Computers in Schools
Are Living Up to the Promises Made Years Ago, So
Don't Despair or Give Up the Faith Yet
In the late 1970s,
they told us that computers at school would
revolutionize education. We bought a 16K PET here, an Apple II there,
and awaited the revolution.
We expected miracles in those innocent days. We got
PacMan and Parsec instead. Not that
arcade-style games are devoid of
educational value. Conquering each new screen requires imagination,
analysis, problem-solving skills, and manual dexterity. But no
researcher has yet proven a correlation between Donkey Kong scores and
In those days, supporters of computer education
needed tough skins. We taught BASIC without knowing exactly why, and we
argued for computer literacy
without understanding what it meant.
Still, we shared a vague sense that somehow computers were or would
become important educational tools.
Skeptics tolerated us much as we all live with an
occasional head cold. If micros established a foothold, teachers and
parents who found them intimidating would be forced to master them.
Under such conditions, who could blame those who desperately wished the
things would just go away?
"Where's the evidence that computers had even a
minimal effect on educational performance?" they challenged. We mumbled
something about too few machines, too little time to assimilate
the technology, and ineffective software.
Accepting our arguments, education agencies began
supporting the computer movement with generous (if not lavish) in
fusions of funds for software, equipment, and training. They called our
Fortunately for all concerned, the results have been
dramatic. Increasing numbers of teachers are now computer literate
(whatever that means), and software companies currently offer some very
well-designed educational packages for home and school. An in-school
ratio of roughly 20 students per microcomputer leaves room for
significant improvement, but it represents millions of dollars-no small
Clearly, the time has come for educational computing
to prove its worth both in schools and at home, and there's every
reason to believe that the results will be dramatic.
Already students are discovering the benefits of
word-processing software and are learning to enjoy the writing process.
Progressive parents and teachers are employing specialized hardware and
software to provide educational assistance for the handicapped.
Carefully selected drill-and-practice and tutorial programs are helping
some catch up while allowing others to move ahead.
Increasingly, yesterday's promises are becoming
today's realities. Currently, computers and quality software are
helping us learn more, understand better, progress faster, and explore
Even with all this, though we've only seen the
beginning. The outlook for the future looks even more promising. To
overestimate the potential benefits of computers in education is
virtually impossible. Yet we must remember that the technology itself
offers no magic solutions. As with other tools, we can use computers
effectively only when we fully understand what they can and cannot do.
Computers alone cannot motivate, but in the right
hands they can make learning so much fun that even the least motivated
students will seek out opportunities to learn. Computers cannot
actually teach, but when teamed with carefully selected software they
can-and do-offer unlimited opportunities for learning.
How can we motivate our children to use their
computers? Which software belongs at home and which at school? How can
a home computer improve a child's success in class? What do computers
do well, and what is best handled by more traditional approaches? What
is your local school doing right (or wrong) with its computers?
Every month, this column will grapple with these and
similar questions. I expect to prod (perhaps even provoke) you with a
mix of fact and opinion about the scope and direction of educational
computing. I promise to strive to keep you up-to-date on the newest and
best ideas and products in the field. I can't promise to be right
always, but I can promise to read the mail.
What can you do? Insist on reading specific,
practical suggestions here every month. Implement those recommendations
that offer the greatest reward for you and your family. Be patient, but
expect to see real and meaningful benefits.
So whether you're just thinking about buying a home
computer or you use one every day, stick around. If your micro sits
gathering dust in the closet (having failed to live up to your
expectations), dig it out and hook it up.
Stanton can be contacted via CompuServe (72407,102) or by mail at
P.O. Box 494, Bolivar, New York 14715.