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April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

What Multimedia Can Do in Our Classrooms

Four examples illustrate the process of creating multimedia programs and illuminate their many uses across the curriculum.

Instructional StrategiesTechnologyTechnologyClassroom Management
The term multimedia means that more than one medium of communication is employed to deliver a message. Multimedia presentations may combine video, sound, graphics, still photography, animation, and text.
Advances in computer technology have resulted in various forms of interactive multimedia. The technology is interactive in that it allows the user to be an active participant, rather than a spectator (see “Glossary”).
To get an even clearer idea of what multimedia is and how it can be used, here are four examples of multimedia classroom applications.

Glossary of Technical Terms

Authoring System (or Package): A computer program for constructing (authoring) multimedia presentations.

Bar Coding: The represention of numbers with lines of varying thickness, which are read by a laser (or scanner).

Camcorder: A combination of “camera” and “recorder.” This hand-held video camera/recorder creates tapes, some of which can be played in a VCR.

CD-ROM: A compact disc with read-only memory (ROM). CD-ROMs provide a lot of storage capacity, which is required by programs with memory-intensive features like digitized sound, graphics, and video. Use of CD-ROM discs with a computer requires a CD-ROM reader, sometimes called a CD-ROM drive or player.

Database: A large collection of computerized data, organized so that it can be retrieved rapidly.

Dialog: A computer network connecting businesses and research organizations to 450 databases organized by topic.

486, 386, 286, and so on: Numbers denoting generations of microprocessing chips in IBM computers. The first of these chips was the 8086. The 80286 (commonly called the 286) came next, and was followed by the 80386 (386), and 80486 (486). As numbers increased, so did the computers' speed and power.

HyperCard: An authoring system and information organizer used on Apple computers to create “stacks” of information to be shared with others.

Integrated Learning System (ILS): A computer system that provides individualized tutorial instruction in academic subjects.

Interactive: A computer interface in which the user's responses and choices direct the computer's presentation.

Interface: Hardware or software that allows communication between two components, such as from computer to computer, computer to musical instrument, or user to computer.

Internet: A worldwide computer network connecting individuals, organizations, and other computer networks to information services and electronic mail.

Laserdisc (or Videodisc): A disc on which video information is stored; it is read with a laser beam in a manner analogous to a phonograph needle picking up sound from a record.

LCD (or Liquid Crystal Display): A display technology used in small, battery-powered electronic devices and laptop computer screens.

QuickTime: An extension of the computer's operating system that adds the capability to handle information that moves or changes over time, such as sound or video.

Scanner: A device that optically senses text, graphics, photos, or other images and creates a picture of them in digital form on a computer.

Multimedia in Middle School Math

As an educational technology specialist, I helped develop one new multimedia resource for middle school mathematics teachers: Interactions: Real Math—Real Careers. Released on interactive laserdisc, the 12 episodes connect typical middle school math topics (decimals, percents, patterns, and so on) to specific career applications. The careers depicted involve high-interest activities like protecting endangered species, managing water resources, and planning a trip to Mars.
For instance, an episode called “Water Resources” introduces students to engineers using statistics to predict water needs in New York and California. Students then discuss the engineers' use of statistics and work on real-life water resource management problems requiring the use of math. The problems are presented on handouts that include bar codes, which enable students to quickly access and review any portion of the laserdisc episode.
Interactions can operate with just a TV and a laserdisc player with a bar-code scanner. The product can also be run with a Macintosh computer interface.
According to survey research on teachers' top concerns about classroom technologies, one prime priority is ease of use. As a result, Interactions was created for both beginners and techologically adept teachers. In recent tests in three U.S. cities, 92 percent of the teachers involved found Interactions very easy to use.
Teachers' second high-priority concern is whether a technology fits into the existing curriculum. The three-city test showed that Interactions integrated smoothly into various curriculums. For example, some teachers included the segment on water resources in a lesson on statistics, while others used it as a review of material covered earlier in the year.
Sixty-two percent of the teachers found Interactions to be an effective means of meeting the curriculum and instruction standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. All teachers involved in the three-city test said that they would be likely to recommend Interactions to other teachers.

Multimedia in High School History

In 1990, Superintendent Raymond Farley came to the Hunterdon Central Regional High School District in Flemington, New Jersey. Farley had an eye toward fast change; though Hunterdon High School had a strong academic standing, it was still a traditional, factory-model high school.
Farley obtained funding to revamp selected classrooms. These prototype classrooms now contain a few Macintosh computers and many IBM-compatible 486 computers connected fiber-optically in a wide area network. Students can communicate with other classes, access CD-ROM databases in the school library, and log onto external databases and bulletin boards, such as Dialog and Internet.
Al Adamczyk has been Hunterdon's classroom pioneer in applying multimedia technology. Using an IBM PS II and a Pioneer 4200 laserdisc player, Adamczyk invigorates his history presentations with video footage, scanned maps, and graphs generated with a spreadsheet program.
When Hunterdon purchased Authorware Professional, a multimedia authoring package, Adamczyk created a presentation of life in the 1930s, The Great Depression. It graphically shows falling GNP and rising unemployment, displays questions during Adamczyk's lecture, and (with an LCD screen connected to the computer) permits the presentation to be projected onto the wall for viewing by the entire class.
It took Adamczyk five hours to create his first presentation, but this span included the time spent learning to use the Authorware program. Adamczyk estimates that creating his next presentation will only take an hour or two.
Multimedia components have not only been useful to Adamczyk, but also to his students. Recently, students used Communism and the Cold War, a television news program on laserdisc, to illustrate their oral presentations. In the past, they would have had to rely on more static media, such as a pull-down map or chalk and chalkboard.

