COMPUTERS IN OUR SCHOOLS: WHO’S NOT PUSHING
THE BUTTONS?

A Few Ramblings on Ware We Are Going: 1986

These are pages 291-296 in the Don't Think Y2K Edition of The Summercore Primer



It is quite likely that in the 1990’s, the world of hardware and software is going to be dramatically changed from that of today: computers much more sophisticated than Apple IIes and IBM PCs selling for a few hundred dollars; software — perhaps connected with videodisks or compact disks — that makes today’s best educational software appear strikingly outdated. It is crucial that we realize our computer world of today is primitive compared to what will evolve. Consequently, half of our involvements with computers MUST be as preparation for the future — preparing ourselves as teachers, preparing our schools as institutions, preparing our curriculums and educational philosophy.
And what about predicting the future and the impact on our schools and our society? Two years ago, I wasn’t at all confident about answering that question. Today, it seems so obvious.
The diversity in education is going to be amazing. From one independent school to the next, the attitudes and implementation of computers will be quite varied. Already in 1986 we can see significant elements of this diversity. School A still offers just computer programming while School B makes word processing part of every English course. Meanwhile School C has gone way beyond word processing and uses computers in most aspects of the curriculum. And School D just got its first computer and nobody there even knows how to set it up.
All you need to do is extrapolate a few years down the road to see the full picture. By 1990 there will be many independent schools with a “one computer per child policy,” using computers throughout the curriculum to improve the educational process; there will also be others where half of the faculty have yet to touch the idiot machine.
And then you start thinking about independent schools vs. public schools, haves vs. have-nots, males vs. females, and so on. It certainly IS going to be an interesting 10-15 years to teach in, seeing how this whole computer revolution — or should we say computer evolution — turns out.
The real question I want to steer you towards is “what about YOUR school?” Part of the agenda in 1985-1990 must be to lay the groundwork for the proper integration of all this technology into our curriculums.

• BUTTON #1: HUMANWARE

We have to deal with the reality that for most of our schools, half or more of our teachers have yet to become acquainted with any facet of computer usage in their professional or educational uses. Not for word processing, not for educational software, not for anything. Is this a concern that needs to be addressed formally?
Am I exaggerating the importance of the computer as an intellectual tool? Is my sense that it should be a professional responsibility to learn about computers my own hype and indoctrination?

As much as I wrestle with this issue, and as much as I think Weizenbaum’s perspective has merit, I continue to think that we have too much evidence already to think that computers are just a fad. I was thinking this summer that I know dozens of English teachers who are now so involved with word processing that you can’t shut them up on the subject — it has become a main focus of their professional lives. I can think of numerous parents who have seen the first hand effects of the word processor on their children’s work. And I can see first hand the effect of educational software on my daughter — specific skills in math and reading that are directly related to her regular use of software. In light of all this, isn’t it really shirking one’s professional responsibilities as a teacher to just push computers away and pretend to ignore the whole thing for another few years?
Furthermore, isn’t it really negligent on the part of administrators and trustees to be passive in all of this and allow their teachers to just continue ignoring the computer as a viable medium? All over the country, employers are telling their secretaries that they better learn to use the word processor and telling their managers that they better learn to use databases, spreadsheets and project management software. Isn’t there an analogy to be made?
The Fenn School in Concord, MA implemented the requirement that all teachers take a word processing course; they also adopted a policy to pay 50% of the cost of hardware/software for interested teachers. Are these ridiculous decisions or do they perhaps suggest the model offered in The Computing Teacher (Nov ‘83) article by Sheila Cory called “A 4 Stage Model of Development for Full Implementation of Computers.” Ultimately, says Cory, in stage 4, computer usage must be seen as a required part of a teacher’s professional status.

• BUTTON #2: CURRICULUMWARE •

What will be the computer curriculum at your school over the next few years? Will it be piecemeal — where individual teachers do what they want — or will your school take a look at the big picture, integrating computers throughout the curriculum?
Although there are other problems with the “piecemeal approach,” one of the most striking is that it allows some kids to benefit and others to just pass through. The reason most schools have certain basic requirements in music, art, athletics, math, etc. is so that all kids get at least a reasonable exposure to a variety of disciplines. One of the things I’ve always cherished about Independent Schools is that all kids get a chance to experience the diversity of academics, athletics, music, drama. This richness of exposure is something you just don’t get in many public schools — you can’t make the team or the drama competition is too intense. And though most people outside of Independent Schools always have the stereotype that these schools are for the “best and the brightest,” I have always felt otherwise. Numerous times, I’ve seen “medium ability” kids blossom in ways that could happen only in the intimate, nurturing world of Independent Schools.
Well, my argument for a required computer course and integrating the computer throughout the curriculum is that if done right, everyone uses the computer. All student move in the right direction with the necessary skills and attitude. It’s as simple as that.

