School uses of microcomputers. David H. Ahl.
The Center for Social Organization of Schools at The Johns Hopkins University has been conducting a study, the National Survey of School Uses of Micro-computers. Two reports have been issued to date, one in April 1983 and the second in June. Some of the findings are quite intriguing and contrary to what many people think is happening in schools.
Rather than presenting all of the results of the studies here, we will summarize a few results and present highlights of others. Because more secondary schools have computers than elementary schools, and because they have more of them the overall picture of how schools use computers is affected strongly by their use in secondary schools. Later reports will describe use in high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools separately.
In about half of the schools with computers, only one or two teachers, at most, are regular users. Where more than one or two teachers are involved it is most often by using packaged learning games or drill-and-practice programs. However, since elementary students use the computer for drill and learning games, on average, less than 15 minutes per week, they do not have sufficient time for any appreciable skill building to take place. Thus the effect of using drill-and-practice programs is really to acquaint the students with the computer (literacy), and not truly for subject matter learning, no matter what the teachers might think.
In the schools with computers, about one student in seven actually uses it during any given week. However, in a third of the elementary schools about 40% of the students have had some contact with the computer whereas this is true for only one out of every eight secondary schools.
Schools vary a great deal in how much their computers are in use. On average, computers are used by students for two to three hours per day. However, some schools use their computers less than that; over 20% of the schools use their computers less than one hour per day. In the heavy-using 20%, computers are in use for more than five hours per day.
Given this rather low usage, it should not be surprising to learn that the average elementary student gets less than 25 minutes of computer use per week and that one third of students get less than 15 minutes per week.
Because secondary schools have more computers on average, have fewer users, and use their computers for more hours per week, the average secondary school student gets more than 45 minutes per week on the machine. Thus, secondary students have about twice as much access time per week than their elementary counterparts.
Schools with more computer resources can do two things with their relative surplus: extend access to more users or give each user more time. Elementary and secondary schools display dramatically different tendencies in this regard.
Elementary schools with more computers do not give more time to student users; they extend usage to a larger number of students. On the other hand, as secondary schools get more computers, they give longer access to the same number of students.
Elementary school usage is divided among computer literacy and writing programs (19 minutes per week), drills and remedial work (13 minutes) and learning games (12 minutes). Because of the small amount of time per user, all of these uses can probably be regarded as different flavors of computer literacy.
In secondary schools, far more time is spent in writing programs (55 minutes per week) and less on drills and remedial work (17 minutes) and learning games (11 minutes). Although relative rare, students who use computers for word processing, in the business curriculum, or for science laboratory work tend to get large blocks of time. Typically, they get 30 minutes per week, and a third of such students get an hour or more per week.
Further information and newsletters about the project are available from Dr. Henry Jay Becker, Project Director, Center for Social Organization of Schools, The Johns Hopkins University, 3505 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.