Monday, March 22, 2010

Computer science USA, LLC

Computer science, originally uploaded by Zamm.

Microsoft Store

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian

The computer, and indeed any technology, is valuable primarily as an instrument for accomplishing tasks that are logically distinct from the tool itself. Thus, students in secondary schools might be taught to use computers because (a) such learning will enable them to be more productive in the future--for example, in college or on the job--or (b) by learning to use computers, they can learn more or be more productive in their other classes--for example, they can understand algebra or physics better or can write better papers for English classes. What is striking about computer use in secondary schools in the U.S. during the 1980s and early 1990s is that, with the exception of drill programs (and drill-like games) for repetitive practice of basic arithmetic algorithms and reading and writing skills, most computer time has been devoted to teaching students computer skills qua skills, rather than embedding or applying computer capacity in the context of ongoing teaching and learning in other subjects.

In 1983, programming and computer literacy activities (that is instructing students about computers rather than using computers for other instructional goals) constituted nearly three-quarters of all time spent by secondary school students on school computers [1]. In 1985, computer programming by itself occupied 42% of all computer time spent by high school students [2]. And in 1989, although programming itself decreased to less than 20% of all computer time in high school, time devoted to teaching students how to use word processing programs, how to use database programs, and instruction in basic keyboarding skills made up the slack. Thus still more than 50% of all time spent by high schoolers on their school computers was for computer education (see Figure 1) [3].

These results come from three national surveys I conducted in order to learn what computer resources schools had and how they were being used. This past spring, a fourth survey was conducted, as part of an international survey of computer use in 21 countries. Preliminary results of that survey are described by the U.S. project director for the survey, Ron Anderson, in the sidebar that accompanies this article. More detailed data from this new survey will not be available for several months, but the pattern of computer use that we found in the 1989 survey remains virtually identical in this latest survey, except for a continued decline in the proportion of computer time being spent on programming instruction.

Although substantial fractions of high school English, math, and science teachers have their students use computer software--in 1989, roughly 40% of math and science teachers did--most use of computers in subject matter classes is irregular and infrequent. Computers when used only occasionally can demonstrate to students the value of the computer as a learning tool, but only regular and sustained use will make the computer an integral part of a student's educational experience. If we look at the survey for indications of frequent use of computer-based learning tools, we must come away disappointed. Only 3% of computer-using math teachers had students use graphing programs on more than five occasions during the school year, and amazingly, only 1% had students use spreadsheets in their math class that often. Similarly, only 1% of computer-using science teachers used (on more than five occasions) computer programs that interfaced with laboratory equipment (See Table 1).

Another approach to answering the question about the locus of most secondary school students' computer work is by counting all of the classes where computers were used substantially during the school year (e.g., "most weeks" or "every week"). Even though most students take at least four years of math and science during middle and high school, and only about one or two semesters of computer classes, we find that, as of 1989, three times as many classes in computer education existed (programming, word processing, "computer applications," or general computer education) as either math or science classes where computers were used substantially throughout the year (70,000 vs. 24,000 math classes and 21,000 science classes).

The Content and Context of Instruction About Computers

What are computer classes like? On average, they have about 20 students. Both in the typical high school computer class and the typical middle school class, the number of boys and girls is roughly the same. But there are a minority of such classes (primarily at the high school level) where boys greatly outnumber girls--in 20% of the classes at that level, the ratio was greater than 2:1 boys to girls.

Programming is no longer the primary activity of computer education classes, as it once was. As computer classes began being extended to larger proportions of school students--including those who had no interest and perhaps no preparation for programming--computer applications such as word processing and "databases" (actually, flat-file information managers)--began occupying a greater portion of instructional time. In 1989, computer applications other than programming were a major focus in more than 80% of high school classes and in one-fourth of middle school classes. In a majority of high school computer classes, learning how to use word processing programs was a principal activity, while spreadsheets were a principal activity in 40% of the classes, and database programs in 24%. Keyboarding was a major activity in one-third of the middle school computer classes, but was largely absent from high school computer classes.

In classes where at least some programming instruction occurred (about 60% of all secondary computer education classes), nearly all of the programming was done using the BASIC language. In high school programming classes, Pascal was the major focus in fewer than 10% of all high school programming classes. In middle school computer education classes, the educational lisp-derivative programming language called "Logo" was also used for about 10% of the programming. (Logo was in greater use at the elementary level, but even there BASIC was used about twice as frequently as Logo.)

The level of instruction provided in computer education classes typically provides students with basic but not advanced skills. Programming work, in particular, was tightly constrained. In high school programming classes students mainly write programs by following specific steps and using syntax prescribed by their teachers. In our survey, only one-third of programming teachers reported that most student programming involved writing programs of the student's own design. In high school classes where students were taught about database programs, only one-sixth of the teachers reported that their students were taught to use relational links between two or more databases, and database programming languages were hardly taught at all. Word processing instruction focused on basic elements such as moving a block of text and using tabs and indents. In only one-half of high school classes taught word processing could students combine different text styles, and in only one-third were they taught how to merge a letter and name-and-address file.

