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Videodisks Gaining Popularity as New Instructional Tool

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Arlington, Tex.--At first glance, Steven Hoffner seems to follow the familiar pattern of "chalk talks" as he leads his students through the complexities of chemical reactions.

But Mr. Hoffner's "blackboard" is a full-color television monitor connected via a computer to a videodisk player. The set-up allows him to call up his choice of dozens of simulated experiments, laboratory exercises, or dramatic presentations to illustrate his lecture. He simply touches the screen to signal which one.

When he finishes his presentation, students draw up chairs in small groups around similar screens to test their ability to combine chemical elements while on a simulated voyage through the solar system.

Mr. Hoffner, who heads the science department at Nichols Junior High School in this suburb of Dallas, is one of three teachers here who use a videodisk curriculum developed by the Texas Learning Technology Group, an arm of the Texas Association of School Boards. The curriculum supplements traditional classroom lectures and lab exercises in physical-science courses.

The package of disks and computer software provides 160 hours of instruction divided into 15 units. It has been tested in approximately 26 sites across the country and was used by the San Antonio-based ti-in Network Inc. to teach a science course nationally by satellite.

The use of videodisks in classrooms is likely to get a major boost if Texas education authorities approve Optical Data Corporation's bid for state adoption of a disk series as an alternative to traditional textbooks. (See story on page 1.)

Interaction With Computers

Though videodisks can be played through linearly, as videotapes are, or manipulated with a remote control, their full potential is realized when, as in the case of the curriculum employed by Mr. Hoffner, they are used in conjunction with a microcomputer.

In such an interactive approach, students are prompted with questions and, through the interplay of software and videodisk, are "branched'' through a presentation to the appropriate next step based upon their answers.

According to Ron Nugent, director of the Nebraska Videodisk Group at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, the popularity of the disks in the public-school market has been boosted by computer companies' recent development of so-called "authoring languages." These computer-software languages, such as Apple Computer Inc.'s HyperCard and the International Business Machines Corporation's LinkWay, enable users to manipulate and resequence the images on the disks. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)

Apple's encouragement of multimedia applications for its Macintosh line of computers has led to a cooperative venture in the school videodisk market by Optical Data and ABC News InterActive. The two companies last year released "The '88 Vote, Campaign for the White House," a disk featuring video clips from the television network's news department.

The disk, the first in a series of such products that now includes disks on Martin Luther King Jr. and political and religious conflict in the Middle East, was packaged with a HyperCard "stack"--Macintosh software that allows students and teachers to develop individual presentations with the material on the disk. Students could, for example, rearrange video clips of the Presidential debates to compare the canel10ldidates' views on major issues.

'Bar Codes' for Textbooks?

But some backers of instructional videodisks argue that computer-driven applications may not be the best approach for most classrooms. Instead, they see great potential in a system that would take an older medium--the printed page--and link it with disks through the use of bar codes, the black and white swatches found on almost every product in grocery stores.

"I love HyperCard, but for this technology to get into the school systems, we've got to stay away from the computer because teachers right now are resistant to computers," said Harvey A. Warren, coordinator of instructional-media services for the 27,000-student Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calif.

Mr. Warren is one of a team of researchers who are developing a system to embed bar codes into textbooks. The codes would contain an electronic "address" for a particular image or series of images on a videodisk; teachers and students would be able to call up video illustrations of material contained in the text with the sweep of a bar-code reader or "light pen."

The Sweetwater district was awarded a $474,000 grant by the U.S. Education Department to apply the system to science textbooks.

The pens, similar to those used by clerks in many stores, already are being marketed by Pioneer Communications of America Inc. as an accessory to its videodisk players. And bar codes are incorporated into the teaching materials that accompany various videodisk packages.

Mr. Warren said his research group hopes this month to convince a major educational publisher of the advantages of the bar-code system.

Rockley L. Miller, publisher of the Videodisc Monitor, a trade publication, predicted that textbook publishers will take an active interest in such a system.

"That helps position the videodisk as supplement to the workbook, as opposed to a replacement for it," he said. "It maintains the publishers in the loop in a comfortable manner."

And Mr. Warren noted that while his group's bar-code project is geared to the teaching of science, applications for other disciplines could easily follow.

"How would it be as a student to read Romeo and Juliet and then [call up a sequence of] Franco Zeffirelli's beautiful film and hear Romeo's soliloquy?" he said.

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