Grants support educational projectsby GARY YOST
It's no secret that the microcomputer is reshaping the classroom environment. Traditional classroom structure is now only one of many options available to our society. Atari, Inc. has become a leading proponent for change in the educational arena, and the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research is its instrument.
What is the Atari Institute for Educational Action Research? Since Atari introduced its first computer products, the company has supported projects that use computers in education. In June, 1981, the Institute was formally chartered to provide equipment, advice and financial support to non-profit educational organizations. In its first two years, the Institute has given grants valued at over $1 million of ATARI Home Computer products and cash stipends to projects which improve education and promote lifelong learning.
Ted M. Kahn, Ph.D., has been the Executive Director of the Institute since its inception. He holds a B.A. in computer science and a masters degree and doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. In addition, the Institute has a full-time staff, both at its headquarters in Sunnyvale and in New York. The 12 members of the Institute's Board of Advisors are in the vanguard of education, media and applications for microcomputers.
Distinguished persons actively involved in setting the Institute's course include: Marian Wright Edelman, attorney and president of the Children's Defense Fund; Roger Faxon, vice-president and chief operating officer, Lucasfilm, Ltd.; W. Tim Gallwey, author, educator and founder of Inner Game Corporation; and Herbert Kohl, well-known teacher, writer and educator.
According to Dr. Kahn, "the public, in associating computers with education, all too often assumes that education is equivalent to schooling. This is one of the reasons why schools are having major problems now, and is also one of the reasons why kids gravitate to much more informal learning situations. There is an intersection and a synergy between the two which is the key to the success of both. Students find that the constraints of the classroom don't allow them the freedom to explore the way they would really like to."
The first two projects undertaken by the Institute, a mobile van and a museum, focus on giving students "hands-on" experience with microcomputers. In Santa Clara, CA, the Industry Education Council - Atari Mobile Computer Van brings fifteen complete units to over 8000 students enrolled in 76 separate schools. Each unit is equipped with an ATARI computer, disk drive, printer and color monitor. A cooperative venture, this project is supported by cash grants from private industry, educators developing curriculum for all ages, and local government, all working together to achieve a common goal: bringing computer literacy to the entire community.
The Capital Children's Museum in Washington, DC, is a "learning-by-doing" museum open to children and their families. Atari granted equipment and cash for use in the museum's Future Center and Communications Exhibit. In the Future Center, visitors experience the classroom of the future. Over 100 members of the U.S. Congress were given a computer literacy course by the museum's staff. The recently released Atari graphics program, PAINT, was developed through the efforts of many people at the Museum. The Communications Exhibit draws children and adults from all backgrounds into a learning situation that dissolves the barriers of language, age and economic status.
There are Atari grantees in over a dozen states, ranging from Ivy League Universities to prisons, and from poverty-level community projects to handicapped individuals. Project TEME (Totally Enclosed Modular Environment), located at the Community College in Greenfield, Massachusetts, is a unique program promoting the achievement of a balance between technological growth and preservation of the natural environment.
The lab at TEME is an accurate reproduction of the Space Shuttle-Orbitor, the end of each annual program being a full simulation of a space shuttle flight. TEME supervisors train student volunteers to serve as flight crew on board the shuttle and as ground personnel. The students experience the same things real astronauts do in space, enabling them to study the effects of a controlled environment on human behavior. The Atari Institute has provided the TEME staff with a travel grant this summer to finance participation in an international exhibition sponsored by the Pompidou Center in Paris, France. Part of their software was installed at the "Time and Space" exhibit there.
The Atari Institute not only supports non-traditional educational alternatives but is also pioneering computer applications in the schools. A good example of this is the Home-School Computer network project. This joint venture with the Picodyne Corporation and a high school in California allows parents to have access to school counseling, guidance, and grade score records at any time of the day, 365 days a year. In addition, the central computer is programmed to make an analysis at the end of each semester of the student's academic record for college entrance. Students, parents and teachers have an up-to-date report on the progress towards meeting college entrance requirements and can make their plans accordingly.
These projects are just a few of the dozens of valuable activities supported by the Atari Institute. Dr. Kahn has recently said, "The vision of the Atari Institute for Education Action Research is to demonstrate how the power of the smallest chips of silicon, when given to our most valuable resources - people - can unleash massive expansion of human potential, and give our generation and future generations the most valuable gift of all - the gift of lifelong learning."
Gary Yost is a grantee of the Atari Institute, and consults witb Advantek, a computer-graphics firm based in San Francisco.