I.B.M. Will Earmark $25 Million in Grants For School Activities

By Peter West — May 10, 1989 4 min read

Washington--The International Business Machines Corporation has unveiled a $25-million grant program designed to bolster teacher training in computer-based instruction and encourage innovation in the use of educational technology.

Officials of the computer manufacturer, which has been moving to gain a greater share of the precollegiate market, made a restrained announcement of the new initiative last week during a forum here on educational technology.

“Our aim is to be a catalyst,” said John C. Porter, ibm’s director of university relations. “The program is intended to stimulate the broad partnerships that are needed to improve elementary and secondary education in this country, so that the United States can remain competitive.”

During the five-year program, the firm will provide selected schools of education and school districts with laboratories of networked personal computers, ibm software, training and technical support, and grants to cover some training and travel expenses.

The company expects to make as many as 70 grants to teacher-training institutions and another 10 to partnerships between school districts and schools of education. The latter awards will be focused on encouraging innovative uses of technology.

Rita Black, an ibm spokesman, said, however, that “those are not numbers fixed in stone; it depends on the quality of the applications.”

Applications will be accepted at any time over the next three years, Mr. Porter said. Company officials were not able to offer specifics on the selection process last week.

Some industry observers described the initiative as possibly the largest single program of its kind. Ibm’s competitors, however, such as Apple Computer Inc., the dominant manufacturer of microcomputers for precollegiate classrooms, have longstanding grant programs for schools.

Apple donated approximately $2 million in equipment to schools last year through grant programs, a spokesman said.

The Franklin Computer Corporation, maker of hand-held electronic spellers and dictionaries, recently donated more than $186,000 worth of its products to a field test conducted by the National School Boards Association’s Insitiute for the Transfer of Technology to Education.

And Commodore Computer recently donated some of its Amiga machines to schools in conjunction with an itte project on desktop video technology.

Mr. Porter said the grants program was an extension of the company’s longstanding commitment to higher education, specifically targeting the problem of preparing teachers.

“Teachers are not well prepared for the changing roles that are implied by [the new technology],” he said, “and computer technology will never be implemented effectively in the classroom without active participation. The teacher is essential.”

He said the initiative was based on two views of educational technology contained in the report by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, “Power On! New Tools For Teaching in Learning.”

One, he said, is “the notion that technology works, but is not being widely used.” The second, he added, “is that much greater benefits lie down the road with the right kind of research and experimentation.”

The ibm program will also be designed to address “the pipeline issue,” Mr. Porter said, giving preference to programs that incorporate ideas for encouraging women and minority students to study technical subjects.

Ibm will also evaluate grant proposals with an eye to whether or not they emphasize the incorporation of computer and other technologies into the overall curriculum, he indicated.

“We’re hoping that they won’t just teach computer literacy,” Mr. Porter said, “but that they will give teachers the tools and the approaches required to go into the classroom and know how to integrate courseware into day-to-day lectures and coursework.”

Moreover, he said, the company will ask the participating colleges of education to integrate the donated materials into their curricula, so that students can learn the technology firsthand and the institutions will be able to offer more effective inservice training to school districts.

The inability of teacher-education programs to effectively demonstrate the instructional uses of computers has become a topic of increasing concern to educators.

Last March, during the Sixth Annual International Conference on Technology and Education in Orlando, Fla., some 40 sessions were devoted to the problem.

The sentiments of conference participants were summed up by Richard Wisniewski, dean of the college of education at the University of Tennessee, who said that, aside from some scattered exemplary programs, today’s technology education reflects attitudes of the “1950’s and 1960’s.”

Similarly, the authors of the ota report found that while computers are now common in precollegiate classrooms, “only half the nation’s teachers report that they have used computers in instruction.”

The report also pointed out that “colleges of education are often behind the rest of the campus in available hardware and software.”

According to Mr. Porter, the ibm grant program will be designed to encourage “interdisciplinary partnerships” between educationschools and other departments within universities.

As part of the program, he said, graduates of participating institutions will be able to communciate via a computer bulletin board known as PSInet, or the People Sharing Information Network. That, he predicted, will give even teachers in remote locations “the opportunity to trade experiences and to learn from each other as they try to apply this technology.”

The portion of the grant program focused on innovative uses should encourage university-school collaboratives to develop “showcase sites” where exemplary uses of technology can be demonstrated, he said.

Requests for information should be addressed to S.M. Matsa, ibm, University Relations, 500 Columbus Ave., Thornwood, N.Y. 10594.

A version of this article appeared in the May 10, 1989 edition of Education Week as I.B.M. Will Earmark $25 Million in Grants For School Activities