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Computers and Curriculum in the New Century
© 1995 G. Edwin Lint

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Copyright 1995 G. Edwin Lint, M.A.

The citations on this page were correct as of December 24, 1994. For any changes since this date, contact the
Pennsylvania State Board of Education, 333 Market Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120

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Computers and Curriculum in the Next Century

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Although this letter was originally written to persons in Pennsylvania, it can apply in any state, province, or country where instruction in appropriate computer utilization skills is not being provided.

Prologue

The year is 1895 and the Pennsylvania legislature is considering a revision of the public school curriculum. However, the citizens are incensed by the absence of penmanship from the proposed curriculum. There is no mention of manuscript or cursive writing, and not a word can be found about a writing tablet, pen, slate, or stylus. Not even a piece of chalk! Parents from the western counties are threatening to organize a trek across the Appalachians to make a formal protest to the governor in Harrisburg.

Preposterous? Maybe. But not a lot more preposterous than the fact that computer utilization is given minimal mention in the new Curriculum Regulations of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. In reality, computer utilization skills are as essential for living and working in the next century as penmanship was a hundred years ago.

I used my own computer to check the number of times the word computer is used in Chapter 5 of the Curriculum Regulations. That number is five, and two of those are parallel.

What Can Be Done?

Does this mean we've blown it for a whole generation of Pennsylvania children as far as computer utilization skills are concerned? Not as long as we exercise the local control Pennsylvanians are known for in education circles across the country. Although Chapter 5 does not give personal computers a place of significance, the Board lets the door open for local taxpayers to do so, by exercising their local control.

At §5.3, Chapter 5 defines instruction as follows:

The delivery of academic and vocational content to students by teachers in order to strive towards the academic goals and achieve the student learning outcomes under §5.202 (relating to student learning outcomes) and additional student learning outcomes determined in school entity strategic plans under §5.203 (relating to strategic plans).

What this definition really means is that local school boards may place additional student learning outcomes on the list of 53 required outcomes as shown at §5.202. School board members, parents, administrators, and teachers should accept the challenge and give computer utilization a place of significance in Pennsylvania's local curricula across all levels: primary, intermediate, middle, and high school. And I am defining computer utilization as the ability to use computers for profit and fun.

Motorists and Mechanics.

Computer utilization is different from computer programming in the same way driving a car is different from being an auto mechanic. The plethora of off-the-shelf computer applications available for MS-DOS, Windows, and Macintosh computers covers everything from preschool activities to high-end spreadsheets and relational databases. Only a comparative few of us need to learn computer programming. The rest of us just need to learn to drive the software the programmers have written.

Should We Wait for New Developments Before Buying Hardware and Software?

This letter was drafted in July 1994 and revised in January 1995. By the time you read it, the computer trade shows and journals will be trumpeting another advance in the computer world that is, at this moment, still in draft format in someone's word processor. The longer you wait, the farther your students will fall behind the real world.

Good News.

Here's some good news. First, kids can learn the latest computer advances as fast as, or faster than, adults can teach them. Second, as the power and sophistication go up, the price comes down. For example, I paid §2,000 for my Apple IIe in 1984, complete with 128K RAM and two 5.25-inch floppy drives. Today, those dollars would go a long way toward getting a RISC chip-equipped Power Mac or Power PC with at least 8 megabytes of RAM and a 350 megabyte hard drive.

Computers in Chapter 5 of the Regulations of thePennsylvania State Board of Education

Here's a summary of what Chapter 5 says about computers in the five references mentioned above.

FIRST REFERENCE: This is in a math student learning outcome and is an example of 70s thinking: linking computers with math rather than integrating them across the entire curriculum.

§5.202(f)(2)(ii). All students compute, measure and estimate to solve theoretical and practical problems, using appropriate tools, including modern technology such as calculators and computers.

 

SECOND AND THIRD REFERENCES: These are parallel references to Planned Courses that must be taught to every student in the middle level and high school programs, within the general context of "information skills."

§5.212(c)(6). Information skills, including access to traditional and electronic information sources, computer use and research.

§5.213(c)(8). Information skills, including access to traditional and electronic information sources, computer use and research.

FOURTH REFERENCE: This is the only real reference to computer utilization and it's for Planned Courses at the high school level. Why wait for high school to teach students how to use computers to do real work? This should be required instruction for primary, intermediate, and middle levels, also. Kids across the country are writing stories on a word processor and chatting on the Internet as soon as they can spell. Some are doing it before they can spell.

§5.213(c)(7). Use and applications of microcomputers and software, including word processing, database, spreadsheets and telecommunications

FIFTH REFERENCE: This is the standard computer programming which the "auto mechanics" need. The rest of us just need driver education.

§5.253(e)(2)(C)(VI). Computer science, which may be integrated in other appropriate planned courses.

A Personal Note

Let me share my family's experience with computer utilization skills in the Pennsylvania education system. My guess is that many Pennsylvanians have had similar experiences. My wife, Nancy, and I have four children: Judith, born in 1958; David, born in 1961; James, born in 1967; Jessica, born in 1971. All four graduated from Pennsylvania high schools, two in the 70s and two in the 80s. None graduated with any functional computer utilization skills.

