Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 88 / SEPTEMBER 1987 / PAGE 26

Computer Learning Month: An Enthusiastic Start

Selby Bateman, Associate Publisher


The first national Computer Learning Month, scheduled for October, will be the focal point for a variety of contests, meetings, back-to-school nights, and other events highlighting the impact that personal computers are having in classrooms across the country. Here's an overview of the events and activities in which teachers, parents, and students can take part.

Scarcely ten years after the advent of the personal computer, the nation's first Computer Learning Month is to be held this October. It's officially sanctioned by both houses of Congress and is supported by a wide cross-section of computer software and hardware companies, publishing houses, teachers, and state and national educational organizations.

So great has been the impact of personal computers in education—and so exciting the potential—that the reactions to this first national Computer Learning Month have far surpassed the expectations of its sponsors, says Katherine Borsecnik, Computer Learning Month project director for the Software Publishers' Association (SPA), the primary association of microcomputer software publishers, with more than 200 member firms.

"The level of enthusiasm has surprised me," says Borsecnik. "I'm not only surprised at the response by Computer Learning Month sponsors, but I'm getting these incredibly enthusiastic calls from teachers as well."

The event is sponsored by more than 25 hardware and software companies, computer publications (COMPUTE! Publications is a principal sponsor), and the SPA. Apple Computer, IBM, and Tandy Corporation are the three computer hardware sponsors who are also donating computers as prizes in several contests.

"It's an opportunity for all of us, as parents or educators, to take a close look at how our kids are using computers and to acknowledge the strides in education made possible by teachers who effectively use the technology," says Ken Wasch, executive director of the SPA.

"What's important about computer learning isn't the mastery of technology by whiz kids and hackers, but how millions of ordinary kids are using computers to develop critical-thinking abilities, academic skills, and creativity. That's what Computer Learning Month is all about," he adds.

The national, nonprofit campaign is aimed at promoting the creative and productive use of computers in the classroom as well as sharing information and ideas on how computers are already being used across the nation. Educational technology coordinators in all 50 states have been contacted, and a number of educational and computer magazines and related periodicals will be featuring information on Computer Learning Month.

Nationwide Contests

Among the activities now under way are five different Computer Learning Month contests for teachers and students in primary (grades K-5), middle (grades 6–9), and secondary (grades 10–12) levels. Entries for each of the contests noted below must be postmarked by October 20, 1987. Top prizes are computer systems and software for the student winners to keep and other systems and software for the schools from which the winners come.

Computer Learning Month, a celebration of the use of computers in education, will get under way in October with a variety of contests and special events.

The five contests include competition in the following categories:

  • Computer-generated student artwork, in color or black-and-white, with no enhancements made using other artistic tools.
  • Noncomputer-generated student artwork that integrates in its theme the use and promotion of computers.
  • Student essays of 750 words or less on a computer topic that begins with one of several specific opening sentences supplied by SPA.
  • Teacher lesson plans and related ideas for integrating computers into the classroom in unique and innovative ways.
  • Group projects (four or more students and a teacher) in which the participants have used the computer in an innovative learning situation.

Specific details of each of the contests are available from the SPA by writing to Computer Learning Month, P.O. Box 19763, Washington, D.C. 20036-0763. The contest entries will be judged by selected educators at the joint conference, Making Schools More Productive, in Dallas, Texas, November 5–7.

The student artwork entries will become part of the nation's largest single exhibit of student computer work and will be available for a national tour.

Additional Activities

Many of the software companies that produce educational programs for the classroom and the home will be offering special discounts on their products as well as catalogs of educational materials. And computer dealers across the country will be hosting Computer Learning Month activities, such as fairs and other promotions.

For example, Davidson & Associates, an educational software firm, will award $25,000 in free software to 20 schools that celebrate Computer Learning Month with activities for parents, teachers, and students. For information on that contest, write to Computer Learning Month, Davidson & Associates, 3135 Kashiwa St., Torrance, CA 90505.

This fall, parents will be able to receive at many Walden Bookstores a free 16-page booklet entitled "What Every Parent Should Know About Educational Computing." The booklet contains not only information on how parents can help their children use computers at home, but also suggestions for ways to get involved through the schools. In addition, schools, libraries, and museums will receive special Computer Learning Month posters.

In November, a Computer Learning Month time capsule containing student work will be dedicated at the Institute for the Transfer of Technology of Education conference in Dallas. Included in the capsule will be predictions about computer learning, written by students, to be viewed when the capsule is opened in the year 2001.

