Study Claims Poor Children Benefit a
Lot From Learning to Use Telecommunications
-- In studies funded in part by NYNEX and Merrill Lynch, researchers
at the City University of New York have shown that at-risk students
can benefit a lot from access to modem-equipped PCs.
was a three-year project by The CUNY Graduate School's Stanton-Heiskell
Center for Public Policy in Telecommunications.
story of Project Tell is not about computers," insisted
Helen Birenbaum, director of the Stanton/ Heiskell Center in
a press statement. "It is about finding ways of leveling
the technological playing field in ways that provide the greatest
social and educational benefit to students."
funded by a $3.5 million grant from NYNEX, provided a group
of sixth-grade students in New York City Public Schools, who
had been identified as at-risk of dropping out, with access
to computers and information systems both at home and at school
while offering training and support throughout the process.
received computers and network information systems in their
homes. All who successfully remained in the program were able
to keep the computers. The project also provided support and
training for teachers in their efforts to learn to use computers
with telecommunications capacity and to integrate their use
in the classroom. As a third component of the project, NYNEX's
Voice Messaging service was introduced at PS 75 in Manhattan.
discussed the study with Newsbytes. "There have not been
enough studies on kids who are academically at risk of failure.
You find them in cities and the country. What we wanted to do
was work with these students, who might not have graduated high
said the study used the New York Public Schools' definition
of at-risk students: "reading levels between 25-50 percentile,
a history of truancy, and moving a lot from one place to another.
The students were selected at random from this pool. We also
had a control group," she said, of at-risk students who
didn't get the technology. "There isn't much known of how
these students respond to electronic communities, and electronic
of these students were functionally illiterate, from homes that
were functionally illiterate. They didn't read well or write
well," she continued. "We had so much success that
NYNEX extended the computers in the home funding. We place telecommunications
in the homes of these students, and the student became the teacher
of the others. We provided training for the student, and caretakers
if they chose.
the students in the home, the goal was to motivate them to remain
in school," and empower them. "We responded to the
students, not the reverse. We initiated the program primarily
through games we thought were educational, and chat. They'd
talk to each other even if they didn't know each other -- they
were the same age. The curriculum piece with those students
was to tutor them in areas where they were failing, and they
got to keep the hardware if they remained in the program. The
program wasn't curriculum-based -- it was supporting a desire
second part of the program, which NYNEX has just funded, allows
us to have a seven-year study tutoring and mentoring students
over the network. NYNEX has offered scholarship assistance into
college. We're trying to get these students into college. Our
program is now geared toward the curriculum, and we're bringing
on teacher-tutors and mentors in the community. We think this
is going to be a very interesting, innovative program."
of the study should give new hope to inner-city school systems.
"I don't think the school system is aware of what these
students can achieve. We just need to find new ways to reach
them. Most schools don't have telecommunications or teachers
who know how to use it. We're not talking about computers. We're
talking about networked learning communities."
to the student study, there was a study of teachers. "We
put the equipment into teachers' homes, trained them, and told
them that when they were comfortable we'd put it in the classroom.
We asked them to create curriculum that would support learning
in their classrooms, in any area. That's been not quite as successful.
None of the teachers wanted the computers out of their homes
-- we had to buy clones for the classroom. Then we found that
because most teachers had no experience with telecommunications,
it takes more support from the system" to get results.
"We're developing a new program based on that, using a
Merrill Lynch $100,000 planning grant. It's a professional development
program. We want them to learn to use the computer as a tool,
something the teacher can use so they can help kids learn."
asked about the impact of all this on the curriculum. "We're
not going to rewrite the curriculum," she said. "What
we're doing is helping teachers understand the concepts we want
conveyed, through the curriculum. And we support them with this
software, a resource that will help the teacher take the class
through the learning experience. It encourages collaborative
learning, with the teacher becoming the facilitator. It's not
standing up in front of the classroom and talking." Of
course, "We hope we can influence change in the curriculum"
as teachers learn what they can do with the technology to change
learning from an industrial model to a post-industrial model.
The catch- phrase here is "out with the sage on the stage,
in with the guide on the side."
asked Birenbaum about the center. "We're a public policy
center. Part of our objective is educational change. We're not
in the business of running programs. We create demonstration
models from which we can step back. We target policy issues
and try to influence policy-makers in school systems, government
and funding agencies to realize there can be new ways to look
at how learning can occur in our schools. You have to do these
studies or you're not taken seriously -- if it's all anecdotal
it won't influence. You have to do this well, then you can influence.
It isn't obvious to the policy makers, or they'd be more responsive
to allowing large urban school systems to buy the technology
and do the programs. We have to collaborate with the private
sector because the budget isn't there for the hardware. Once
we convince the systems they need this, they'll use the budgets
they have to make the purchase."
technology, "They don't look at it as books, paper, and
pencil yet. We're saying technology should be as integral as
books, paper, pencil, and blackboards. And in the public school
system it's the government that makes the budget."
asked about the impact of all this on efforts to make education
more multicultural. "In history, social studies and geographies
you can see different cultures, and ways of living. You can
see how people can live among each other. There are programs
where you can be networked to other kids, in Costa Rica and
Moscow. It's very exciting. Then the school teaches them about
these other students. If these kids can get experiences and
understand experiences, they'll change."
Dana Blankenhorn (212) 994-0630
Press Contact: CUNY, Christy DeBoe Hicks (212) 642-2634
NYNEX, John Bonomo (212) 395-0500