Computers Column

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will use $50 million in grants from two major computer companies and $20 million of its own to develop plans for using the computer in its 23 undergraduate departments.

The main purpose of the five-year project announced last month, which will be funded mostly by the International Business Machines and Digital Equipment Corporations, is to develop new ways of using computers in disciplines ranging from aeronautical engineering to history. The school expects to create a "network" of users, but it probably will not extend beyond the campus, said Eric C. Johnson, assistant dean of engineering.

The project will differ in several ways from another major college initiative announced last year by Carnegie-Mellon University.

As a "practical step," Mr. Johnson said, mit has decided to eschew the development of "user friendly" machines, which are central to the Carnegie-Mellon plan. By using existing systems, Mr. Johnson said, mit can concentrate on developing sophisticated software.

mit also will not require students to buy computers.

A key part of the mit plan, Mr. Johnson said, is creating "coherence" between ibm and dec computers so that the different makes can communicate with each other and use common software.

mit officials also hope to be able to transfer individual sections of programs for use in several programs, an ability that they say would give computer-based instruction more flexibility.

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, warned in his first speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week that the unequal distribution of computers in homes and schools threatens to create "distressing divisions in our society."

Mr. Lautenberg, the former chairman of Automatic Data Processing, said 70 percent of the nation's wealthier schools have computers, compared with about 40 percent of the poorer schools. He added that those inequities are reinforced by inequities in the home.

"In an age that demands computer literacy, a school without a computer is like a school without a library," Mr. Lautenberg said.

More teachers than ever will be taking inservice-training courses in computers this summer, and those teachers will concentrate on programming more than they have in the past, educators say.

Edward Schneider, associate professor of educational design, development, and evaluation at Syracuse University, said the increase in inservice-training activities involving computers coincides with the interest in improving mathematics and science education.

The emphasis in those training activities has shifted from computer-based instruction to computer literacy, Mr. Schneider said. He and others attribute the shift in part to the Educational Testing Service's new advanced-placement test in computer science, which will require the ability to program in fortran.--ce

Vol. 02, Issue 38

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