CMCM LOGO CMC Magazine / Volume 2, Number 6 / June 1, 1995 / Page 8

Desktop Video?

by Ed Andros (

This year I took it upon myself to become better informed about the happenings in that narrow realm where K-12 education and computer technology have begun to overlap in earnest. My problem has been finding much that goes beyond the variations composed on a theme of keypal exchanges. In short, I find it hard to understand where schools should be headed since most classroom teachers are not yet involved in computer technology, and those who are have not yet discovered how revolutionary the use of computers could be for classrooms.

I suppose that a computer can be likened to a Swiss Army knife, and its nature (is it a can opener or a screwdriver?) defined by whatever the user does with it. Because many librarians have seen what computers can do for cataloguing and accessing information, their enthusiasm is starting to define the computer as an educational research tool. I can't really tell you that research isn't the best use for a computer in a classroom, but my attempts to share technology with fellow teachers have often faltered because of the lack of applications that fit into their overall instructional plan or because they feel that their students can learn tasks better and faster without a computer.

Waiting for the Killer Application

My understanding at the moment is that computer technology is something with which many educators are struggling. They are hoping that sooner or later some creative teachers will discover that "killer" application that makes the rest of us bumpkins the prophets we always said we were. In the meantime, I am learning that the bar is getting raised every moment. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: the future is never what it was yesterday. That idea was made clear to me this past winter when I attended the "Know Show," a graphic arts trade conference in Cleveland. At the conference, I went to Michael Balas's presentation on projected developments in digital video.

Balas is Cleveland-based, but he circulates nationally with the message that what befell the print and graphics industries when desktop publishing hit a decade ago is about to happen in the field of video production -- but at twice the speed and impact. His two-hour seminar was of someone charged with educating the next generation of workers and consumers.

Education must adjust to the reality he is projecting. Hardware and software developments, says Balas, will produce the capability for a single computer and its user to edit full-motion video at such a level of quality that entire studio complexes will be replaced. Beyond the impact on certain individuals who will be replaced by the computer, there will be a sudden increase in the production of cheaper films, cassettes, and CD-ROMs. This development will then impact the advertising industry as it moves off paper and into mailings that consist of digitized electronic media. It will only be one more step to pumping this media through the fiber optic lines that will connect every American home to the Net.

Computer Graphic Artists in Demand

Or so the future seems to be as of February 1995. I wonder how and when education will begin to adjust to such a reality. Balas indicated that for certain employers, the shortage of qualified designers/editors is so pronounced that thousands of dollars in business are lost as demand for qualified personnel spirals upwards.

This problem is compounded by the lag in response time between perceived need and education's ability to re-design itself. For example, Balas points to the lack of people trained in Macromedia's Director, presently the best tool for multimedia editing. Although in high demand, this application is just beginning to be taught in colleges with established video and graphic arts departments. This is due to educational institutions' emphasis on process over product. Should anyone be surprised if commercial computer training takes off, leaving graphics arts programs in the dust?

Challenges Teachers Face

The K-12 realm is exponentially less responsive to changes that have to do with computer technology. I question how quickly we can begin to deal with the obvious issues. The first three challenges that I anticipate K-12 instructors and administrators will need to address are the following:

  1. Adjusting the K-12 curriculum to deal broadly with computer developments;

  2. Helping teachers learn how to produce their own custom-designed multimedia materials using these new tools; and

  3. Teaching youngsters how to be more sophisticated consumers of information, especially that which is designed to manipulate more than inform.

Of these three, I imagine that it will be easiest for teachers to start using multimedia design tools. But my point is a relative one, and it could take years for us to reach the point where a majority of teachers can create their own multimedia presentations. I recall an exchange I had by email with a Japanese teacher who felt that the current generation of younger educators would be squeezed between those who will not consider change, and those who will graduate in the next ten years with the skills necessary to begin to adapt education to the new realities. I have taken to predicting at my own school that anyone between 23 and 35 had better get moving to retrain themselves in effectively utilizing computer technology. I think that unless teachers act immediately, they may find themselves dead in the water while computer-savvy teachers are promoted around them.

Creativity Versus Imitation

Until we have sufficiently trained designers who are also classroom teachers (not ex-teachers), I expect to see a steady increase in the use of commercial multimedia products by some teachers who will let what is available and well-regarded determine what they teach. This will come at a time when education budgets will be shrinking and the public will be questioning why schools can't be as creative as many businesses in using the new technology to train its workforce. This could quickly degenerate into a process for fixing blame rather than finding solutions -- sound familiar?

There is ongoing debate over the K-12 curriculum. An example is the argument over what basic skills must be learned and how well or poorly schools teach them. The growing importance of computers is adding one more element to the discussion. The process for developing a consensus on what priorities we should establish with regard to public education becomes that much more complicated. It will fall to educators to bring these matters up for discussion, and the process is one likely to include conflict and great potential for disagreement. Communities will need strong leadership at the school board level. Unfortunately, the trend of the moment has been to "clean house" in school districts over skirmishes in the longstanding culture wars that seem to mark the end of this century. Ideas do have consequences, and so does collective short-sightedness.

Educating to Withstand Manipulation

Finally, we will need to address the Emperor and the new clothes commerce will be fashioning for him. Digital video will be developed primarily for the advertising industry. The entertainment industry is close behind. Critical thinking skills have been addressed since the time of the Greeks, when Socrates attacked the Sophists for teaching politicians how to sway the masses. He could not understand how it was right to focus only on how to deliver a message while remaining unconcerned with the content. As a commercial society, we will continue to refine our methods for ensnaring consumers. Should we be surprised if politicians do the same? If we value our political freedoms, we had better get about the business of inoculating the young to withstand media manipulation. That can be easier said than done. The least effective method is probably explanation. A project where students actually create a manipulative message would probably teach more effectively than a hundred lectures. But such a lesson requires teachers who can themselves create quality, multimedia products -- and who value the point that Socrates tried to make to his students.

It's all a matter of balance, as the Greeks would have said. They may have had that answer for themselves, but managed to disregard it and lost their liberty to the Roman Empire. I can only wonder what we will manage to do with such new ways for keeping or losing ours. -

Ed Andros is Project Coordinator with the Positive Education Program, a nonprofit provider of mental health, special education, and early intervention services for children and families. He is currently trying to adapt TERC's Global Lab -- a multimedia telecommunications science program -- to suit severe behavior handicapped inter-city students.

Copyright © 1995 by Ed Andros. All Rights Reserved.