In addition to specific computer classes or programs in which students are "pulled-out" of their regular class in order to have "computers," there are two other contexts in which instruction in using computers is a common and major activity--in business education classes and in the secondary math class called "computer math." This latter type of class is an interesting phenomenon. Rather than integrating computer activities in each math class, schools are teaching in a single course a variety of mathematics topics from different math courses that are tied together, not substantively, but only by their common reliance on computers as a tool for learning. In 1989, out of the 24,000 mathematics classes for which computers were used "most weeks" or "every week," 7,000 of them were courses in "computer math."

On the other hand, by 1989 the general computer application of word processing was making itself felt in subject matter classes of computer-using teachers--even in math and science classes. Math teachers were more likely to say they taught their students to do word processing than they were to report teaching spreadsheet use. Science teachers were more likely to teach word processing than any more science-specific application of computers such as spreadsheets, simulations, data acquisition, databases, or programming languages. About 10% of all English teachers reported teaching their English classes how to use word processing programs. And at the elementary level, where the major emphasis is on using computers (principally for drills and enrichment), more than one-fifth of 4th to 6th grade classroom teachers taught their students to do word processing. Thus, as a whole it appears that elementary and secondary school students are closer to mastering word processing functions of computers than they are to attaining competence in more computationally and cognitively complex skills related to school computers.

Summary and Implications

To some extent, it makes sense that the emphasis on computer use in American secondary schools has been on teaching students about computers and the skills in using them. Those of us who lap up each new computer application as if it required no effort or at least no discipline to master its functions may forget that novices require a certain period of exploration and basic algorithmic instruction before they can expect to be productive with a new tool. At this phase of their history in American schools, computers as the subject of instruction--not only word processing, spreadsheet programs, databases, and simple programming languages, but telecommunications and multimedia as well--may be an essential component to enabling students to subsequently use computers in other school subjects and in the world outside of school. But education tends to translate every new technology into a set of isolated skills to be individually mastered in preparation for their future utility ("Some day, when you are bigger, you'll see why you have to learn this"). To those of us who have used computers in our professional lives for analysis of scientific data, examination of mathematical principles, information retrieval, critical thinking, and communication, the suitability of using computers in the students' own "noncomputer" classes seems readily apparent.

Schools are lagging behind, though, in the critical area of curriculum development for using computer-based tools in subject matter classes. Most subject-matter teachers have not yet learned how, for example, spreadsheets relate to mathematics instruction, or multimedia to English or fine arts instruction, or databases to science instruction. For computer education to avoid becoming simply another isolated set of skills and procedures to be mastered, a major effort in curriculum upgrading must occur within the academic disciplines, as they are practiced in typical school settings. When that happens, computer education will be increasingly meaningful to the schools of America.

[HENRY JAY BECKER is an associate processor in the department of Education, University of California, Irvine.]


[1.] Becker, H. J. School uses of microcomputers: Report #2 from a national survey. J. Comput. Math. Sci. Teaching (Winter 1983-84), 16-21.

[2.] Becker, H. J. Instructional uses of school computers: Reports from the 1985 national survey. Center for Social Organization of Schools, John Hopkins University, Issue No. 2 (Aug. 1986).

[3.] Becker, H. J. How computers are used in United States schools: Basic data from the 1989 I.E.A. Computers in Education Survey. J. Ed. Comput. Res. 7, 4 (1991), 385-406.

Related article: The Technology Infrastructure of U.S. Schools

At the start of the 1990s, the U.S. had about 110,000 schools (including colleges) serving over 60 million students [3, 4]. Inside these educational institutions at least 3.5 million teachers and 4.5 million computers served this vast body of students. Colleges had over twice as many computers as teachers, but elementary and secondary schools had about one computer per teacher. Many elementary and secondary schools placed their computers in classrooms, but the majority of the computers occupied student labs.

The number of computers for precollege instruction has been growing at the rate of at least 10% per year [5]. The amount of software purchased by precollege schools has been growing at the rate of about 20% per year. The annual expenditures made by these schools for hardware and software alone adds up to about one billion dollars. This seems like a large investment, but the amount spent per student per year is only about $8 for software and $12 for hardware.

With an annual total education expenditure of about $5,500 per pupil, the annual hardware and software expenditure per student is less than one half of one percent. When you add in support costs including maintenance, administrative staffing, and teacher training, the expenditure per student equals about $55 per student per year. Roughly 1% of the total cost of education is spent on computer-related technology in elementary and secondary education [7].

Using data from QED [5], we can approximate the shape of the installed base of instructional computers in the schools by major computer type (See Table 1).

Apple II and IIgs systems still dominate elementary schools. About two-thirds of the computers used for instruction are Apple II or IIgs systems and many schools continue to buy more. However, the IBM PC and compatibles, along with the Apple Macintosh, predominate in the plans for new purchases by both elementary and secondary schools. The secondary schools have acquired more Intel/MS-DOS (IBM PC and compatibles) computers than Apple IIs.

The IEA Study

In 1990 I succeeded Henry Jay Becker as the project director of the IEA Computers in Education Study and became responsible for conducting the second stage of this project. With the detailed data on students' computer-related experience and knowledge, it will be possible to describe more completely the role of technology in what students learn. This brief article offers a preview of the findings from this large-scale study.

