Thousands of educators attending a national conference on teaching with computers watched Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates manipulate images of fish Monday.
Gates taught subtraction with a software program called Tutor Assist, being developed in conjunction with the Issaquah School District.
While graphic images of fish swam about a tank, a cheery, animated instructor led children through the thought process involved in subtraction. Some fish swam across the tank to eat. The fish left behind were the difference.
“The Tutor gives the child a patient, attentive audience,” said Gates, as a ripple of laughter rolled through the crowd of teachers.
However, Gates quickly added, “Great teachers are at the center of all this. All we are doing is giving them more tools.”
Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, Gates said that computer technology will impact education more than any other field.
He said he envisioned the day when schools would provide equal opportunity to all students by providing Internet access through school-based personal computers and take-home portable computers.
Microsoft has placed an increasing importance on educational customers, elevating such clients last year to equal status with corporate business.
Microsoft still trails in the burgeoning educational technology market. A survey of all 85,000 U.S. public and Catholic schools, kindergarten through high school, to be released at the conference today shows that the number of computers for instructional use has grown 186 percent in the last five years from 2.2 million to 6.3 million.
But Apple computers remain dominant in schools, holding a market share of 54.3 percent. IBM compatible PCs, which largely use Microsoft operating systems, account for most of the rest, according to the survey conducted by Market Data Retrieval, a provider of educational information and marketing services.
Microsoft has targeted schools, donating more than $73 million in software and cash to schools last year.
Elizabeth King, Microsoft’s general manager of the Education Customer Unit, was at the Microsoft display yesterday in the huge exhibition hall packed with dozens of glitzy displays of computer hardware and educational software. There were CD-ROM maps, programs to tutor kids in reading and math, and digital bulletin boards that make chalk obsolete.
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