Fred D'Ignazio, Associate Editor
A Multimedia Workstation For Teachers
One of the most exciting trends in low-cost computing is linking computers with other devices that record, edit, and play electronic media. For example:
- A MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) box lets you plug your computer into a variety of keyboard synthesizers, drum machines, guitars, and other instruments.
- A video camera lets you shoot images from the screen of your computer to use in your video presentations.
- A video digitizer allows you to shoot video images with your camcorder or video camera and transfer them to your computer.
- A SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) interface lets you synchronize your own music and sound effects with your videotapes.
- Scanners, graphics tablets, and graphics printers let you copy graphs, maps, diagrams, and artwork into your computer so they can be manipulated, labeled, and printed on paper or transparencies for overhead projector presentations.
- Graphics-design and animation programs can be used to create artwork and titles that can be copied with your video camera and edited into video presentations.
All these devices can be assembled into a single multimedia workstation for under $3,000. This is a sum that most schools can afford, especially since only one or two workstations would satisfy a school's needs for the immediate future.
Who would use this workstation? Teachers often feel they've been overlooked by the computer revolution because most of the software and applications are intended for their students. A multimedia workstation would be different. Its primary purpose would be to help teachers prepare audiovisual materials for their classrooms. Student use might come later, but it would stem naturally out of the teachers' enthusiasm for using the workstation and their desire to share its capabilities with students.
Until the last year or two, only a TV station or a rich corporation or an ad agency or a major rock star could afford to create multimedia programming. The rest of us had to be content with doing all our communicating live, or via the printed page or audio tape.
Now, suddenly, things are changing. Machines, software, and techniques which once cost tens of thousands of dollars are becoming available for home and school computers. We now have the opportunity to communicate in several new mediums-and combinations of mediums-including videotape, graphics, music, sound effects, and professional-looking publications.
But a big question remains: Will we make the switch? Most of us are too accustomed to being media consumers rather than producers. Also, we may have great confidence in our ability to stand up in front of a group of youngsters and communicate with them verbally or with the printed word, but we are intimidated by the thought of creating our own movie, slideshow, or graphics presentation.
You Are Steven Splelberg
It's time we started learning. Electronic media is the wave of the future. We are surrounded with powerful electronic programming produced by people who want to sell us things: perfume, a new car, records, a new political candidate. It's time that teachers generated their own programming that communicates their special passions, enthusiasms, and pet subjects.
But most of us are novices in this area. How do we get started? A good way to begin learning how to be a media producer is to become a more critical media consumer. Switch on your TV, your record player, or your cassette player, and look and listen very carefully. Try to focus just on the sound-and on your reaction to the sound. Then turn off the sound and concentrate on the picture. What kinds of camera shots and special effects is a program using? Two good sources for quick courses in media production are commercials (slick and short) and MTV (unpolished and experimental).
Now it's your turn. I would like you to tell me what you'd most like to do. Pretend for a moment that you are Steven Spielberg, and you still have a fifth-grade class to teach in Little Rock, Arkansas, or Halifax, Nova Scotia. What ideas or subjects thrill you but have been difficult to get across in traditional ways? What areas in your curriculum are crucial for children to learn but for which you lack adequate materials? What are the special pet areas that you love to learn or teach that you'd like to share with your kids?
Please write me (care of COMPUTE!) and tell me what you'd like to teach using a multimedia work station and how you would present it (with videotape, music, mixture of live-action shots, computer graphics, field trips-whatever!). And don't hold back. Be imaginative, creative, even far out. I want as many ideas as possible, since I'll be publishing them in an upcoming COMPUTE! column.