Principal sponsors of Computer Learning Month are A + magazine, Advanced Ideas, Apple Computer, B. Dalton Software, Britannica Software, Brøderbund Software, COMPUTE! Publications, Davidson & Associates, DLM Teaching Resources, Education Systems Corporation, IBM, inCider magazine, The Learning Company, Learning Technologies, Mindscape, Peter Li, Random House Software, Scholastic, Soft-Kat, Software Publishers Association, Spinnaker Software, Springboard Software, Tandy, and Weekly Reader Software.

Reading & Writing & CD-ROM

Another area of information technology that will change the way students learn is CD-ROM, Compact-Disc Read Only Memory. This optical storage medium uses compact discs, whose ability to store enormous amounts of information digitally, allows a single disc to text, music, pictures—anything that can be digitized.

Already being used for databases and bibliographies, CD-ROM promises to provide students with access to larger bodies of information than even the greatest of libraries can contain. "Never before have students been able to use technology as a simulation of experience," Betsy Pace of Apple points out. "But, with the advent of disc technology, that's what we'll be seeing. National Geographic, for example, has an exceptional library of images. Imagine what it will be like for students to be able to draw upon collections like that."

While CD-ROM technology has been around for several years, its immediate descendent, CD-I, Compact Disc Interactive, is only just being developed. This medium uses the increased memory of newer computers to produce true multimedia gatherings of information. "CDI will let students marry text and pictures, full motion video, speech and music, with computer overlays," Betsy Pace says. "Interactive video is among the most exciting tools ever to come onto the horizon, so it greatly expands the potential for using computers in instruction that it's all but indescribable."

Gessler's Seth Levin sees tremendous potential for the marriage of disc technology and foreign language instruction. "We'll be able to design programs that place the student in the foreign country," he says, "letting them see the sights and hear the sounds, all the while making them use their language skills to survive the simulation. And it will be a simulation—a recreation of a trip overseas without leaving the classroom or the language lab."

Springboard's John Paulson foresees a time when students, assigned, say, a report on whales, will have an array of tools at their disposal. "Word processors will let them create their text," he says, "while through telecommunications they can call up full-motion video images of whales swimming and accompany those images with actual whale sounds—blending all of it together into a type of educational report that has never before been possible."

This sort of report—these sorts of advances—will insure the permanent presence of computers in the classroom, says Betsy Pace. She points out that the initial novelty of personal computers—computers for their own sake because they are new—has worn off. "But the thing that makes the technology sustainable as an educational medium is the fact that we're now able to do things with it that have never been done before. The computer's effectiveness increases as we learn to use it to convey ideas in ways that are better than books, than chalk and blackboards. We're learning to use computers," she says. "And that learning process is going to be very exciting.

The Dawn Of A New Era

History shows us how to approach the future. Looking at history, John Paulson sees the advent of the computer as inevitable. "It was not by luck that the species created the computer," he says. "The computer is an amplifier of intelligence, and our intelligence is the species' greatest gift. It's up to all of us to see that computers continue to fulfill their primary purpose, helping students learn by amplifying the things their intelligence is capable of."

What lies ahead? The futurist Arthur C. Clarke once proposed that the future will be not only stranger than we imagine—it will be stranger than we can imagine. H. G. Wells felt that civilization was a race between education and catastrophe.

Whether or not the computer provides the energy needed to insure that the race is won remains to be seen. It does seem certain, though, that as computers continue to reach more and more students, and as software further increases students' abilities to learn, the nature of education itself may come full-circle. The traditional purpose of education, after all, is to prepare the student for a lifetime of learning, to teach the student to think.

Which brings us once more to ancient Greece, and to another, possibly apocryphal, story of a great educator. This time the teacher is Plato, who supposedly said that the ingredients for education were simple: All that education requires is a student, a teacher, and a log for them to sit upon.

Ten years ago the personal computer was widely misperceived as an electronic teacher. Now we know better. The teacher is the professional at the head of the class, the author creating the text, the scholar organizing the body of knowledge, the photographer whose images are translated to disc, the software developer pushing the limits of his skill to prepare a challenging educational program, the musician whose compositions are digitized, the archivist whose database is the raw material from which exciting learning experiences are made.

And the computer? The computer is Plato's log—where each student and, ultimately, all of the teachers and teaching materials through history can gather together and accelerate the process of learning.