sealPurdue Education Briefs

April 1998

Purdue software makes Internet more teacher-friendly

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A new educational software program developed at Purdue University is making it easier than ever for teachers to put the power of the Internet to work in their classrooms.

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Test Pilot is a new application that allows teachers to design surveys, tests and tutorials that students can take on any computer that is connected to the Internet.

"It really opens up the use of computers for instruction," says Test Pilot author Malcolm Duncan, the associate director of Purdue's BioMedia Center of Instructional Computing. "The program not only generates the test or tutorial, it also grades it so students can get immediate feedback as to how they did. And Test Pilot's combination of simplicity and affordability make it unique among the educational software currently available."

On-line instruction is not new, but the teachers using it have had to be able to create a Web page and then write a program to handle the data, or pay an experienced webmaster to do it for them. Test Pilot Test runs on both Macintosh and PC systems and may require a webmaster for a one-time installation on a school's Web server, but after that even the most computer-phobic teacher can begin creating tests.

"Once the data base portion of the program is installed, instructors use simple pull-down menus and forms to write questions and set the format," Duncan explains. "The software also allows for the import of graphics and video and audio snippets, so it can be used for virtually any discipline or subject."

Duncan says the most common use so far is for the creation of tutorials, which give teachers a way to track how well students are grasping material before actually testing them on it. And because the tutorial is on the Web, students can take it from their homes, or a library -- virtually anyplace that has a computer with Internet access.

More than 350 universities and companies from all over the world were involved in the testing of the software, and now there is a growing demand from corporations interested in using it for industrial, managerial and clerical training. Duncan says the program also could be used for polling over the Internet.

Test Pilot costs $120 for educational institutions and $495 for businesses. Some Web servers may require a server extension to run the program, which costs an additional $50 or $195, depending on the type of customer. A demonstration of the software can be found at .

CONTACT: Duncan, (765) 494-6610; e-mail,; Web,

Literacy requires phonics and whole language,
dean says

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The warring factions in the phonics vs. whole-language debate need to stop arguing and work together, says the dean of Purdue University's School of Education.

"The debate is unproductive not only because it deals with two different parts of literacy, but also because research supports the conclusion that children learn literacy best when taught by both methods," explains Marilyn Haring, who is also a professor of counseling and development. "Why do so many noneducators and a few educators want to return to teaching phonics as a panacea for teaching literacy when we know a combination of both produces the best results?"

Discussions on the merits of the two teaching methods are resurfacing around the country as school systems analyze the results of standardized tests for reading and comprehension.

The traditional theory of teaching literacy, which became institutionalized with the start of mass schooling in the 19th century, contends that students learn to read by first making sense of the smallest components of language. Phonics teaches children to recognize letters and then sound them out in combinations that eventually form words. Vocabulary is tightly controlled, and instruction includes skills exercises with emphasis on correct answers.

The whole-language philosophy of teaching literacy stresses that children should use language in ways that are applicable to their own lives and cultures. Students are encouraged to decode words in context, and the answer is not as important as the process.

Haring says the two skills complement each other and children need both types of instruction.

"Literacy is a complex skill that takes much practice for any learner to master," Haring says. "Each student's difficulty in learning to read and write demands a skilled teacher who can analyze the problem and provide a range of instruction, not just phonics and not just whole language."

Haring says a balanced approach to literacy instruction should include: (a) organized, explicit skills instruction, such as phonics and spelling; (b) a strong literature, language and comprehension program; and (c) an effective early intervention program providing individual tutoring such as Reading Recovery. Purdue serves as the state headquarters for that program, which pairs specially trained teachers with at-risk first-graders for daily tutoring sessions.

"At a research university such as Purdue, we take pride in the fact that our teacher preparation is grounded in research, and that research tells us that a balanced approach is effective," Haring says.

She points to a program now being implemented in the San Francisco area as a good example of a shift to the "balanced" approach. Five county offices of education, 35 school districts, and six colleges/universities have formed a consortium to improve literacy teaching skills for K-12 teachers. The project is called Preservice Reading Education Partnership, and Haring says it could provide a model for other communities to follow.

"Teacher preparation programs need to give teacher education candidates a full background -- phonics and whole language -- in order for those candidates to be able to help each student read and write and communicate effectively," Haring says.

"Literacy is THE most important skill we teach, and it should be taught early and well. It is the key to every student's future success in school. To help our children achieve the proficiency they need, it is our responsibility to use any proven method available to us."

CONTACT: Haring, (765) 494-2336; e-mail,

Purdue to field only student team
in national air race

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A student organization at Purdue University is headed to the Air Race Classic for the fifth year in a row as the only all-student collegiate entry.

Women in Aviation is an international organization with 3,000 members that helps students make a connection between the university, business and the community. The 35 students in the Purdue chapter send a team to compete in the annual Air Race Classic to gain experience in cross-country flying. The group also prepares members for the job force, sets up community events and travels to trade conferences.

The annual Air Race Classic is a summer cross-country race for female pilots. The three-day event takes teams of two across mountains and plains to test their skill at piloting. During the course of the race, the teams will travel more than 2,384 miles.

This year's race will start June 23 in Santa Fe, N.M., and end June 26 in Batavia, Ohio, with stops for refueling in Midland, Texas, Woodward, Okla., Ogallala, Neb., St. Joseph, Mo., Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Rome, Ga.

Two years ago, a Purdue team became the first collegiate team to win the race. For all four years that Purdue teams have participated, they have been the only all-student collegiate entry.

This year, the pilot for Purdue will be Amanda Zerr, a senior majoring in aviation technology from Defiance, Mo. "There is a responsibility involved with being the pilot for this race," she said. "Besides flying, we have to be concerned with the weather and plane safety. I think this year we will do well. We have been training religiously and have made a lot of progress."

Along with the experience gained, there is also some danger involved. "It can be dangerous if they run into bad weather," said Mary Ann Eiff, assistant professor of aviation technology and faculty adviser to Purdue's chapter of Women in Aviation. "They will also have to fly through mountainous regions, and there can be wind problems associated with this type of geologic feature. This gives them a chance to learn how to fly in these areas, and it helps them gain confidence. With the level of training these pilots receive, they should be able to handle anything nature throws at them."

Originally called the "Powder Puff Derby," the contest dates back 79 years. Amelia Earhart competed in it, as did many women who were WASPs in World War II.

Teams fly only during daylight hours and good weather. They race against a "handicap" assigned to their plane based on its maximum cruising speed. The goal is to be faster than the handicap, and the winner is the team that beats its handicap by the largest margin.

Raegan Frazier, co-pilot and a sophomore majoring in aviation technology from Cape Cod, Mass. , said she is excited about the race. "We are really nervous because we are a young team. Most of the pilots are much older and have had long careers in commercial aviation. To compete against older and more-experienced teams is a real challenge," she said. "What we lack in experience, we make up for with enthusiasm and training."

CONTACTS: Eiff, (765) 494-9627; home (765) 449-9804; e-mail,; Frazier, (765) 495-1853; Zerr, (765) 495-1263

Compiled by Sharon Bowker, (765) 494-2077; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

Program author Malcolm Duncan demonstrates Test Pilot on the computers in Purdue's BioMedia Center for Instructional Computing. The software allows teachers to design tests and tutorials that students can take on any computer that is connected to the Internet. (Purdue News Service photo by David Umberger)
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