Computer Column

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Computer games have great potential as educational tools, but so far they have been unimaginitive, putting too much stress on conflict and hand-eye coordination skills and not enough on logic.

That is the opinion of Harold J. Peters, the director of a research group at the University of Iowa that, along with two other organizations, is sponsoring a contest to develop better computer games.

"Computer EdGame Challenge" will be a three-month contest for teachers, students, and program writers to design electronic games for elementary, secondary, and college students. Winners will receive prizes and sales profits. The winning programs will be sold for $3.50.

Mr. Peters said three criteria outlined in a Stanford University doctoral thesis by Thomas Malone--the games' challenge, fantasy, and curiosity--will be used to judge the entries.

Judges will be looking for games with educational value similar to that of "Green Globs," developed by University of Illinois researchers, Mr. Peters said. To win at "Globs," a player must write a mathematical equation for a curve that intersects as many as possible of the 13 spots that appear randomly on the screen.

The three organizations sponsoring the contest are Verbatim Corporation, a manufacturer of flexible magnetic disks; CONDUIT, a University of Iowa group that evaluates computer-based educational materials; and MicroSIFT, another evaluation organization involving several colleges.

The National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, an independent federal agency, will begin next month a two-year study of the effects of technology on libraries and research.

A spokesman for the commission said researchers from the agency and the International Business Machines Corporation will try to predict what a library's resources and demands will be in 1985. She said the study would result in a set of policy recommendations for the President and the Congress.

The agency will start by studying technology's effects on two groups of library users--the elderly and rural groups.

The research will eventually expand to cover the problems of copyright law in protecting authors and software developers, the possibility of transmitting texts via satellite, and the use of technology to make library resources available to the handicapped.

The dawn of the computer age in education now has been noted in the most sacred of American institutions, the funny pages.

Dondi Wills, a 2nd-grade student at Midville Grammar School, is "computer literate." And that could imperil the rise of Harlan Angles to the position of state commissioner of education.

Dondi, the character drawn daily by Irwin Hasen, is one of those kids who just can't stay away from the computer room at school.

Mr. Angles is the widely respected principal of Midville, and he is considered a strong candidate to fill the vacant education post.

One day, Dondi slips an unmarked floppy disk into a computer terminal, and he discovers that Mr. Angles has been changing the grades and attendance records of Midville students to make his achievements look better for the governor.

Mr. Angles at first seems uneasy about his dishonesty. Like Macbeth, he tries to convince himself that his unethical move is the surest route to power. "I must summon my courage and go through with it," he resolves at the keyboard.

When his dishonesty is discovered, though, Mr. Angles is prepared to battle the young computer whiz. The principal first tells Dondi that to reveal the fabricated records would be to "betray your classmates and your school." When the students continue to press for correction of the records, Mr. Angles locks up the program and considers dirty tricks against Dondi.

Dondi finally tells his side of the story to Miss Frimm, a Midville teacher, who knows of Dondi's unerring honesty. When she confronts Mr. Angles, the principal attempts to bribe her by approving her long-awaited request for sabbatic leave.

Will Miss Frimm cave in to the pressure from the ambitious Mr. Angles? Only Irwin Hasen knows.

Professional groups have started to hold meetings via long-distance ''video teleconferences." Their cost-effectiveness in serving educational purposes is the main reason, according to officials of one organization that arranges such meetings.

The education departments of New York and Pennsylvania last month held statewide conferences using this system, which connects several sites to a seminar by satellite. Other state agencies have expressed an interest in such teleconferences.

The price of a satellite dish, which picks up signals from the sky, has dropped from around $100,000 to $25,000 in the last four years.

Depending on how elaborate the teleconference is, costs amount to about $100,000 for a meeting of about 500 people at 30 sites, according to a firm that arranges such meetings. That compares with about $500,000 for a conventional meeting, including travel and lodging for participants.

An official with the University of Wisconsin's Center for Interactive Programs said no figures exist on how many teleconferences are held annually. They vary widely in scale and complexity of communication hookup, she noted, and the number of some kinds of teleconferences has doubled in the last year.

Educators in schools and school systems across the country are experimenting in a variety of ways with computers as aids to teaching and management.

If you are involved in such activities and would like to share information and ideas with colleagues nationwide, send details and a phone number where you may be reached to Charlie Euchner, Education Week, Suite 560, 1333 New Hampshire Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.--ce

Vol. 02, Issue 15

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