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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

Can Videodiscs Improve Student Outcomes?

Students in classes where videodisc instruction is commonplace show increased enthusiasm for science and higher scores on standardized tests.

Instructional StrategiesInstructional Strategies
In a high school biology class in Greece, New York, students got so excited about what they were learning that they invited their friends to class to view the science videodiscs on cell division! While videodisc technology has been around for about 10 years, it has only recently emerged as an acceptable instructional medium in K–12 classrooms. Indeed, only 21 percent of the school districts in the United States have videodisc players available to teachers (Looms 1993). If students and teachers are responding to videodisc technology as favorably as reported in Greece, why aren't more schools using it?
One reason is the concern that videodisc technology is just a passing fancy. In 1990, however, when the Texas State Adoption Committee endorsed Optical Data Corporation's elementary videodisc program, Windows on Science, as an alternative to textbooks, many educators began to look at the technology anew. Judging by the flood of videodiscs on the educational market today, the technology is here to stay.
But the key question still remains: Can videodisc-enhanced instruction improve student outcomes? To answer this question, Optical Data Corporation, a multimedia educational publisher, embarked on an effort called Educational Research Partnerships to research the effects of videodisc-enhanced instruction on student outcomes. Optical Data Corporation supplied participating schools with products to be used in science classes and asked schools in return to collect data on student outcomes.
The schools could select either Windows on Science or The Living Textbook. Windows on Science is a videodisc-enhanced K–8 science curriculum that integrates reading and writing in the content area with interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary instruction. The program includes 11 videodiscs, each with hundreds of photographs, diagrams, movie clips, and animations. The visuals are designed to engage students and support the program's suggested lesson plans. Rather than a science curriculum, The Living Textbook is a videodisc science resource for middle, high school, and college levels. It is intended to be used as a supplement to an existing science program.

How the Partnerships Began

In the fall of 1991, Optical Data Corporation invited schools in the state of New York to compete for research grants. The two schools selected would be awarded up to $25,000 in courseware, hardware, and staff development to facilitate their research. Community School District 29 in Queens and Greece Central School District near Rochester were selected on the basis of their student sample, vision statement, staff development plan, and evaluation methods.
In addition to other measures, the teachers in New York kept logs in which they recorded their concerns about using the technology as well as their perceptions of student reactions, the content, the effectiveness of the lesson, and the impact on learning and classroom dynamics. Early in the first year of research, the teacher logs indicated increased student enthusiasm for science and an apparent increase in student self-confidence. The teachers themselves were excited about the potential power of the technology to improve instruction and student outcomes. These positive indicators, coupled with the overwhelming response to the idea of educational partnerships, encouraged Optical Data Corporation to expand the program.

A Cross Section of Schools

In the 1992–93 academic year, Optical Data expanded the Educational Research Partnerships to 13 additional schools in seven other states. Each school's proposal was reviewed on its own merits. The resulting cross-section of grades, subjects, and teaching strategies of the participating schools was random. See Figure 1 for data on the participating schools.

Figure 1. Description of Schools in the Educational Research Partnership

Can Videodiscs Improve Student Outcomes? - table

School Districts

Grade Level

Racial Composition of Student Body

Elementary Teaching Strategies

High School Science Subjects

Other Student Characteristics

Urban
District 29, QueensMiddleAfrican-Americaneconomically disadvantaged, accelerated programs
Reed, ChicagoMiddleAfrican-Americaneconomically disadvantaged
Sullivan, ChicagoMiddleHispanic, African-Americanmostly non-English-speaking
Rodriguez, TXElem.HispanicInterdisciplinary25% at-risk, 22% Chapter 1, 25% LEP
Ogg Elementary, TXElem.DiverseWhole Language40% at-risk, Chapter 1, LEP
Los Angeles, CAElem.HispanicInterdisciplinaryLEP
University City, MOElem.African-AmericanThematic
Bethlehem, PASec.DiverseEarth, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Physical, EnvironmentalEnglish Immersion
Suburban
Greece, NYSec.WhiteEarth, Biology
St. Cletus, ILElem.WhiteHands-on
Mansfield, TXSec.DiverseBiology
Oregon City, ORSec.Biology
Gresham, ORElem.DiverseDevelopmentalChapter 1
Rural
Farmington, MOElem.WhiteHands-oneconomically disadvantaged, 35% at-risk
Royerton, INElem.WhiteHands-onMiddle Class
Of all the schools participating in the partnerships, eight are in urban school districts, five are in suburban school districts, and two are in rural school districts. The grade distribution of the students has a wide range. Eight of the studies are being conducted in elementary grades with Windows on Science. Three studies are in middle schools (two using The Living Textbook and one using Windows on Science). Four studies are in high schools with The Living Textbook.
Each proposal included plans for staff development to be provided by trained Optical Data curriculum directors. Teachers participating in the studies attended a minimum of one full day of staff development. These sessions included a demonstration of the program components, organization, and content, as well as practical training in the use of videodiscs and related technology. Staff development instructors provided ample opportunities for hands-on and one-on-one instruction. Follow-up staff development was provided as needed.
Since the schools were going to conduct the research, each developed a research design specific to its needs. Each school selected the size and make-up of the student sample, hypothesis, and measurable outcomes.
The student samples in the participating schools range from 1st through 12th grades and represent various racial groups (See fig. 1). In addition to variations in grade levels, courseware, and student populations being studied, teaching strategies at the elementary level also vary. All the elementary schools incorporate multi-sensory instructional approaches in their science programs. However, three schools also implement a hands-on approach. Two use interdisciplinary instructional practices. One district is implementing videodisc technology in a whole-language approach to instruction. Finally, one school is using a thematic approach in its science classrooms.
All 15 of the participating schools are using at least two measures to collect data on student achievement. Most of the schools are using standardized tests required by their respective districts or states. Four elementary schools, one middle school, and one secondary school are using portfolio assessment in addition to the standardized measure (See fig. 2).