Judy bought a personal computer in January 1994. She and her husband are learning to use their word processor with some help from the software's user guide, and me. Dave has become skilled with a personal computer while on the job. Jim learned to use paint, draw, and desktop publishing software while working on a part-time job, earning money for college. Jessi has a job with Christ Church in Nashville which requires fluency in Microsoft Word for Windows.

Nancy and I graduated in the 50s when modern computer utilization skills weren't even a dream. Nevertheless, we have become proficient with microcomputers through independent study and on-the-job training. However, we are rather disappointed that our children failed to receive functional computer utilization skills in school and were forced to learn those skills at their own and their employers' expense. We would like to think that the school districts that will be responsible for the education of our grandchildren in the next century will avoid such mistakes. There is little substance for this hope unless concerned persons at the local level augment what Chapter 5 does not mandate.

Conclusion.

In the next century, some school entities will do the right thing regarding teaching computer utilization skills, with or without mandates in Chapter 5. And, some students will learn to use computers on their own or on the job, as my family has done. But, many students who lack opportunity or initiative will be at risk of entering the next century with no functional computer utilization skills unless their schools accept the fact that computer use is now an essential part of living and working. Therefore, it must be a significant element of any curriculum.

What computer skills should we teach?

Here's a list of sample instructional objectives that could be used as a source for developing Planned Courses in the area of computer utilization.

 

Introductory skills

Uses computer keyboard for playing simple games

Uses computer keyboard for drill and practice activities

Uses computer keyboard for typing simple messages on e-mail and for writing simple notes

Uses computer keyboard for entering data via dumb terminals

Uses computer keyboard for writing stories and articles

Uses computer keyboard for entering data in database and spreadsheet documents

Uses computer keyboard for learning QWERTY and Dvorak touch systems

Explains difference between temporary random access memory (RAM) and disk storage

Uses on-line help screens to learn about an application

Integrates keyboard with mouse to edit documents

Uses mouse to point, select, drag, and draw simple shapes

Distinguishes between hardware and software functions

Distinguishes among mainframe, mini, and desktop computers

 

General skills

Uses manual to achieve a software product's potential

Installs software from floppy disks to a hard drive

Troubleshoots problems via manufacturer's manuals

Determines when help is needed with a technical problem

Saves document to a specific disk, folder, or directory

Backs up documents on a separate disk to prevent accidental loss of data

Deletes unneeded documents from disks

Interacts with other peripherals on a local area network (LAN)

Copies and moves data between documents

Deletes blocks of data

Uses mail merge capability of word processor and database applications

Formats report for printer

Uses translation software to convert documents between disk operating systems

Describes purpose for document import and export

Saves document as a text (ASCII) file for import or translation

Imports and exports data between documents

Describes tab/comma separated database and spreadsheet structure

Describes fixed-length field database and spreadsheet structure

Uses scanner to convert line drawing or photo into computer graphic

Uses scanner to convert hard copy text or numerals into computer document

 

Word processor

Uses word processor keyboard commands, when available, instead of mouse

Copies and moves data within document

Indents, nests, and hangs paragraphs

Finds and replaces specific text segments and formatting codes throughout document

Creates and modifies tab tables

Edits document from hard copy draft

Visualizes edits which need to be made and makes those edits on screen

Runs document through spelling and grammar checker

Uses on-line thesaurus

Formats document for the printer

 

Database

Sets up database structure

Tells relationship between record and field

Defines data fields for entering text, numerals, date, time, graphics

Establishes rules for selecting records for display and printout

Sorts records according to specific field(s)

Prints reports and mailing labels from database records

 

Spreadsheet

Sets up spreadsheet structure

Creates spreadsheet formulae to answer 'what if' questions

Formats worksheet report for printer

Prints worksheets or exports worksheets to another document

 

Telecommunications

Uses in-house and remote e-mail systems

Uses telecommunications software to interact with remote systems

Configures a modem for a specific remote system

Uses modem to access remote database and transfer files

Uses a commercial on-line service such as CompuServe, America on Line, or Prodigy

Navigates the Internet

 

Desktop publishing (DTP)

Imports word processor document and graphics into DTP document

Formats flyer, newsletter page, and brochure

Places text blocks and graphic elements on a page

Creates odd/even headers and footers, with embedded page numbers

Prints camera-ready originals ready for duplication

 

Arts

Paints, draws, and designs with mouse and other input peripherals

Uses music interface (MIDI) to play and compose music

 

Maintenance

Tells rules for handling and using data disks

Plugs/unplugs common computer peripherals

Distinguishes between hardware and software problems

Provides incidental maintenance for local printer: clears jams; loads paper; replaces ribbon, toner cartridge, or ink cartridge

Tells characteristics of dot matrix, printwheel, ink jet, and laser printers

 

References

Pennsylvania State Board of Education, Chapter 5 Curriculum Regulations, Pennsylvania Bulletin, July 24, 1993.

Lint, G. Edwin, et al (1988), Computer Utilization Plan, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Harrisburg.

Lint, G. Edwin, Sobehart, Helen, et al (1984) PennStar Master Curriculum, Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit 16, Lewisburg, Pa.

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This product is an excellent tool for creating IEPs and curricula. It consists of the following components:

  • 16 Subject Areas
  • 105 Goal Areas under the Subject Areas
  • 4,830 Objectives under the Goal Areas
  • 2,719 Suggested Activities for achieving the objectives.