Classmates who like computers still saddled with `nerd' image

``The supposed revolution of kids and computers has not happened,'' says Dr. Steven Pulos, lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education. ``Educationally there may be a greater need than we suspected for motivating kids to use computers.' Computer whiz kids may be the heros of modern movie mythology. But they usually may be considered just ``nerds'' by their peers, says a new study by University of California researchers.

Though the ``nerd'' stigma of the slide-rule carriers of a generation past didn't stop them from bringing the nation into the computer age, the perspective that kids who spend a great deal of time with computers are ``unusual'' could have serious implications in the way the next generation adapts to the computer.

``Little is known about how computers affect the world of the child. If the current popular view is incorrect, and children do not have a special aptitude or interest in computers, then we have a very damaging misconception on which we are basing many aspects of computer education,'' says Dr. Pulos, who led the study.

Pulos announced results of the study last week at the annual American Psychological Association convention in Los Angeles.

The study is significant because it focused on a Bay Area school with an intensive computer curriculum and a middle-class, racially-mixed student body of 140 third through eighth graders. It is the first study of ``typical'' students and computers. Most studies prior to this have been conducted with ``gifted'' children taking part in university-sponsored programs.

The study found that:

Sixty-one percent of the students said typical children do not like computers and thought kids who like computers are unusually bright and/or unpopular.

Nearly half of the oldest students had inaccurate perceptions about how computers work, despite four years of computer exposure they had received from the school's programs. For example, they thought computers are more intelligent than people, that computers only retrieve stored information and that diskettes are no dif-ferent than programs.

Accuracy of understanding decreased as the amount of time spent playing computer videogames increased.

Forty-three percent of the fourth-graders said they used computers in their free time. But by the seventh grade that number dropped to 14 percent.

Though the percentage of students who avoided computer use dropped over time -- from 36 percent among fourth graders to 11 percent among seventh graders -- older children widely viewed computer learning as no different than any other academic subject. Often computers were viewed as ``hard,'' like science and math.

Boys and girls equally showed better understanding of computers if their friends, or their mother used a computer. A father's computer use had no effect on the child's understanding.

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