Figure 2. Schools in the Educational Partnership by Measures

Can Videodiscs Improve Student Outcomes? - table 2

School Districts

Standardized Tests

Students' Attitudes

Portfolio

Classroom Interaction

Other

Urban
District 29, QueensNew York RegentsSurvey on Science
Reed, ChicagoIllinois Goal Assessment, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, StanfordInstrument developed by Northern Illinois University
Sullivan, ChicagoTest of Academic Proficiency, Illinois Goal Assessment, Iowa Test of Basic SkillsX
Rodriguez, TXNCESurvey on ScienceXX
Ogg Elementary, TXNorm-Referenced Assessment, Program for TexasXObservation
Los Angeles, CAComprehensive Test of Basic SkillsSurvey on ScienceBilingual
University City, MOCalifornia Achievement TestSurvey on ScienceXLongitudinal
Bethlehem, PAMissouri Master Achievement TestSurvey on Science
Suburban
Greece, NYNew York RegentsSurvey on ScienceTeacher Logs
St. Cletus, ILCalifornia Achievement TestSurvey on Science
Mansfield, TXCollege Biology Achievement TestConfidence in Learning Biology
Oregon City, ORnot reportedSurvey on ScienceXX
Gresham, ORnot reportedSurvey on ScienceXTeacher Interviews
Rural
Farmington, MOMissouri Master Achievement TestSurvey on ScienceXX
Royerton, INnot reportedMathematics Anxiety, Survey on ScienceXX
Recognizing that positive changes in student achievement may follow positive changes in student attitudes, 13 of the schools are measuring student attitudes. Eleven of the schools are using the Optical Data attitudinal measure, called Survey on Science. As a result, after the data are collected, comparisons among the schools can be made.
One of the assumptions regarding instruction with videodisc technology is that classroom dynamics will change dramatically. Rather than lecturing or assigning textbook readings, teachers guide student investigations of science concepts and principles. The higher-order thinking this inquiry-based approach encourages should be reflected in student responses. To test this idea, six of the schools are using videotape to analyze classroom interaction. Every 10 seconds a record is made of what is happening in the classroom. A checklist allows the researchers to record such data as how the videodisc is being used, whether a student or teacher is talking, and if it's a student, his or her gender and level of response. The instrument categorizes questions and responses using a modification of Bloom's taxonomy.

Initial Findings

Two of the Educational Research Partnerships—District 29 in Queens and Greece, New York—have completed a full year of implementation. At Mansfield High School in Texas, data have been collected for the second semester of the 1992–93 academic year. The results are still being analyzed, and some of the initial findings are more dramatic than others. However, the trend suggests that students participating in classrooms using videodisc instruction achieve more than students who are taught using traditional science instructional practices.
In Greece, the initial findings of the research on The Living Textbook conducted by Fred J. Dowaliby at the Rochester Institute of Technology indicate positive changes in students' lab scores and attitudes. Students who were in classes where the videodiscs were used had higher lab scores, especially in earth science, than students who were in traditional classes. The study also indicates a significant positive difference in the scores on the Science Self-Confidence section of the Survey on Science for students in biology classes where videodiscs were used.
Although there was no significant difference on the standardized New York Regents Examination, teachers in Greece were enthusiastic and expressed a need for continued research. They suggested that the first year focused on learning the materials and experimenting with different implementation models and that next year they would be able to teach more effectively with the videodiscs.
The most dramatic results are from Mansfield High School in Texas, where teachers collected baseline achievement data from students studying biology using videodisc-enhanced instruction and students in traditional biology classes (Garza 1993). In January 1993, pre-test achievement scores indicated a significant difference between the two groups, with the students in the traditional classroom scoring higher. Following one semester of instruction, the two groups were tested again. This time, the students who were instructed with videodiscs scored so well that there was no significant difference between the achievement scores of the two groups. While the mean scores for both groups improved, repeated measures showed that the rate of growth was greater for the group that used videodiscs.
In short, the playing field was leveled. After just 18 weeks of videodisc-enhanced instruction, students who were originally lower achievers were able to score as well as their higher-achieving counterparts in traditional classrooms. As important as the achievement scores, the students in the biology classrooms where videodisc-enhanced instruction was used were more confident about their ability to do advanced biology and get good grades than the students in traditional classrooms.

Positive Effects on Learning

These findings suggest that videodisc technology does have a positive effect on student outcomes. Critical to the success, as suggested by the teachers in Greece, is staff development, which should occur on several levels. Teachers need to feel comfortable with the technology. Until using the technology becomes second nature, they cannot effectively change their teaching strategies. Dowaliby states that “teacher familiarity if not fluency with the technology and content would seem to be a necessary condition for the effective use of [the technology” (1993). Staff development, therefore, must include the basics in the use of the technology. Once this is completed, with guided hands-on experiences outside of the classroom, teachers can begin to integrate the technology with their teaching styles and develop more effective strategies that provide consistent applications of the technology.
In answer to the question posed by this article: Can videodiscs really improve student outcomes? The initial analysis of the data suggests that it can.
References

Dowaliby, F. J. (1993). “Project 2000: Utilizing Interactive Multimedia Technology—The Living Textbook—To Improve Science Outcomes.” Project Report.

Garza, F. (1993). Data Collected from the Videodisc Research Project at Mansfield High School, Mansfield, Texas.

Looms, P. O. (1993). “Interactive Multimedia in Education.” In Interactive Multimedia: Practice and Promise, edited by C. Latchem, J. Williamson, and L. Henderson-Lancett. London: Kogan Page.

Heidi Marie Rock has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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