• BUTTON #3: HARDWARE •

This is a trap if there ever is one. Which is the right computer to buy? Yes, I could share thoughts on this one and discuss the Apple vs. the IBM vs. the Macintosh vs. the Commodore, but I won’t. As I said, this issue is a trap.
Why? Am I copping out? Not at all. I’ll be glad to share these thoughts with you.
The real answer is that it doesn’t make that much difference. Yes there is wrong hardware to buy. One school I know bought a Wang mini computer for their students because the assistant headmaster argued that these kids were bright so they really needed a fast, powerful machine. Another school I know bought Digital micros for their students because of the wonderful discount policy. Yes, these decisions were mistakes, and yes it is possible to make wrong decisions.
But choosing IBM PCs over Macintoshes or Apple IIs over Commodores doesn’t really matter. All of these machines have the necessary software available: word processors, databases, spreadsheets, BASIC, Logo, graphics, music, educational.
But you must go with one of these. One of the best things that the Fenn School did without realizing it when they created this 50% package for an Apple IIe w/printer and software was that they implicitly standardized. Now 10-15 teachers own the same computer, the same software, the same printer. Solving problems and becoming more productive is that much simpler. Showing each other how to use control codes and load ditto masters is easier since people can share their developing expertise with each other. And sharing documents between teachers and students is easier. Making up a database at home so that students can use it at school is a snap. Developing in-house curriculum materials that a variety of teachers can take home and modify is feasible only if people use similar hardware and software.
But what about freedom of choice? Isn’t it better to have what some schools have? Four teachers with Apples, three with IBMs, five with Macs and so on. No I don’t think so, but you decide. This isn’t a simple issue and there are pros and cons on each side. The IBM may have better word processing software while the Apple has more educational software while the Mac has better software for doing the school newspaper. Well, maybe I am wrong, but I see the issue as not much different than choosing a textbook for Tenth Grade English.
My conjecture is that the overall productivity and integration of computers throughout the curriculum will be related to a school’s decision that for “most tasks” we have chosen this computer as the school’s standard. And yes, there will always be “special purpose” computers in a school, perhaps for Pascal or newspaper layout. And yes, the standard computer that is used in this school may change; from 1985-1990 it might be BRAND X and from 1990-1995 it might be BRAND Y. But it is important to emphasize the need for standardization.

BUTTON #4: SOFTWARE •
There is no trap here, but you must remember what Russ Walter has been saying for years: regardless of whether you are a school, business or home consumer, your software budget MUST come close to your hardware budget. It is crucial as you put a computer into the faculty room to spend $500 immediately on setting up a mini-library of interesting software right next to the faculty computer: PrintShop, SongWriter, CrossWord Magic, Missing Links, The Factory, Rocky’s Boots, Dazzle Draw, Sensible Speller, Snooper Troops, Exploring Graphs and Tables, Stickybear Math, One-on-One, Geometric Supposer, World GeoGraph, Mockingboard Speech Synthesizer, and so on. Make the mini-library attractive; put together a variety of intriguing and useful packages and you are well on your way. Let this corner of the faculty room become a playspace, a corner for “show and tell” from one teacher to the next.
What’s the point of all this? Well, I am trying to emphasize that software is a crucial part of the game. It is vital to have a healthy, ongoing annual software budget — software is so much more important than hardware. You need to build a software library for your school without worrying that every piece you buy is going to be extensively used. You need to build a software library for your school in the same way you would build a book library if you were starting from scratch. It is wonderful to have lots of books in a library, even though some get occasional or rare use. And so it is with software. To spend several thousand dollars on software initially is to set the stage for curriculum integration and diversity. Teachers can look at it leisurely and the proper tone is set for the importance of the computers — not for programming, but for using!
Russ Walter’s emphasis on budgeting enough money for software will continue to be a useful slogan to keep in mind. Though he talked about software money matching hardware money, at least think in 2 to 1 terms.

• BUTTON #5: MONEYWARE •

Where is the money going to come from to pay for all of this: hardware, software, ongoing teacher training, extra staffing, extra space?
Or even more importantly, should a school even contemplate spending this kind of money on computers over the next five years? Joseph Weizenbaum says computers go on the priority list right below tennis and swimming and a bit above passing out heroin and cocaine.
This decision about financial priorities won’t go away. You will wrestle with it each year. Or someone will. Here are a few aspects of MONEYWARE that I’d like to make sure you aware of.

FINANCIAL REALIZATION
: COMPUTER EQUITY FOR ALL STUDENTS
Be careful. If you have 300 students in your school, are you spending most of your annual computer funds on what will benefit 10 to 20 students? I see many schools making this mistake because of their misguided belief that computer programming is so important. They will choose their hardware to obtain the most sophisticated version of BASIC or Pascal. They will orient their computer curriculum around computer programming. Then slowly they realize that only a small percentage of the student population is interested in programming. Meanwhile, there aren’t enough word processing units for curriculum use or for faculty use and there is hardly any money budgeted for software.

