The Back Page(15)

Q&A with Peggy Healy Stearns

Job: Award-winning children's software designer

Clients: Sunburst, Tom Snyder Productions, Fable-vision

Creations: Solve It!, The Graph Club, Neighborhood MapMachine, Community Construction Kit, Diorama Designer, Rainforest Designer, Let's Get Writing, Stationery Studio

Next: Stationery Studio spin-off

Q: How did you end up creating software for a living?
A: I remember when I first touched a computer. It was 1983.

I was a middle school teacher, and one of my colleagues brought in a Radio Shack TRS-80 with a tape drive. I ran down at lunch to try it out, and it was love at first sight. I walked out saying, "I'm going to design software!" My colleagues were understandably skeptical, but I'd found my path.

Q: Generally, how long does it take to create of piece of software, from the initial design to when it goes to market?
A: At least two years. I spend up to a year on research and design, with a lot of input from teachers, before I submit a proposal to a publisher. Once the proposal is accepted and the development team in place, the project takes at least another 12 to 16 months to complete. There are usually five or 10 or more people on the team, and most of us work throughout this period.

Q: Which of your products is your favorite and why? (No fair saying you love them all the same!)
A: I have to love each project to work on it for two years. But, if I must choose, I'd pick Graph Club and Stationery Studio because I get such enthusiastic feedback from educators who tell me how the software gets students excited about activities they used to dread. That's very rewarding.

Q: How would you compare educational soft-ware today to earlier generations?
A: The most obvious difference today is the extensive use of high-resolution graphics and multiple media. Contemporary interface design is very slick. Today's programs are much bigger and often provide multiple learning paths as well as extensive support materials, related resources, and links to the Internet. We had similar ideas 20 years ago, but we had to wait for the technology to catch up with our vision.

Although today's software is generally bigger and glitzier, it's not always better. There were some very effective programs in the 1980s, like Print Shop, TimeLiner, and Tom O'Brien's problem-solving software. The graphics were primitive by today's standards, but the concepts were sophisticated. That's why these programs are still around.

A less obvious but very important difference today is the degree to which software is based on sound educational research, practice, and input from teachers. Educators know what works, and they know what they need. The more we listen to the experts in the field, the more effectively we can address the future needs of education.

Back in Time

Issue: February 1985
Classroom Computer Learning (Technology & Learning's first official name)

"Is Computer Education Off Track? An Interview with Judah Schwartz"

"How to Turn Your Computer into a Science Lab"

"Can Kids Outgrow Word Processing Programs?"

"Software Review: Bank Street Storybook"

News and Issues:

The first desktop publishing program, Aldus PageMaker, debuts.

Atari, Commodore, and Radio Shack attempt to regain market share lost to Apple and IBM.

Illinois firm Soft Source launches a software rental service to help schools "avoid the costly mistakes of purchasing expensive programs that have not been reviewed thoroughly."

The Harvard Graduate School of Education publishes results of its national survey of school microcomputer applications.


Mikhail Gorbachev succeeds Konstantin Chernenko as Soviet Premier.

USA for Africa releases "We Are the World" to aid famine relief.

William Schroeder becomes the first artificial-heart recipient to leave the hospital.

The Coca-Cola Company introduces Cherry Coke.