In the second stage of the IEA study, the surveys were repeated in 13 countries. In the U.S., as part of the second survey, a representative sample of 11,000 5th-, 8th-, and 11th-grade students were surveyed. The school data reported here is based on a random sample of 175 senior high schools and 210 elementary schools. The student data reported were collected from 3,000 11th grade students in a randomly sampled class in each of the high schools surveyed last spring.

Table 1. Types of computers in public schools (K-12), 1991-92
Type of operating Percent of all Percent of 1990-91
system computers new systems (*1)
Apple II 61 39
Apple Macintosh 5 26
Other 10 -45 (**2)
100 100
Sources: QED & mdr (1991-92 school year)
(*1) 'New systems' consists of purchased minus disposed units
(**2) The 'Other' category includes mostly old systems that
were disposed, which yields a negative percentage.
If we supplement the statistical data described earlier with results from the second stage of the IEA study, we get a more precise view of hardware trends. Here are some highlights:

* The number of Apple Macintosh computer units is still rather small in both elementary schools (5%) and secondary schools (13%). Furthermore, both elementary and high schools planned to acquire more IBM compatibles than Macintoshes during the 1992-1993 school year.

* While the technology base appears slow to change, as evidenced by the predominance of Apple II systems in elementary schools, the last three years have seen considerable interest and growth in networking and multimedia. Figure 1 reveals this growth with sharply rising trend lines of the percentages of schools with modems, CD-ROMs, video-discs and networks. The trend lines from 1989 to 1992 for secondary schools are much steeper than those for elementary schools.

The growth in CD-ROMS and videodiscs indicates movement toward multimedia systems, while the modems and networks show rising activity in data communications. Driving acquisitions of multimedia devices and networks is the diffusion of these technologies in other markets, notably the business and home markets. Excitement among educational product developers over the new technological opportunities in schools is evident from the number of new instructional materials now on the market that take simultaneous advantage of audio, video, graphics, and, in some instances, animation, simulation and networking.

* While over 40% of the high schools may have networks, at least half of these networks were found to be limited to a single room. Furthermore, less than one-fifth of the high schools used networks for electronic mail; and less than 10% of the high schools used networks for access to information such as Dialog or communications projects such as Kidsnet.

* From surveying a national, representative sample of 3,000 11th-grade students, we found that 97% had taken at least one mathematics or science class last year. Only 44% of the students had used a computer in a math or science class, and more surprisingly, only 23% had used a computer more than once or twice in a math or science class. Thus, over half of the 11th-grade students did not use a computer in either a mathematics or science course during the 1991-92 school year, and almost half of those using computers in mathematics or science classes, used them only once or twice.

* We examined whether or not the 3,000 11th-grade students came from poor or wealthy homes by classifying the students according to whether or not their homes contained 20 different objects, such as calculators, encyclopedias, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and CD-players, which were considered indicators of greater wealth. Then we divided the students into five equal categories along this continuum of household wealth. Comparing those students in the lowest 20% in home wealth with those in the top one-fifth, on the basis of wealth reported in the home, we found that only 19% of the students in the poorest group had used computers more than once or twice in either science or mathematics classes during the year, whereas 30% in the top bracket had done so (See Figure 2). In some way, which we intend to explore further, poverty hurts a high school student's opportunity to take advantage of school technology in learning mathematics and science.

From this statistical vantage point, the technological infrastructure appears to be fairly primitive. Not only is much of the hardware obsolete, but many students do not get to use the technology that is in place. Borrell [1] argued that a nationally "coordinated correction" of technology policies is needed in American education. In any event, to improve schooling we must confront the challenge of the technological infrastructure.

[RONALD E. ANDERSON is a professor in the sociology department of the University of Minnesota.]

[1.] Borrell, J. Personal computers in education. MacWorld 9 (Sept. 1992), 25-30.

[2.] Becker, H.J. Mathematics and science uses of computers in American schools. J. Math. Sci. Teach. 10 (Summer 1991), 19-25.

[3.] EDUCOM. EDUCOM Campus computing survey. EDUCOM, Washington DC. 1990.

[4.] National Center for Education Statistics. Digest Current Ed. Stat. (1992) Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office,

[5.] Quality Education Data, Inc. (QED). Ed Tech Trends. QED: Denver, Co. 1992.

[6.] Pelgrum, W. J., and Plomp, T. The Use of Computers in Education Worldwide. Elmsford, N.Y., Pergamon Press, 1991.

[7.] U.S. Congress. Power on! New tools for teaching and learning. Office of Technology Assessment (OTA-SET-379) Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988.

Source Citation
Becker, Henry Jay. "Teaching with and about computers in secondary schools." Communications of the ACM 36.5 (1993): 69+. Computer Database. Web. 22 Mar. 2010.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A13736426

(Web-Page) (Album / Profile)
leonard.wilson2009@hotmail.comShop the Official Coca-Cola Store!Click here for the Best Buy Free Shipping Offers
ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian
Personalized MY M&M'S® Candies

No comments: