Computers Column

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For the first time in one well-known survey, male high-school students have ranked computer science as their top career goal. But adults don't seem to share the growing enthusiasm for the new technology.

Those are the findings of the latest Gallup youth survey and a more general survey commissioned by a cigarette manufacturer.

Almost one of four teen-agers (23 percent) polled said they had a "great deal" of interest in computers or electronics as a career. Boys ranked the computer field first among career paths, while girls ranked it sixth.

Students most frequently cited the financial rewards of a career in computers as their reason for choosing it. But many students also said the excitement of being part of a changing field was an important factor.

When Gallup last asked teenagers about career choices, boys said their top choice was a skilled craft such as carpentry and plumbing, which dropped to fourth place in the current survey. Medicine held its second-place ranking. The top career choices for girls--medicine, secretarial, and nursing--remained the same.

The Merit Report, a poll commissioned by Philip Morris Inc., a tobacco company, found that 47 percent of all Americans said they did not expect to own a personal computer in the future. Fifty-five percent of the respondents said computers have little or no appeal to them.

An aversion to computers was most prevalent among older and lower-income people, the poll of more than 5,000 people last month showed.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will survey 5,000 women starting next spring to determine whether the use of computer terminals leads to birth defects, miscarriages, and other biological irregularities--a study that could have an effect on the explosive growth of computers in the classroom.

Studies of the effects of the low-level radiation emitted by terminals have so far produced contradictory results. niosh and the U.S. Bureau of Radiological Health have reported that there are no dangers to users of video-display terminals.

But two other medical specialists--Robert Becker, a retired professor of orthopedic surgery at the State University of New York's Upstate Medical Center, and Eldon Byrd, a researcher with the U.S. Naval Surface Weapons Center--have disputed those claims.

Recurrent but unconfirmed reports of birth defects and miscarriages among users of computers prompted niosh to undertake the new study, which will start next spring and be finished by the middle of 1984, a spokesman said.

Because the use of computers among children is a relatively new practice, no research has been conducted on the effects exposure to computer terminals may have on lifelong users.

A group of educators appointed by the U.S. Education Department

met at the University of Pittsburgh last month to set an agenda for federal research on issues involving the use of computers in schools.

The conference's two committees--for mathematics and science and for reading and writing--will make final recommendations for research projects by February, said Alan Lesgold, a conference organizer who is a research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.

ed's federal budget for the fiscal year 1983 includes $7 million for computer research. The Pittsburgh meeting was the first the department has held specifically to address research on computers in the classroom.

Mr. Lesgold said the 40-member committee suggested four areas for research: the effectiveness of diagnostic and "coaching" programs; teacher training; the psychological effects of computer education; and experimentation with "courseware" already developed.

Computers that can hold conversations with users are still years away from development, but one electronics company is already putting on the market a machine that can listen to students and even take into account regional accents.

The Scott Instruments Corporation will start to market its "voice-based listening system" to educators in January, said Carin E. Horn, the director of the company's instructional systems group.

The system--known as VBLS, for short--can be used with an Apple II microcomputer. Ms. Horn said Scott is developing the system for use with other brands of computers.

Teachers can develop their own instructional programs for foreign languages with the system. The company is still working on programs for the education of handicapped students.

In a typical foreign-language program, a student will receive questions about grammar and pronunciation on a computer terminal. When the answer is spoken into a microphone, the computer will announce whether the question was answered correctly. After several incorrect answers, the computer will display the correct answer on the screen.

By programming exercises with several examples of pronunciation, Ms. Horn said, the machine will accept accents that are slightly different than that of the original programmer.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation last month announced grants totalling $3 million to study the effects of modern technology on the teaching of liberal arts.

Ten colleges received gifts of $250,000 each to develop plans for incorporating computer applications into courses ranging from history to foreign languages to literature.

The changes in higher education curriculums will probably affect the colleges' entrance requirements, a spokesman for the New York-based foundation said.

Grants of $47,000 and $25,000 were awarded to colleges that were passed over for the larger grants.


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