The CASDA Microcomputer Group: Education at the Dawn of the Computer Age

March 21, 2018

Instructional technology is now accepted as a standard part of educational practice. While implementing new devices still presents obstacles and challenges, tablets, Chromebooks, and other technologies are integrated into subjects across the curriculum. This was not always the case. In the early 1980s, microcomputers, as they were then known, became accessible to school districts in the Capital Region. Educators at CASDA and UAlbany School of Education recognized the computer’s revolutionary potential and launched a series of working groups and professional development opportunities to help schools integrate them into their instructional programs.

 

In September 1981 CASDA offered its first seminar on the educational applications of early computer technology. Steve Rogowski, head of the UAlbany Computer Center offered attendees a glimpse of the future:

               

The microcomputer signals a period of change for society more rapid and with greater dimension than the Industrial Revolution. The expansion of this technology will ultimately prove more significant than the development of the printing press.

 

Dr. Jan McDonald, a member Mathematics Education faculty at the School of Education, stated “the immediate challenge for educators is to begin the process of educating themselves to the limitless potential of the microcomputer in the classroom and throughout the school.” She insisted that “computer literacy and awareness needs to originate in the elementary school and proceed through the high school in order to make our students functionally literate in today’s society.” Shenendehowa Curriculum Supervisor Stan Mathes placed the burden to adapt squarely on educators declaring that “it’s really up to teachers to get over their fear of the computer. Kids are very motivated. There is change, but kids are used to it. They can cope.”

 

To help educators overcome their initial apprehension, CASDA launched a series of programs for both administrators and classroom teachers. The most extensive of these was the CASDA Computer Literacy Training Program which provided professional development to approximately 160 non-STEM teachers in grades 5-12. Participants met at one of 5 locations throughout the Capital District for 4 evening sessions and 2 full day conferences between February and May of 1983. These groups were led by computer literate Science and Math teachers who helped their peers develop basic skills, become comfortable and explore strategies to integrate computers into their instructional practice.

 

CASDA utilized the spring 1982 Administrators’ Conference to expose superintendents, principals and other central office personnel to the computer’s vast potential as an educational resource. Nancy Willie, a doctoral student in the Administration and Policy Studies program at the UAlbany, School of Education offered a demonstration of the LOGO coding language to demonstrate how computers could be used to develop students’ problem solving skills. CASDA tapped practicing educators from member districts to share promising practices. Bob Wood, a fourth grade teacher in the George Washington School, shared how he used The Oregon Trail simulation game to engage students in his social studies classes. Phyllis Yudikaitis, a building level computer coordinator in Shenendehowa, discussed how she worked with teachers to find practical applications that serve the needs of their individual classrooms. The exchange of information at this conference enabled administrators to effectively plan how to best utilize computer technology in their districts.

 

Throughout this period CASDA convened stakeholders and experts from school districts, higher education and the business community to support educators as they explored this revolutionary technology. Through conferences, working groups and trainings, CASDA and the School of Education helped teachers overcome their initial uncertainty and shared practices and strategies that opened the doors to a new realm of learning opportunities for students. 

 

 

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