Ed-Tech Policy

Computers Column

April 05, 1989 4 min read

Despite experts’ assurances to the contrary, most educational-software programs convey subtle cultural biases, a researcher argues in a new book published by Teachers College Press.

“The computer is not a neutral technology, which is what we’ve always been led to believe,” said C.A. Bowers, a professor of education and social thought at the University of Oregon.

He expounds on his theories in The Cultural Dimensions of Educational Computing: Understanding the Non-Neutrality of Technology.

According to Mr. Bowers, computer-using teachers must recognize that “when the student is using the technology, they are really encountering the mind of the person who developed [the software].”

Educators also should be aware, he says, of “the way in which the technology influences the transmission of culture.”

Mr. Bowers argues, for example, that in one version of a popular educational computer game, students take on the role of “pioneers” who, as they cross the American frontier, are set upon by villains the game refers to as “bandits.” The bandits, he said, “could just as easily have been called ‘freedom fighters,”’ or Indians.

Educators, he maintains, often do not scrutinize computer programs with an eye to “how culture and language and thought interact.”

To counteract such biases, he recommends that teachers learn “how to supplement the use of the computer, to point out how these programs give students a historically and culturally biased view.”

Mr. Bowers’s book is the first volume in a series called Advances in Contemporary Educational Thought. The cloth-bound edition costs $19.95 plus $1.75 shipping and handling.

It can be ordered from tcp, P.O. Box 939, Wolfeboro, N.H. 03894-0939, or by calling (800) 356-0409.

Developers of educational aids are beginning to make greater use of a new generation of “user-friendly” software programs to help teachers customize lessons.

The Mobius Corporation, a software developer based in Alexandria, Va., has produced an interactive software program designed to encourage the acquisition of literacy by preschoolers. The project was part of a joint venture between the International Business Machines Corporation and Head Start, the federal early-childhood-education program.

John Rader, the company’s executive director, wrote the program in LinkWay, a new ibm software product that is one example of what promises to be a new generation of software “tools.” (See Education Week, March 29, 1988.)

Demonstrating the program at his offices last month, Mr. Rader reached out to a pad containing an overlay with letters of the alphabet, tapped a T, then listened as the machine obligingly pronounced the sound aloud.

He then moved to the computer’s keyboard and, by tapping the appropriate key, summoned a series of color images of words beginning with T.

The program, he said, allows teachers to enter family names and words that have personal significance to the children who use the program as part of the alphabet exercise.

Although critics have called LinkWay an inferior and “clumsy” version of Apple Computer Inc.'s HyperCard, Mr. Rader said LinkWay offers features that the Apple product does not.

“It’s machine-independent,” he said. “It’s extremely powerful in that it runs on all the [ibm and ibm-compatible] machines that are out there.”

Meanwhile, the Optical Data Corporation, a videodisk manufacturer, recently entered into a joint venture with ABC News to produce a disk about the 1988 Presidential election that is “designed to be used in conjunction with a HyperCard stack,” according to Pamela Herber, a company spokesman.

“The ’88 Vote, Campaign for the White House,” which was released on Inauguration Day, contains ABC’s footage of speeches by the 13 original candidates, portions of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, candidates’ television commericals, and election-night coverage.

Although the images may be viewed simply by connecting a disk player to a television set, they may also arranged via a computer by using the HyperCard stack, or series of commands, to shuffle and rearrange the images at will.

David Bohrman, executive producer for ABC News Interactive, a newly formed education subsidiary of the network’s news division, said ABC’s first use of HyperCard during the 1988 political conventions convinced the company to offer the option with the new disk.

The introductory price of $295 for the disk, a printed directory, and the HyperCard stack is in effect until Sept. 30, 1989.

For more information, contact Optical Data Corporation at 30 Technology Dr., Warren, N.J. 07060, or call (201) 668-0022.

The Claris Corporation, a software-producing subsidiary of Apple Computer, has released an updated version of its “Macwrite” word-processing software for use on Macintosh personal computers.

MacWrite II, as the new program has been dubbed, contains an on-line “Help System” based on a built-in HyperCard stack.

The program costs $295, but owners of Macwrite version 5.0 can upgrade their software for $65.--pw

A version of this article appeared in the April 05, 1989 edition of Education Week as Computers Column

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