U.S. Unlikely To Develop National Strategy

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In contrast to the highly organized strategies that other countries are developing to integrate new technologies into their elementary and secondary schools, it is unlikely that the United States will develop a clear-cut national course of action, says one federal official.

But the absence of a sharply defined plan does not mean that the introduction of high technology into American schools is being ignored, emphasized Frank B. Withrow, acting director of the educational technology division of the U.S. Department of Education's office of education research and improvement.

America a 'Hodgepodge'

"As always, the United States is sort of a hodgepodge," he said. "England, France, Japan, Germany ... all of those countries are developing national strategies of some sort on the use of microcomputers."

"England has had a priority on this for some time, but their program has been cut back because of their budget crunch," he said. "Germany feels there is a necessity, but they don't have a structured program as yet. Japan is still exploring the use of microcomputers, but once they make a decision, they'll decide there needs to be, for example, 15 micros in every school used an hour each day, and they'll do it."

Currently, both Congress and the Education Department (ed) are examining various aspects of the use of microprocessors in American classrooms. Efforts are underway to study school systems with existing computer curricula, as well as to develop more sophisticated, comprehensive programs and teacher-training materials.

The Office of Technology Assessment, a Congressional research agency, is currently concluding a two-year, $200,000 project, part of which will examine the impact of the new technologies on elementary and secondary education.

The agency's report, compiled for use by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor in forming federal education policy, should be completed by March.

In preparing a report that will be part of the technology office's study, Linda G. Roberts of the Education Department's office of libraries and learning technologies visited school systems all over the country where "there is significant application of computer technology."

Because the agency study has not yet been released, Ms. Roberts would only speak in general terms about what she observed.

"It's very difficult to draw generalizations right now," she said. "The field is changing day by day. But many districts have gotten their feet wet, both using the computer as a tool to teach about computers and as an object of instruction."

Much of the instruction is drill-and-practice, she said, but some districts are going beyond that to use the computer for more advanced learning tasks. "But there's very little of that now," she added.

"I don't think you can flatly say that all teachers are 'turned on' to computers," she said. "But there are teachers out there who are literally giving up hours and hours of their free time to learn about the new technologies by taking courses and trying to bring the computers into their classrooms."

In addition to the Congressional agency's study, the use of microprocessors in the schools is also the subject of more than a half-dozen major contracts awarded by the Education Department, reported Mr. Withrow.

Reading Programs

The department is developing reading programs for grades four through seven in conjunction with WICAT, a hardware and courseware firm in Orem, Utah. The developer, Mr. Withrow explained, will attempt to take ''the best of reading research and computer research and translate them into programs that do more complex things than drill-and-practice."

The products of this and two similar projects underway in Provo, Utah, and San Antonio will not be available until the spring of 1983, Mr. Withrow said.

In cooperation with the mathematics-education department at Ohio State University, ed is developing programs designed to teach mathematical concepts and associations to students in grades five through seven.

Last October, ed funded a project in conjunction with Bolt, Beranek, and Newman, a high-technology research firm in Cambridge, Mass., to develop programs for word processors that help teach writing to upper elementary-school students.

The department also awarded a contract to the American Institutes for Research in Palo Alto, Calif., to take some "older television programs and materials" in the educational-programming field, Mr. Withrow said, and transfer them to videodiscs.

Science and Mathematics

The largest contract the department has awarded in this area, Mr. Withrow said, went to the Bank Street College in New York City to design materials "that could combine microcomputers, broadcast television, and videodisc components" to teach science and mathematics in the upper elementary levels.

In addition, the department is involved in a dissemination contract with the Association for Educational Communications and Technology in Washington, D.C. This group plans to hold eight national teleconferences on the subject of the new technologies and their applications in basic-skills instruction. The first of these is scheduled for May, but the date is not yet fixed, Mr. Withrow said.

The department has also developed a guidebook for school boards and superintendents interested in using the new technologies, and, in conjunction with WNET-tv in New York, has produced a tape, designed for state departments of education, on training teachers to use computers.

For further information on any of these projects contact: The Division of Educational Technology, Room 3116, R.O.B. #3, 400 Maryland Ave, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202.

Vol. 01, Issue 19

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