Tex. Videodisk Vote Called Boon to Electronic Media

By Peter West — November 28, 1990 4 min read

The Texas Board of Education’s decision to allow school districts to buy a videodisk-based science curriculum with state textbook funds will encourage traditional publishers to step up their efforts in the electronic media, experts said last week, but it is unlikely to signal the end of printed textbooks in the schools.

Electronic publishers, textbook producers, and curriculum specialists agreed that the Texas board radically altered the school publishing market this month when it became the first state panel to adopt a videodisk for use in its elementary-school science programs.

Produced by Optical Data, the “Windows on Science” videodisk was adopted by the board along with two science textbooks for grades 1-6.

“What happened in Texas is magnificent for the videodisk industry,” said Beverley Ostein, a spokesman for Systems Impact Inc., a Maryland-based videodisk publisher.

“But I don’t think it’s ever going to put textbook publishers out of business,” she added.

A spokesman for a textbook publisher whose book was adopted at the same time as the videodisk agreed.

“We see it as a very promising development that technology as well as print will make its way into the classroom,” said Patrick Donaghy, executive vice president of Simon and Schuster, a division of Paramount Communications Inc.

The Texas board had already moved to open all future textbook adoptions to electronic publishers.

Videodisks are technically similar to the compact disks used to record music. About the size of traditional phonograph records, the silver-sided platters are capable of recording sound in two languages and can also store text and thousands of still photographs and video images.

Although still relatively rare in precollegiate education, their use is growing and attracting to electronic publishing such firms as the National Geographic Society and the cable-television-based Discovery Chan8nel, which is preparing to release a videodisk product in January. (See Education Week, Jan. 17, 1990.)

The Texas board’s recognition of Optical Data’s product sparked nationwide attention from major television networks, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times.

That attention is merited, argued William E. Clark, Optical Data’s president and chief executive officer, because the “unprecedented” move is likely to have a “lasting national impact.”

The board’s move is particularly important because it freed districts in the state to experiment with videodisk technology without financial risk, noted Mr. Clark, whose firm is based in Warren, N.J.

While school systems previously were free to buy videodisks with supplemental funds, they now will be able to do so with state textbook monies.

“For the last eight years, there haven’t been any ‘videodisk budgets,”’ Mr. Clark explained. "[Districts] see it, they’d want it, and then they’d have to find the money to pay for it.”

Although Texas districts have not yet begun buying materials for the 1991-92 school year, there are indications that some systems may be swayed by the board’s decision.

Geoffrey Fletcher, technology coordinator for the state education department, said that even before the adoption, some districts had indicated unofficially that they might spend half of their elementary-science-textbook budget on Optical Data’s product in the coming years.

The decision sets up “a nice competition” between textbook publishers and producers of other media, said Thomas Sachse, manager for mathematics, science, and environmental education for the California Department of Education.

“The Texas adoption says to the software developers, ‘You can compete on an equal footing,”’ Mr. Sachse said.

California expects to entertain electronic submissions next year when it begins its adoption process for science texts, he added.

Analysts also pointed to the importance of the secondary effects set in motion by the Texas board’s action.

“Some folks feel that this could lead to [the purchase] of 10,000 players in Texas alone,” said Rockley Miller, editor and publisher of The Videodisc Monitor, an industry trade publication. “That in turn makes the technology more attractive to the traditional publishers.”

Mr. Miller added that traditional publishers already are looking for ways to cross-reference their texts to materials contained on the disks by using bar-codes similar to those found on supermarket products to allow teachers to access images with the sweep of a light-pen.

Once districts buy the Optical Data product and the necessary equipment to use it, he added, a new market for disks is created.

“You get an installed base [of equipment],” Mr. Miller said. “That’s what’s lacking now, and that’s a traditional barrier to the major publishers.”

Some critics have argued that the adoption of an electronic medium for teaching is detrimental to student ability to learn through reading.

Ms. Ostein of Systems Impact argued, however, that videodisks are vital to the multimedia approach already being embraced by such firms as Apple Computer Inc. and the International Business Machines Corporation.

Mr. Clark of Optical Data also noted that his company’s product contains 3,000 pages of supplemental workbooks and teacher materials.

“We actually have more ink committed on paper than the textbooks,” he said.

Mr. Miller added that, while videodisks complement some teaching strategies, they have limitations.

"[A book] is the thing you can take home, that you can study, and that you can read on the bus,” he said. “Until we’re ready to do away with homework, we won’t do away with books.”

A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 1990 edition of Education Week as Tex. Videodisk Vote Called Boon to Electronic Media