Interactive Tutorials Are Created by Students for Students

Clawson High School, located in southeastern Michigan, sits among several major industrial areas including Detroit, the state's largest city. Best known as the center of U.S. automobile manufacturing, this city also employs many people in the health care and financial sectors. The Clawson School District has benefited from the region's strong economy, and recently placed modern computer equipment throughout its campuses. At the high school, all 500 students can utilize a media lab housing Power Macintosh machines, printers and modems. Leo Rice, science coordinator for grades 6-12, has taken full advantage of the available technology. Rice also teaches chemistry at the high school, where he asks his students to create multimedia presentations on specific concepts. Long-Lasting Benefits When completed, the presentations are handed over to K-8 instructors, who can implement them as teaching aids for years to come. Rice introduced this program two years ago, and has witnessed a growing interest ever since. To accomplish their task, students use Authorware Academic, a multimedia authoring package distributed by Prentice Hall New Media (Upper Saddle River, N.J.). Expressly designed for education, the package brings interactivity, video, sound, animation and high-quality graphics into desktop presentations. Version 3.5 now supports Shockwave! for creating a compressed runtime version of courseware that will play across an intranet or the Internet via the Netscape Navigator 2.0 Web browser. The software operates on Windows (3.x, 95, NT) and Macintosh platforms. According to Rice, students in the Chemistry 3 course (mostly 11th and 12th graders) are very comfortable with technology and exhibit no hesitation toward using Authorware Academic. Their first step, though, is to select a topic that ties into one of the state's objectives for science instruction. After Rice approves their topic, students develop a procedure and begin experimenting with the software. "My job is to give them a lot of breathing room," Rice says, noting that everybody works at their own pace. Generally, each student spends an hour per day at the workstation. Waiting at the Door Many come in before or after school to work extra hours. "Some of these kids are waiting to get in at 6:15 in the morning," Rice says. He adds that rather than fostering competitiveness, the assignment encourages students to cooperate. For example, when someone has a specific problem, he or she can write it on a clipboard. Then other students may offer a solution. Of course, Rice always makes himself available to answer questions. However, Rice is the first to admit that students probably know how to use Authorware Academic better than he d'es. The software, developed by Macromedia, comes with online documentation and a printed manual, as well as Authorware Models for Instructional Design -- 28 media-ready frameworks with sample content. Priced at $150, the academic version is limited by the amount of icons and user-definable variables. One may also upgrade to the full educational or commercial versions at a discount. Authorware also seamlessly integrates with Director, Macromedia's flagship authoring product. Rice says some students have produced movies in Director, which they import into their presentations. Scanners and VCRs are just two devices at their disposal for capturing images. In addition, now that workstations are connected to the Internet, kids can download background information or graphics from the Web. (Rice makes sure no copyrights are violated when reproducing data.) Presentation subjects have ranged from internal combustion to electricity. Realizing that few youngsters can fill their projects with elaborate special effects, Rice judges the work mainly on scientific accuracy, spelling and punctuation, with extra points given for a solid navigational structure. Few Glitches Thus far, nearly 20 tutorials have been placed in the Clawson district's elementary and middle schools. Rice decided to limit this fall's enrollment to 6-8 students to prevent scheduling conflicts in the media lab. He adds that he has experienced few glitches along the way, with distributor Prentice Hall representatives responding immediately when called. Rice also praises the principal for supporting an unconventional instructional program. The rewards include excited calls from parents as well as positive feedback from students themselves.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.