphasis will be to train elementary teachers--who traditionally have been the least likely to embrace classroom technologies--in the use of computers, videodisks, and other equipment.

Teachers who are interested in using computers in their mathematics classes can receive free subscriptions to a new bulletin published by Sunburst, a New York-based software publisher.

Sunburst is encouraging teachers to join its Supposer Society, a user's group that focuses on the company's "Supposer" series of math software.

The Supposer Society Bulletin, a semi-annual publication, features new trends and ideas in math instruction, suggestions for novice computer users, and information about new technologies, materials, and research.

Those who wish to subscribe should write to The Supposer Society, 101 Castleton, Pleasantville, N.Y. 10570.--pw

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