Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Buddy Computer in the Home: Five-Year Progress Report

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

A Buddy Computer in the Home: Five-Year Progress Report

Article excerpt

A 1987 luncheon meeting between Kent Wall, president of an Indianapolis consulting firm, Technology Management, Inc., and H. Dean Evans, Indian's superintendent of public instruction, resulted in a "crazy idea." Discussing what might be done to improve Indiana's educational scoreboard, which put the state at 46th in years of schooling for adults--a full 30% of whom did not have a high school diploma--the issue came down to: "What approach might better prepare young people to live in the so-called Information Age, and also help adults improve their skills and knowledge?" Both men were cautious in simply adopting technology-delivered education in the classroom. Far too many experiments had proved to be less than satisfactory. Furthermore, how did such an approach help adults?

Then came a crazy idea. Why not give every student a "buddy" computer to use at home, with a companion computer at school? If young students' learning could be improved with this, maybe it would also open the door for parents and other adults to improve their competencies to keep pace with an ever-changing work place.

A computer in the home would give students time to become proficient in keyboarding, to learn software that could be used creatively, plus offer them a tool they found to be exciting. Further, if teachers assigned homework to be done on the computers, time-on-task could be extended and in-class instruction enhanced. Finally, if parents became involved, two more benefits were possible. First, if the parents became interested in their child's computer and its link to the school, the educational impact on the student could be significant. Second, parents might easily acquire computer skills of their own that would be valuable in the job market.

At this point in the discussion, another vista opened. If home computers were furnished with modems, communication between students, teachers and parents could take place. Moreover, a world of information could be brought directly into the home for families to access. Homes and schools could be linked to public and private information providers, and, in time, statewide networks might grow from lessons learned in a pilot project.

It would have been easy to look at all it would take to implement such an idea and conclude that it was, indeed, "crazy." Who would furnish computers? If schools could somehow provide them, would they be safe and properly cared for? What would teachers be asked to do? And even if teachers were willing, who would train them in how to use the machines, learn software and apply computers to fulfill course requirements? What about maintenance or repairs? Who would answer questions when a parent or teacher got stuck? How would communication links be established effectively and inexpensively with more than one phone company involved? Who would pay for and provide commercial information services?

Wall and Evans were undaunted by these questions, however, and left their luncheon believing their idea was worth the effort to plow ahead.

Early Years

In the months that followed, others came to believe in what is now called The Buddy System Project. Executives from Indiana Bell Telephone, GTE, the Indiana Corporation for Science & Technology, Apple Computer and IBM quickly came onboard, making the project a true public-private partnership. Lilly Endowment provided the first in a series of grants that established initial funding for a fourth- and fifth-grade project in five pilot schools. Private sector participants supplied funds, project management, expertise and equipment.

Year one had its share of problems--many of those previously anticipated came to pass. Yet at the end of that first year, results were encouraging. Buddy students and parents were reacting positively. Groups of teachers were claiming a new feeling of excitement about teaching. The signals were promising enough to continue. …

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