Computers Column

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The Control Data Corporation, the nationwide information-systems company that was among the first to develop educational applications of computer technology, has put on the market a less expensive version of its programs.

The company announced last month that its well-known but costly line of educational software--Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations, or plato for short--will soon be available on floppy disks for use with the Texas Instruments 99/4A, Apple II Plus, and Atari 800 microcomputers.

The first set of disks, 60 hours of instruction that will be adaptable to ti machines only, has already been released. Programs for the other companies' easy-to-use computers will be released in the next several months, a company spokesman said.

A company official warned that teachers should not expect from these new disks as sophisticated a program as plato has offered through the company's own computer hardware. Because of the lower memory and screen capabilities of the less expensive microcomputers, she said, the new versions of plato lessons will not achieve that level of sophistication for some time.

The courseware now available for ti terminals covers: basic numbers facts, whole numbers, decimals, fractions, elementary-physics applications, French vocabulary, German vocabulary, Spanish vocabulary, and computer literacy.

More than 8,000 hours of instruction in topics ranging from history to automobile repair are stored in Control Data's cyber 205 computer in Arden Hills, Minn., according to a company official, but the cost of hooking up with the Minnesota databank has been prohibitive for most educators and families.

The development of floppy-disk courseware that would be similar to more expensive plato courseware "is pretty far down the road, if we're going to get it at all," said Janie A.B. Erickson, a consultant for academic programs for Control Data.

The original plato programs, which cost as much as $10,000 a year, including the hookup with a large "mainframe" computer, have been used by 25,000 children and adults and are established at more than 100 schools and colleges, company officials say.

Several thousand high-school students will be taking a new advanced course in computer science next fall, and the two companies that developed the course and its college-credit test expect the program to "grow with alacrity" after that.

A committee of seven college and high-school educators developed the course syllabus for the Advanced Placement program of the Educational Testing Service and the College Board.

Carl Haag, director of the ap program at the testing organization, said he expects from 1,000 to 3,000 students in 200 schools to take part in the course next fall. After that, he said, the program will grow faster than previous ap programs.

"I've never seen another ap course with such response," Mr. Haas said. "We get innumerable calls every day from people interested in this."

The course and test will emphasize three areas of computer science--program methodology (structure, design, and testing), data structures (how to arrange information), and algorithms (rules for solving problems in the minimum number of steps).

The committee decided to use the "Pascal" computer language because it "encourages better programming habits" than the language called "Basic," said the chairman of the committee, Stephen Garland.

Mr. Garland, professor of mathematics and chairman of the department of computer and information science at Dartmouth College, said the committee chose Pascal after surveying 400 high schools and determining that they would not resist using it as the required language in the course.

He said high-school students who learn about computers through the Basic language should be encouraged to switch to Pascal because of its wider applications.

The number of schools with classroom computers has increased by over 50 percent in the past year, but the gulf between the wealthy and poorer schools has remained, according to a survey taken by Market Data Retrieval, a Westport, Conn., market research firm.

The annual September survey found that 24,642 public schools, about 30 percent of the total number, now use computers in instruction. That is an increase of 56 percent from last year. The greatest growth of computer use was at the junior-high and elementary levels, where 40 percent and 20 percent of schools, respectively, now have computer instruction. Sixty percent of the high schools have computers.

But a wealth and geographical bias continued to keep many schools out of the computer age. Of the 2,000 largest and most wealthy high schools, 80 percent have educational computers. In the smaller, poorer high schools, the rate drops to 40 percent.

Those disparities hold for the junior high and elementary schools.


The high-school ritual of taking standardized tests by filling in ovals with a No. 2 pencil may be on its way to obsolescence.

The college-admissions tests that 1.2 million students take each year will be replaced within a decade by computerized tests that will determine specific areas of weakness and even start remedial instruction on the spot, speakers said at the Educational Testing Service's annual convention in New York this month.

The new tests will be significantly more efficient than the pencil-and-paper tests now offered by the ets and other testing services, the speakers noted, since the computer will be able to evaluate a student's response after each question.

The current testing methods only determine whether a test-taker has mid-level aptitude, said Ernest J. Anastasio, vice president for research and development at ets Computerized testing, he said, has the capability to branch into greater or lesser levels of difficulty, depending upon the test-taker's responses. That refinement will offer a more exact picture of a student's strengths and weaknesses.

The Oklahoma Department of Education has opened a computer demonstration center to give public-school teachers "hands-on" experience with programming and information about what programs would be best suited for their classwork.

The center will house six microcomputers and several educational software programs. Instructors will be nearby to teach teachers how to work with the new technology. The department is also starting a library of "home-grown" educational software, said a spokesman.

The software will be designed by teachers in the state and available to all districts at cost.ce

Vol. 02, Issue 11

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