Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Story Behind the Statistics

Magazine article Technology & Learning

The Story Behind the Statistics

Article excerpt

Remember 1984? According to George Orwell's book, that was the year by which we would all be living under severe technology-powered oppression. Computers in the hands of treacherous, self-serving leaders would rob us of our privacy, manipulate our thinking, and direct our actions. Fortunately, that was not the 1984 that came to pass. Instead, that was a year during which many of us--through our rickety Apple IIs, Commodore 64s, TRS-80s, , and PCjrs--were just beginning to discover the tremendous power for self-expression and entrepreneurial freedom the personal computer offered to the average person.

Measuring Microintensity

Nineteen eighty-four was also the year in which Market Data Retrieval (MDR) released its first survey data about the use of personal computers in K-12 education. What I remember best about that report is the new term coined by MDR to represent the ratio of students to computers. The term is microintensity, and it was important because it was the only statistic in the report that shed light on how likely it was that the typical student in a school or district had access to a computer.

Knowing the microintensity gave meaning to other statistics in the report, which otherwise might have been misleading. For example, the entire Hawaiian islands comprise a single school district. Thus, having just one computer in any school or administrative office anywhere on the islands vaulted Hawaii to the top of the state rankings for Percent of Public School Districts Using Microcomputers.

This statistic may have made Hawaii's school leaders feel good about their education technology efforts, and it may have inspired technology vendors to target Hawaii for marketing programs, until they looked at microintensity. Hawaii's microintensity was just one computer for every 264 students, placing it way below the national average of one computer for every 92 students, and dead last in the state rankings for that statistic. Hawaii's microintensity ranking indicated clearly that its schools were not "way ahead" in using computers.

Today we have a similar problem--only worse. It's worse because there are more companies collecting technology-use survey data and the focus is not just on microcomputers, but on a host of other technologies and applications, including videodiscs, CD-ROMs, satellite broadcasting, distance education, online services, and cable TV. …

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