Donna Stanger had an idea. As a teacher at the dawn of the computer agewhen mainframes consumed entire roomsshe took a class that included some BASIC programming. The course lighted a spark that would evolve into a career in educational software.
“I kept thinking how interesting this would be for some of my students who had never shed one drop of intellectual perspiration,” she remembers.
But she didn’t like what she saw in early software options.
“Most early educational software was purely drill and practice that dragged kids around by the nose. It was a lot like flash cards and offered nothing new.”
The computer was in charge instead of the student. She believed the potential was far greater: computer-aided learning could empower the student and heighten a child’s involvement in his or her own education.
With that as her vision, she applied for federal grant to study children’s thinking skills and discover how to make them better problem solvers. Using the knowledge she gained through the study, she began her career in educational software, which resulted in her current position as General Manager of Edmark, an IBM-owned children’s educational software company.
Two basic tenets underlie her educational philosophy: high interactivity and inclusion.
Interactivity keeps the child doing something all the timethinking, making choices, solving problems. The child should always be engaged. In Edmark’s Let’s Go Read series, the child flies through the sky in a Reading Rover. As he or she approaches a Word Cloud, the child says the word on the cloud using voice recognition software. If the correct word is spoken, the cloud disappears and the Rover continues on.
Inclusion means every child should feel as if the software has something to offer him or her, regardless of gender or ethnicity. For example, when developing the program Cosmic Geometry, the original settinga planet in space that has been pulled through a black holeappealed to boys more than girls. The artists changed the color scheme and duplicated a tree that some girls found attractive. As a result of these subtle changes, both boys and girls felt included.
Stanger also stresses giving children choices in how they learn. Different people learn different ways. Keeping that in mind, the software should balance analytical thinking with creative thinking. Edmark’s software has two modes: Explore and Q & A. The former lets the child apply knowledge and get creative with the facts they’ve learned.
While educational software has come a long way from the “flash-card” options available when she began, Stanger still sees room for growth, especially through the Internet. She believes the Web can be used to extend activities and keep content fresh and new, encouraging children to return and learn more. Because of this, Stanger and Edmark will be looking to the Internet as the ultimate tool for recognizing the goals of inclusion and interactiviy for educational software.
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