Illinois School Finds that TVs Offer More than Entertainments

Public and private schools face the challenge of preparingstudents who can excel in the "information age," where technologypermeates nearly every aspect of life. For this reason, educatorshave invested millions of dollars in everything from videodiscplayers and projectors to multimedia computers and local areanetworks. A growing number of schools have moved to combine theirdata and video technologies. So- called video distributionsystems, typically housed in a media center, can manage avariety of media sources-- including VCRs, CD-ROM towers, CD-iplayers and satellite receivers -- and send their output toindividual classrooms on demand.

Stimulates Thinking

Although most people associate the television with entertainment,this common device holds great potential for education. A study bythe government's Office of Technology Assessment found that videostimulates critical thinking by connecting abstract problems toreal-life situations. Video is an essential part of the curriculum atthe John Jay Elementary School in Mount Prospect,Ill.

Jackie Karlin, a kindergarten teacher, often plays videotapes andvideodiscs to promote core early learning skills. During one typicalclass, kids sang along with Colors of the Wind, from theDisney Singalong Songs videodisc. The song's lyrics appear across thebottom of the screen, and Karlin asks kids to call out when they spotpre-selected words.

In a nearby fifth-grade classroom, Wendy Fabrikant and Inge Schmitplay a videotaped segment on the "billion-dollar blizzard" thatwreaked havoc on the East Coast. The news program is transmitted viasatellite from WILL in Champaign, Ill., to District 59 headquarters,where it is videotaped and sent on to school media centers. As partof a notetaking exercise, the two teachers tell their students towrite down whatever they remember, not worrying about spelling orpunctuation. Later, students must use their notes to write a topicsentence about the newscast. Fabrikant and Schmit then call onseveral class members to read their sentences aloud. According to theteachers, even kids who had lower learning curves seemed to pick upand process the material.

Ranger to the Rescue

Instructors who want to use "What's in the News" and otherprograms in their classes simply schedule them through theRanger Media Management System, by Rauland-Borg(Skokie, IL). Each of John Jay's 17 classrooms, as well as 12sites elsewhere on campus, have access to it.

With the Ranger system, one controls all of the A/V equipment viaa remote control, a wall panel or by computer, eliminating cumbersomecarts, cable hookups and other logistical headaches. A teacher caneasily combine various media in a single presentation, and can stop,rewind or fast- forward the source to allow time for questions or toreview material. When finished, a few quick steps shuts the systemdown.

Faculty at John Jay Elementary have been well trained to takeadvantage of the Ranger. By contract, teachers receive 150 minutes aweek, during school time, to plan lessons and another 90 minutes fortechnology training. In addition, Holly Tucker, the media centerdirector, and four technology aides are available to help any teacheror student in distress.

Tucker says that schools must provide teachers with consistent andongoing training throughout the year to ensure that they effectivelyuse technology. She notes that too many schools spend loads of moneyon technology products without considering staff development toensure effective use.

Stretching Budget Dollars

At John Jay, teachers have stretched tight budget dollars bycreating their own interactive lessons that incorporate videos andcomputers. For example, fourth graders log onto America Online toconduct research and communicate with "key pals." All students ingrades 3-5 spend approximately three hours a week doingcomputer-assisted instruction.

Of course, video has not replaced teachers or textbooks at JohnJay Elementary School. Instead, it serves as another way to holdstudents' attention, thereby improving retention rates. Sinceinstalling the Ranger system, students have become more activelearners, leading administrators to believe that their experiment isworking.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.