This summer I engaged in an experiment to integrate content matter into the Upward Bound high school computer application courses at the Kosrae campus.  The goal was to impart both technical operational knowledge of computer applications and to supplement their content area studies.

The concept was, in part, based loosely on concepts such as "writing across the curriculum" and "mathematics across the curriculum."  The design also took into account some of the students pre-existing familiarity with computer applications. 

There was also an intent to assist in preparing the students to use a computer towards a particular academic goal.  To not just know how to set a margin or indent in Microsoft Word, but to use Word to produce an academic essay that had specific margin and indentation requirements.  To not just learn how to set up a spreadsheet, but how to use Excel to handle mathematical and algebraic problems.

The world of the computer laboratory is vanishing on many college campuses.  Students use lap top computers, or computers in every subject area, to accomplish learning tasks.  Computers as a separated subject is a passing phase in the educational evolution of the technology.  In the United States, students often enter kindergarten with computer skills.  Some states now provide children as young as kindergarten with an email address, Maine is a lead state among many that is trying to provide a lap top computer to every student in the seventh grade.  The six year goal is essentially to have every student from seventh grade up equipped with a lap top computer.  And an MIT project seeks to provide $100 lap tops to every child on the planet.  A pilot project is underway in Brazil, although the project goal of a $100 lap top has yet to be met.

Having observed some of the changes occurring in the United States, I ran some of my own experiments.  I must humbly admit I was inspired in part by Piaget.  The results surprised me.  I have learned that a one year old can manipulate images on the screen with purpose and intent, and that a two-year old can play a simply memory game on a computer.  Not believing what I was seeing, I actually photographed some of these interactions:

By the time an student in the United States is headed for college, they know not just application software but how to use those applications in a subject area.

With the above concepts and ideas in mind, I made redesign adjustments to the pre-sophomore word processing course and the pre-junior spreadsheets course.

PreSophomores: Writing with Word Processing Tools

In the word processing course we focused on both learning to use Microsoft Word and on learning to write a grammatically correct, organized, coherent essay that used appropriate terms, correct spelling, and addressed the issue posed in the essay.

I marked the essays themselves using a rubric which is posted on line at:

During class I also covered using Microsoft Word to produce an essay and college standards for an essay such as font size, font family, and margins.

As the course progressed, I reflected onto the on line syllabus both the word processing content and essay issues.  This syllabus and record can be viewed at:

Essay writing will be a critical skill for the students, whether for writing a college entrance essay, an essay on the SAT, an essay for an English composition course, or writing documents such as reports and grants later in life.  There is no doubt this is an important skill, and one which the college has learned from its own entrance essays is lacking in our students.

The focus on the essays, however, did impact the amount of time that could be spent on learning the more esoteric and obscure capabilities of Microsoft Word.  We were unable to cover, for example, how to use the equation fields to enter fractions into a Word document.  My own sense is that the trade-off was balanced to the benefit of the students.

In retrospect one of the factors that contributed to a trade-off occuring was the number of students.  At the college, essay classes are limited to an enrollment of 19 students.  In a brief 50 minute period I was attempting to work with 32 students.  This is not a complaint, I chose the path the course took knowing that the load might be heavy.  Marking essays on the weekends required anywhere from five to eight clock hours for all 32 essays. 

While my original goal had been an essay a week, technical complications intruded on that plan.  It would turn out that several computers could not print to the printer.  I found I had to manually move the essays onto a USB memory stick and then print them from another computer.  Printing every essay initially required two days as we worked through various technical and user issues.  Revisions and redrafts plus covering computer content ultimately led to the students only producing two essays for print.

Some of these essays, for the purposes primarily of illustrating what the students were capable of producing, can be seen listed under the Class of 2008 heading at:

Another impact of the decision to integrate essay writing into the course was on the learning outcomes and thus the performance variables that were measured.  Students were marked and graded on both producing the technically correct format using a word processor and on essay content.  Essays were marked for syntax, vocabulary, organization, cohesion, and content.  Thus a student's final mark depended not just on technological skills but also on essay writing ability.

Judging the longer term impact of this "curricular experiment" will be difficult at best.  There are too many confounding variables to know whether the trade off between technological content and essay writing skills will be ultimately beneficial to the students.

Pre-Juniors: Calculations and mathematics using spreadsheets and databases

The Pre-Junior course, as I have taught it, has always focused on using Microsoft Excel.  The course has always including some mathematics, but this summer I added an even stronger focus on mathematics.  The course expanded into basic statistics while still retaining the teaching of skills such as mail merges, creating subtotals, and pivot tables.

Integrated in with the Excel skills, the students learned to perform linear regressions, calculate the mode, median, and mean, and make other calculations.  The students had clearly had an introduction to median and mean, and were familiar with two-coordinate linear equation formulas. 

