"Top Gun" Students Can't Wait to Create

"Kids are waiting for me at 6:30 a.m. to get into the lab and stay until they're thrown out at the end of the day," says J'e Huber, the head of the science department and Director of Electronic Media at Greenwood Middle School in Greenwood, Ind. Why the enthusiasm? These students are part of a special "Top Gun" class that creates classroom presentations for their instructors. They have access to sophisticated hardware and software, including MediaMAX, a presentation package from Videodiscovery, Inc. in Seattle, Wash., that creates exciting lessons based on videodisc materials. Hand-Picked When they were in 4th and 5th grades, these students were hand-picked by their elementary teachers to attend a summer class on computers. At that age, roughly 30 were chosen to learn about HyperCard. By the 8th grade, 15 highly skilled students were making lessons for instructors. Teachers at Greenwood submit proposals to a technology committee comprised of Huber, parents and the students themselves. The committee decides which products to tackle, however only students participate in the final vote. When a project is decided upon, teachers are asked to provide the needed media and explain exactly what they want. Roughly six projects are completed per school year. Examples of projects currently underway include presentations on The Diary of Anne Frank and a large-scale Biomes of the World series that will cover eight to ten animals as well as eight to ten plants per biome. As of late, proposals are also coming from outside the school. Already commissioned is a multimedia presentation on the school corporation, plus Sprint, one of the school's technology partners, has asked that a presentation on technology in schools be designed. Managing the Media The Top Gun students create in a 28-Mac LCIII computer lab, which also houses one Mac Quadra 660AV. Directly linked to it and all of the school's rooms is a media distribution system from AMX that manages five kinds of videodisc players. Herein lies Huber's initial technical problem. "The biggest problem with other [presentation programs] was that so much attention was paid to what device was being connected," he says. The nature of the media distribution center is such that rooms are provided access to whichever videodisc player is currently available; the user, located at a remote site like the lab, has no idea which device is being used. "MediaMAX automatically adjusts to the player present," Huber explains. "You don't have to adjust or reconfigure the program for each player, because it creates external command code on HyperCard [for the device it senses]." Custom Buttons Briefly stated, MediaMAX controls videodiscs for use in multimedia presentations and interactive lessons. These can include videodisc clips and stills, sounds, text, graphics, QuickTime movies and PhotoCD images. Students then create screen overlays with their own text. Videodiscovery provides software databases with frame numbers, names, scientific names and descriptions of each image on seven of its educational videodiscs. Because of these databases, says Huber, "It takes 10 to 15 minutes to create a presentation. You select the frames and [the software] d'es it for you." One feature in particular is well used. Custom Button Maker places multimedia buttons on HyperCard stacks to create a lesson. MediaMAX places a script inside each button that tells the computer what type of media to activate. Huber's students create HyperCard stacks with cards that include these buttons. Teachers open the stack and click on the buttons to activate the videodisc player. Stacks, which also contain text cards, are projected through an LCD panel; video from the videodisc player is displayed on a separate monitor. One of the unique aspects of the class is that students are responsible for the materials they use. "Kids can't put anything [in their work] that they haven't originated or gotten permission to use. They're not going to violate any copyright laws," states Huber. In fact, students have to write letters to the owners or publishers of materials that are not public domain if they want to include them in a project. It's So Easy Says Huber, "MediaMAX is so easy. We've had it for two years and I think it's a fantastic product."

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.