The World Inside the Computer
Fred D'lgnazio, Associate Editor
Music, Video, And FOR-NEXT Loops
When you walk into Bridget Logan's computer lab at Mountain Brook High School near Birmingham, Alabama, you take a giant step into the future.
The first thing you notice is that the student workstations are lined up along the wall instead of in rows facing the front of the room. The second thing you notice is the rock music coming softly from the speakers of the students' computer monitors. If you peer over the students' shoulders, you see BASIC programs on the monitors. But if you keep watching, the programs suddenly disappear and instead you see Bridget herself on the screens, talking about FOR-NEXT loops. A moment later, her face disappears from the screens and is replaced by the original BASIC program. As if guided by a ghostly hand, the program runs itself, and you hear Bridget's voice pointing out the program's highlights.
When you walk deeper into the room, you see Bridget's teacher workstation, which, with its two computers, VCR, video camera, and microphone, looks like the console on the Starship Enterprise. On one computer monitor is the FOR-NEXT video being "piped" into the student monitors. Bridget is at the second computer using a word processor to type the day's assignment onto the screen, which acts as an electronic blackboard.
When the FOR-NEXT video is over, she switches off the VCR, and an instant later the day's assignment appears on all the students' computers. Bridget leans over to her microphone and says, "All right, everyone, if you want to hear that next Bruce Springsteen cut, you'd better get busy on these programming problems." All the students hurry to press switches atop their monitors. The staccato sounds of keys clicking on keyboards mixes with the newest Springsteen single playing on 15 speakers.
Meanwhile, Bridget begins preparing for the next lesson. She pops the FOR-NEXT videotape out of her VCR and loads in a videotape marked "The GOSUB Command." She turns to her second computer and loads a new demonstration program from the disk. She spins around and smiles. "One of the biggest advantages of this system," she says, "is that I can let students work at their own pace. While some students are working on FOR-NEXT loops or GOSUB commands, other students can be solving advanced programming problems. Still others may need extra help, and I can replay my beginner tapes, visit their workstations, and give them personal attention. Distrivid makes individualized instruction a reality in the computer lab."
The Classroom Of The Future
Distrivid is the product that has turned Bridget Logan's computer lab into a classroom of the future. It was developed by Jimmy Alford and is being marketed by Micrologic, Inc. Jimmy, a computer engineer at Micrologic's retail store, Village Computers, came up with the idea when Bridget asked him to help her find large-screen monitors for her computer lab. Bridget needed the monitors to display computer problems and daily assignments for the 15–30 students in her six daily labs.
While he was looking around for monitors, Jimmy had an ingenious idea. Why not use a daisy-chain to wire the video signal from Bridget's master computer directly into all of her students' computers? With a little switch box mounted atop each computer monitor, a student could switch between the display coming from Bridget's computer andthe display coming from his or her own computer.
Bridget grew excited about the idea and collaborated with Jimmy on its development. As the product evolved, Jimmy added the capability to plug in a VCR and send a video, movie, or TV program to each workstation. And he added both a microphone at the teacher workstation and the ability to mix audio sources so teachers could lecture with music or mix their voices with the sound from a video.
Distrivid has turned out to be more successful than Jimmy or Bridget ever imagined. It is the perfect "bridge" product for schools that are interested in interactive video but that cannot pay the high price of networked CD-ROMs and interactive videodisks. (Distrivid costs $1,095 for the teacher's master unit and five student boxes, including cables and teacher's microphone. Each additional student box costs $72.50. Micrologic will customize cables to fit different-sized classrooms. There is no practical limit to the number of workstations in a Distrivid network.)
Distrivid has been a hit at Mountain Brook High School. English teachers can show a movie to their students at their workstations; then the students can switch to their word processors and write about the movie. Social studies teachers can show movies, and students can switch to their database programs. Business teachers can show movies, and students can use their spreadsheets. Even the school's football coach is hooked. Each week before a game, he brings his team into Bridget's lab and shows his players a tape of the team they'll be playing next.
For more information about Distrivid, write: Jim Anderson, President, Micrologic, Inc.; 1720 Twenty-eighth Ave. S.; Homewood, AL 35243.