The result was a course with significant mathematics content while retaining the teaching of the various Excel spreadsheet skills.  Possibly in part because mathematics is my field, possibly because I use Excel extensively in MS 150 Statistics, and in support of MS 095 PreAlgebra and MS 100 College Algebra, I find teaching an integrated course feels very natural.  I am not left with a sense that trade-offs occurred to teach one at the expense of the other.

The syllabus well shows both the content and specific data that was looked at by the students.  The syllabus is on line at:
A number of spreadsheets were used in the course, many of these can be accessed from the appropriate section of the main UB page I maintain at:
This page also includes access to quizzes and other course related materials.

Pre-Seniors: Communicating using presentations, email, and web pages

I did not alter the subject of the pre-senior course from that of previous terms.  My only effort was one of updating the material to reflect recent developments on the Internet.  The course syllabus is online at:
Some of the updated Internet materials for the course are better organized at:

The focus of the later half of the course was on having the students learn a new and complex skill.  The skill they learn is how to write HTML code to create a web page.  We do not use any authoring tools, only Notepad, so the course borders on being a computer programming course.  The result is challenging and difficult material, but one in which the students clearly understand the result: their page will be posted on the Internet.  These web pages can be accessed from:
under the Class of 2006 heading.

The web pages provide a form of documentation of learning achieved.  These pages are effectively a portfolio that shows that at one time the student could hand code a web page.  These pages, and the information they contain, then join the vast collection of information that is the Internet.

Thoughts on recommendations for the future

The pre-junior class went very well and I feel confident that the course was valuable to the students in both computer content and mathematics.

Although the pre-sophomore class went well, the enormous amount of effort required both in class and outside of class have left me wondering whether I would want to try this experiment again.  Especially given that the goal would be something like an essay a week plus word processing content.  The former would require that every computer be able to print in the laboratory, of this I am certain. 

If I were to repeat the "Writing with word processing tools" experiment, I would add a "format section" to the rubric.  To remind myself, this section has been added to the copy of the rubric that I keep on line.  An equivalent section of the entrance essay might be "neatness and penmanship."  I know such a section would likely not be popular among my essay evaluating colleagues, but having read many entrance essays I came to appreciate the value of clearly formed letters, sentences, and paragraphs.  Legibility counts when one is reading dozens of essays.  Having noted that the weakest essays typically displayed the worst penmanship, there might be some value in valuing calligraphic capabilities.

The pre-sophomore experiment also left me wishing I could spend more time with a smaller number of the pre-sophomores. 

I had a brief vision of a writing retreat for the pre-sophomores at Walung Elementary.  A week long writer's workshop encampment with four to five writing instructors - one for each six to eight students.  The mornings would start with sunrise poetry and then sessions on writing.  After lunch would be a quiet reading time when students would read various classics while sitting under shady trees.  In the later afternoon would be activities time: volleyball, hiking, community clean-up activities, things to balance body with mind.  During the afternoon the instructors would go over the morning's work by their students.  In the cool air of the evening the writing sessions would continue, addressing the problems found by the instructor during the afternoon.  In the morning the cycle would repeat, for a full week.  During the week there would an on compound rule like that used at Xavier: wherever three or more gather, English will be used to communicate.

The final pre-sophomore essay focused on language loss and its impact on culture loss.  The Kosrae UB students that the Wasai en Madolehnihmw is teaching TSP students Pohnpeian high language.  The extent of language loss among the pre-sophomores is nothing short of horrific.  While the UB students must learn and master English, this process should not cost them their indigenous language.  UB could play a role in preventing language loss by following the example of TSP Pohnpei and hiring elders to teach local language.  The Kosraen students should be able to write an essay not just in English but in Kosraen as well.

Some of the pre-sophomore essays that were posted may provide, over the next five to six years, some anecdotal insights into the development of individual writers.   This may in turn prove beneficial to the college's own writing programs.  Our Upward Bound, Gear-Up, and Talent Search Programs are incredibly important programs at the college.  These programs provide a unique opportunity for the college to access and assess skill sets in pre-collegiate students over a period of many years. 

In the words of a paradigm that has fallen into disuse, these programs are a strength of the college.  That the broader academic college operates somewhat unaware of these programs and that the college does not conduct more research through these programs is a weakness of the college.  These programs are an opportunity.  To not take up that opportunity represents a loss to the college, and any loss is a potential threat.

My thanks go to the director of the Kosrae Upward Bound program and to his capable and supportive staff.  I always feel honored when I am selected to work with and teach the Upward Bound students.  Without their support and understanding, curricular endeavors such as the above could not be undertaken.


Dana Lee Ling
Associate Professor
College of Micronesia-FSM Kosrae Site

Historically diverse, uniquely Micronesian, and globally connected, the College of Micronesia-FSM is the national institution of higher education of the Federated States of Micronesia. Originally established to develop teacher education, its current mission is to provide educational opportunity -- academic, vocational and technical -- for all people. Aimed at nourishing individual growth and national unity, scholarship and service, COM-FSM is dedicated to developing integrity, critical thinking skills, a breadth of vision, and the habit of reflection in an educational environment enriched by cultural traditions.

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