FINANCIAL REALIZATION:
COMPUTERS ARE NOT TAKING OVER!
Although spending $10,000 to $20,000 on computers seems outrageously expensive, you must keep a balanced perspective. How much money is spent each year on any ONE academic department in your school? Seriously. To conduct ANY academic program at your school, you have over the years invested in capital acquisitions: classrooms, desks, blackboards, library materials. This is the capitalization that was needed initially when the school was first built or the program first developed. And then you have annual financial needs: teacher salaries, department budget, books, resource materials, etc. It would be most useful within any school to make a spreadsheet similar to the one below. What you’ll find is that computers are not taking over anywhere; if anything, they continue to be at the bottom of the list, way below math, science, English, history, foreign languages, music, art, athletics, and drama. Now maybe, says Weizenbaum, that is where they belong. But that is a different issue. The realization is that the capitalization of a computer program isn’t as large as some other areas and the annual expenses are strikingly lower than most other areas.

Academic/Extra-Curricular

Capital Costs

Annual Costs

Annual Salaries

Art Curriculum

???

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???

Athletics Program

???

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Drama Curriculum

???

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English Curriculum

???

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History Curriculum

???

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Modern Languages

???

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Math Curriculum

???

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Music Curriculum

???

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Science Curriculum

???

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If you do this and you now attempt to add a new row for computers:

Academic/Extra-Curricular

Capital Costs

Annual Costs

Annual Salaries

Computer Curriculum

???

???

???



you may realize that the money allocated to computers is strikingly small in almost every academic institution.

FINANCIAL REALIZATION
: ULTIMATELY, FINANCES WILL GET EASIER, PARTICULARLY FOR INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS
Although this does not help the reality of computer equity in public schools, it is important to note that independent schools WILL have the flexibility and INDEPENDENCE to make the financial factor a non-issue. Not only will hardware and software prices be going down, not only do independent schools have lots of sources for seeking special gifts from their constituencies, but a very obvious and attractive solution is sitting there for independent schools that have the necessary humanware and curriculum.
By 1990 we will see independent schools require each student to purchase the SUCH AND SUCH computer. The machine will be in the child’s home or dorm and will be used in various ways throughout the child’s academic career. No longer will schools have the space problem of where to put the computers. Instead, the school becomes the repository of software, analogous to books in a library. Parents who are paying $10,000 per year will not balk at being required to purchase this SUCH AND SUCH computer once they realize that the school has geared up to use software throughout the curriculum to improve and enrich the educational process.
Though there are many other implications, this third realization is that only in the immediate future will there be financial crunch.

• BUTTON #6: TIMEWARE

Most of the comments so far apply only for the next 10 years. By 1995, or surely by the year 2000, half of our teachers will be people who are now in grades K-12 in our schools. By virtue of the computer-rich worlds that most of them grow up in, most of these future teachers will have completely different attitudes towards the computer. To me, 1985-1995 is the transition that might be called the computer evolution. It is happening so slowly. Back in 1982 when TIME magazine chose the computer as Man of The Year, everybody started talking about the “computer revolution” in schools. Now we realize this was hyperbole. The computer Revolution has become the computer Evolution for one obvious reason: Revolutions are dependent on people; and people change slowly.
I’ve been doing some research in the Lexington archives about the famous Lexington Green and the SHOT HEARD AROUND THE WORLD:

Apparently, in 1773, there were several Lexington and Concord residents who were ready to fight the British. They came to the famous Green only to realize that they had no weapons. Realizing that the first ingredient for a revolution is hardware, they returned to their homes disappointed.
Next year, in 1774, these same residents came back with piles of guns. They had developed the necessary hardware and were ready to fight. At the last moment, they realized they lacked sufficient bullets and ammunition; even the ammunition they had was poor quality with frequent misfires and limitations. Realizing that hardware wasn’t enough— they needed good quality software — they returned to their homes again disappointed.
Next year, in 1775, these same residents came back to the Green. They had worked all year on developing high quality, reliable ammunition. Their bullets were now compatible with most guns and well tested. Finally, they had the software! Excited, they came out on July 4, 1775 with trucks of guns and ammunition. As they started to unload the stuff, they realized that there were only a dozen or so people, not nearly enough to successfully fight the British. Realizing that even hardware and software together weren’t enough — they needed the necessary humanware — they returned to their homes again disappointed.
Finally, in July 1776, having invested in the necessary training, these same residents returned to the Lexington Green, complete with hardware, software and humanware.

The rest — as they say in the textbooks — will be history.