3.622 EDUCOM: a report (82)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Sun, 22 Oct 89 19:04:24 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 622. Sunday, 22 Oct 1989.

Date: Sat, 21 Oct 89 10:55 EDT
Subject: Educom 89 71 lines

EDUCOM 89: An Outsider's View

Educom held its 25th annual conference at the University of
Michigan between Oct. 16 and 20, and it was by far the largest ever,
something over 3,500 participants. This is a short summary of my
experience and reflection, and, if others from Humanist were there, I
hope it stirs a full and better coverage. I call it an outsider's
view because I am a historian, and most of the participants seemed to
be managers of computer facilities or computer vendors. Not that they
made me feel outside. To the contrary, Educom and Michigan folk put
on an extremely warm and hospitable conference. It was one of the
most congenial and well organized that I have ever attended. Each
evening there was a general reception sponsored by a major computer
company which was really a free dinner with all one could eat. The
last was sponsored by AT&T and held in the Henry Ford Museum. There
we were stuffing our faces with live chamber music while we wandered
between ancient automobiles and locomotives.

The keynote speaker was Akers from IBM who announced an award to
be offered for the next several years for innovative applications of
computers in education. He said that IBM has made a major commitment
to educational improvements across the nation especially in grades k
through 12. While it reflects a genuine concern to upgrade American
education, it also probably reflects an interest in taking back some
of that market from Apple.

Unfortunately, I had equipment problems preparing for my own
presentation and did not attend as many meetings as I would have
liked. One of the major interest areas was designing software so that
computers would become increasingly accessible to persons with
physical disabilities. Another emphasis was on trying to get more and
better uses of computers in the actual teaching process. This
included Project Athena from MIT and several places making use of
distance education using computer telecommunications interactively.
Some of the participants assumed that the future of computers in the
classroom lay with the coming generation of younger teachers and would
have to wait till us oldsters retired. My personal experience, to the
contrary, is that most innovations are being done by teachers over the
age of 40 or 50. Young faculty are too busy playing it safe in order
to "earn" tenure to risk peculiar and strange approaches. "play it
close to the vest." I find that teachers too young to retire but who
are old enough to have become bored with what they've been doing for
25 years are the one's who have enough security to venture into new
technologies and different approaches. I'd love to hear other
reflections on this question.

The Michigan Track and Tennis building was given over to vendor
displays as were a number of hospitality suits at various other
locations. Personally, I did not get any impression of new and mind
boggling machines coming over the horizon. THe cutting edge of the
technology seemed to be in networking. First, existing high speed and
broader band networks are presently being introduced. This opens
significant new uses for networking in the immediate future. Them,
Much faster and broader band connections are in the labs and will be
emerging within 5 to 10 years. This envisions networks with the
capacity to carry data, voice and images at such speeds as to
encourage interactive and real time applications including imaging
which, apparently, requires tremendous amounts of bits of data. The
creative challenge seems not to be designing new hardware but rather
developing more meaningful uses of what is already at our fingertips.

Next year's Educom is in Atlanta. Its leaders seem entirely open
to more humanistic uses of machines. I would encourage Humanists to
submit proposals and get even more involved in impacting Educom and
also making Computer vendors aware of the humanistic applications
which can be made of their products.

Norman Coombs: Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester NY.