Multimedia in Middle-Level Science

The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow™ program is a research project in which Apple Computer, Inc., provides classrooms with the latest computer hardware and software. As a program participant, Booth-Fickett Math Science Magnet School in Tucson, Arizona, has the technological resources to support almost any educational project.
Science teacher Jim Riser is taking full advantage. With NIH Image, a multimedia authoring package, Riser has created dozens of image-processing activities for his 7th and 8th grade students. For example, students can search for sulphur on Io (a satellite of Jupiter) using images from NASA's CD-ROM series. Such activities help Riser carry out his primary goal, the development of science knowledge and scientific observation skills.
Riser, however, also has a second goal: familiarizing students with the capabilities of the computer. Consequently, Riser requires students to create a multimedia report on a topic of their choice. The HyperCard presentations that students assemble must include scanned images, student-drawn images, text, sound, QuickTime movies, student credits and biographies, and a bibliography of at least 10 research sources.
An example: One group working on a plate tectonics project researched the subject in encyclopedias, books, and CD-ROM scientific databases, all the while selecting suitable images from each of these sources. To illustrate plate motion, the students also created clay models of the Earth's plates, filmed the models with a camcorder, digitized the images, imported them into the computer, manipulated the color, and finally incorporated about 20 frames of the footage into their presentation.
Riser's well-equipped classroom has a color scanner, one Mac II Cx, nine Mac II Si's, and two Apple LC II's (all with CD-ROM drives). Presentations are created using HyperCard, QuickTime, and VideoSpigot (an entry-level video editing software package). While most teachers will not have access to all these resources, Riser estimates that a teacher could set up a single system (the new LC III computer, CD-ROM, software, and color scanner) for $5,550.
Riser emphasizes, however, that computers and software are not solutions in themselves. He stresses that “the software allows the activities,” but “the teacher or students must develop the activities.”

Multimedia in an Elementary Magnet School

When the Open School, an inner-city elementary magnet school, started in Los Angeles in 1977, teachers and administrators envisioned an educational experience that would enable every student to become a lifelong learner. Classrooms were restructured, ambitious curriculum goals were set, and students began to work in groups. In 1986, Apple Fellow Alan Kay chose this innovative school as the site for the Vivarium project, a program studying how educational technology can contribute to the learning process.
Computers have been incorporated into the Open School at all levels. Though the school could certainly be considered technology saturated, the equipment is unobtrusive. It is mounted beneath desks, ready to be used or ignored as the situation warrants.
Computer literacy begins early, in 1st and 2nd grade classes. Multimedia makes an early entrance, too: Dino Hunt, a Smithsonian Institution HyperCard stack, takes students to an archaeological dig where their task is to identify a dinosaur bone. The program does not supply the answers. Instead, it gives clues that students must investigate on maps and in books.
“Most people believe that research is for much older kids,” says Jan Ng, teacher of a combined 1st and 2nd grade class. “We start much younger here. The Dino Hunt program gives them practice in many research and observation skills.”
By the time students reach the 5th and 6th grades, they are editing stories and school papers with MacWrite. “After the computer, my teaching has changed completely,” says Barbara Moreno, a writing teacher. “I ask kids to do things I never would have, and they go off to junior high school with real skills. They're doing five-page term papers on the computer, with three or four drafts. I can ask them for really professional work.”
Multimedia also helps Moreno individualize language instruction. She recently created a HyperCard stack from a Time magazine article on the rain forest (“Inside the World's Last Eden,” July 13, 1992). Moreno entered the text, creating a skeleton stack that her students flesh out by adding definitions, information about the animals, and geographical notes.

The Imagination's the Limit

Though teachers around the country are using multimedia technology in different ways, the approach is most successful when it helps students reach existing curriculum goals. As educators create effective uses for multimedia technology, imagination will be their only limit. Parents, educators, administrators, and school board members need to become familiar with multimedia, so they can begin to take advantage of its endless possibilities.
End Notes

1 Interactions is a product of the Los Angeles-based Foundation for Advancements In Science and Education. The project was supported by the National Science Foundation, ARCO, and the U.S. Department of Energy, with additional support from the Toyota USA Foundation. D. C. Heath and Company publishes the resource. For more information on Interactions: Real Math—Real Careers, contact Keith Garton at D.C. Heath; (617) 860-1866.

R. G. Kanning has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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