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From Business Week Magazine
sometime in the early 1980s

Some part of me cringes when I read these early articles. I was very naive and seemed to be quite willing to take very big public risks. Another part of me smiles in reflection at the memories that flood back from these early career days. I can see the threads from my current thinking reaching all the way back through time. The seeds were planted back during those days standing on stage teaching computer literacy to the masses.


 

Stephanie Burns Challenges Computer Education

 

"TRAINING someone how to use a microcomputer is like teaching an adult how to read - because it's all new", declares Stephanie Burns, president and founder of Source of Education Computer Training (SECT). "It takes new skills, new tools, a new language. But most people involved in computer training today do not address it as a special kind of learning and therefore they create many more problems than they solve."

In a nutshell, this is the philosophy that led Burns to create SECT in 1980. Located in Upland, Calif., the computer was established to provide education in the operation and application of microcomputer systems for three main markets: small owners and operators, corporations requiring employee training, and computer manufacturers and dealers who need to support their clientele.

The experience that convinced Burns to dedicate a company solely to the concept of effective computer education are unusual and varied. When she was 18 years old, not fitting well into the traditional mould, she entered the Army. "I knew I wanted to get involved in computers, although not from a technical standpoint. I realized that with a basic foundation to knowledge, I would be able to do anything with computers - marketing, sales, engineering, teaching."

After graduating number one in the class her first year in the service, Burns was asked to instruct - becoming the first woman in the Army's history to teach its computer maintenance course. "I learned that I have a good way of breaking down the most technical material into simple and understandable." she reveals. "With that type of skill, my goal has always been to provide a service that benefits people and that adds value to the world. Combining computers and education seemed right to me."

After Burns left the Army, she first joined Docutel Corp in Augusta, Ga., as a field service engineer. Not content with staying in the technical side of the field, she became a training specialist for Searle Diagnostics in Illinois, where she not only taught its service, engineering and technical publications personnel how to use microcomputers but also was responsible for the maintenance of nuclear imaging and nuclear cardiology equipment.

When Burns became a training specialist in 1978 for Tektronix, Rolling Meadows. Ill., she taught courses throughout the U.S. to engineers in major corporations. She became fluent in assembly language and hardware architecture for 22 different microcomputers.

The more teaching Burns did, the more inadequacies she began to see in the traditional approach to equipment training. "Most of the training programs now in existence are using the same old techniques that have been used in school for years. They haven't taken into consideration that the participants typically have anxiety about touching a computer for the first time; people are afraid a machine will blow up if they do something incorrectly," Burns points out.

"These methods just do not work in a new arena." It was Burns' concern for the onslaught of computer literacy that persuaded her to start MicroPlus Inc., in February 1980, a company that trained engineering personnel to use microprocessors, but also focused on microprocessor design and high level language development programs. "Shortly thereafter, I decided to start SECT because the industry had matured to warrant having a company solely dedicated to teaching people how to use microprocessors," Burns remarks. "What makes SECT different is that I spent a lot of time studying not only computers but education as well - advance note-taking, memory techniques, and how adults learn differently from children.

"I've geared these new learning concepts to adult students in our seminars: our hands-on workshops get them kinesthetically involved, we present to them with illustrative material, and we also give the material in written form for those people who learn that way." Burns explains, concluding that SECT has built a good reputation in the industry as a result.

Viewing her latest career with a practical eye, Burns admits that although the industry today, in all probability the company will no longer be necessary ten years from now. "As the new computer generation grows up, there will not be this desperate need for our kind of training, " maintains Burns, who believes that the future of the industry depends on the strength of today's children.

To that end, Burns would like to become more involved in general education. Right now she teaches at a Super Learning Camp for children in her spare time, teaching them memory techniques and computers.

Giving Novices courage to face their computers

Personal Success bioStephanie Burns likes to start some of her introductory classes in personal computers with a little exercise. She asks her students to stand up, fix the computer with a masterful glare, and give the device a good sharp slap with the palms of their hands.

"Most people are intimidated by electronic technology," says Burns, president of Los Angeles-based Source of Educational Computer Training Inc. "This sort of helps them break the ice with their personal computer."

Reassurance, often called "hand-holding" in the trade - is part of a typical introductory computer class. "People are looking for familiar classroom situations to learn about these unfamiliar things called computers," says Alan L. Hyman, who runs a $125 weekend course for adults at the Computer Post in Newark, Calif. For novices and prospective buyers, most books on personal computers are "worthless," adds Joe E. Beavers, who teaches a night class for "doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs" at a high school in Guilford, Conn.

Classes range from free one hour public seminars at many computer stores to semester-long college classes that require some mathematics background and take students through the more technical parts of hardware, programming, and applications. Many specialised classes are given for fields such as medicine, law, accounting, and financial management. For instance the University of San Francisco has a $95, one-day seminar on "microcomputers in food and beverage operations."

Learning the lingo.

Most classes start with a little computer industry history and quickly move on to some terminology - "byte," "bit," "disk," and so on. The better classes encourage discussion and questions, and do not push particular hardware makes. Some - frequently costing more than $100 per day - will provide hands-on use of microcomputers from several different makers so that students can practise attaching peripherals, such as floppy disks, printers, and telecommunication devices.

 

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