Computers Column

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A West Virginia school district appears to have lost an opportunity to receive $45,000 worth of computer equipment because it would not accept the conditions under which the gift was offered.

The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution proffered the gift, which included software and computer-magazine subscriptions, to the Wood County Board of Education last month but asked school officials to agree to certain terms. The computers, dar officials stipulated, were to be used to teach American history at the local high school and were to be under the supervision of a specified teacher.

School officials declined to agree. "The law grants the principal general supervisory powers over his school," said William Staats, the district's superintendent. "You can't make an agreement that usurps his powers."

Neither producers of commercial software nor educators who are developing their own computer programs have yet become proficient at "using the computer to teach," suggests Constance Curtin, a longtime programmer who teaches Russian at University High School, the laboratory school of the University of Illinois.

"A great number of people think that if you just sit down and learn how to program, that's that--you can turn out good educational software," Ms. Curtin says. "In fact, we've found that that kind of approach often leads to programs of fairly low quality."

To develop successful computer-assisted instructional programs, she argues, programmers must think through their projects from the points of view of teacher, students, content, motivational factors, presentation techniques, and possible modes of evaluation, as well as the technical "mechanics." But while that is a complex task, Ms. Curtin adds, no one is in a better position to do it than teachers themselves, "because they have the real knowledge of what's needed in the classroom.''

Notes: Dilithium Press, an Oregon-based publisher of computer books and software for the business, home, and educational markets, has developed a line of books and programs called crystalclear to introduce to children ages 4-12 concepts in music, math, science, language, and programming ... Prentice Hall Inc. and the International Business Machines Corporation are marketing a workbook-software package that will allow schools to copy special versions of some major software programs used on ibm PC computers. The arrangement is designed to help schools surmount the dual problems of the expense of purchasing multiple copies and the prohibition of federal law against making "pirate" copies of copyrighted programs ... Three school districts in Minnesota have been awarded a total of $356,000 by the state legislature to develop model computer-use projects. In the highest-ranked proposal, the suburban St. Louis Park district will exchange curriculum information electronically with a smaller rural district.--mm

Vol. 03, Issue 35

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