Combining Dynamic Query and Full Motion Digital Video in a High Speed Network
to Improve Instruction in Middle School Science and Social Studies Classes
Victor Nolet, Ph.D.
University of Maryland at College Park
Gary Marchionini, Ph.D.
University of Maryland at College Park
Ernestine Enomoto, Ph.D.
University of Maryland at College Park
As the characteristics of the 21st century work place, with its reliance
on telecommunications and information technologies have become more well
defined, concern has been expressed over the perceived inability of schools
as they are currently configured to prepare children and youth to join that
work force. For example. the 1991 report of the U.S. Labor Secretary's
Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) linked school reform directly
with the characteristics of an information-based economy and was unequivocal
in emphasizing the importance of core content area classes for teaching
these workplace competencies and foundations. Emergence of a global economy
driven by information technology is fostering international consensus that
students must demonstrate competency in core subject area courses that involve
complex thinking and problem solving. Consider for example, curriculum
reform initiatives in Great Britain (Barnett, 1992), Australia (Nicholoson,
1993), Spain (Tarrago, Santallusia, & Marti, 1993), and The Netherlands
(van Weer, 1992) where informatics is viewed as a core subject area. Access
to effective instruction in the content areas has become a prerequisite
to full participation in society for all children, including the large group
of children and youth who are at risk of school failure because of economic
circumstances, language or cultural differences, or disabilities (Carnegie
Council on Adolescent Development, 1989).
Unfortunately, students who need the best and most often get the worst
and least. In many instances, practices in middle and high school classrooms
that serve students at academic risk are out of step with current theories
of teaching and learning. For example, instruction in most middle and high
school content classes is structured by textbooks that have been characterized
as "inconsiderate" of poor readers (Armbruster, 1984), cover content
superficially (Crabtree, 1989), present many facts with little integration
of material into coherent representations, and contain few unifying concepts
or principles (Beck, McKeown, & Gromoll, 1989). The assumption implicit
in design of traditional science and social studies programs is that students
who lack basic skills , are "not ready" to function in content
area classes (Doyle cited in Knapp, Turnbull, & Shields, 1990). However,
curriculum and instructional designs based on assumptions of "readiness"
tend to underestimate student capabilities, postpone or omit more challenging
and interesting work, provide little context for learning of meaningfully
using skills and, reinforce academic failure over the long term (Knapp,
Turnbull, & Shields, 1990).
Technology and Modern Views of Learning
In the last decade, research conducted in a variety of domains, has lead
to a rethinking of teaching and learning in content classes. The context
in which content area learning occurs is now understood to be at least as
important as a student's readiness skills. Indeed, learning in content
area classes increasingly is being viewed as process of enculturation, where
students enter into "cognitive apprenticeships" with teachers
who model the thinking skills associated with a domain (Brown, Collins,
& Durgid, 1989). Learning is viewed as being situated in a particular
context. For example, in math and science, and social studies classes,
teachers can serve as cognitive mediators by creating classroom-based contexts
that help students think and problem solve "like a scientist"
in an active process that builds on prior understandings in construction
of new knowledge (Harper, 1990; Schoenfeld, 1996; Kinzer, Risko, Vye, &
Sherwood 1988) ). This instructional approach has been found to be particulary
effective for at-risk students (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt
At the same time as notions of learning have evolved, a theoretical basis
for learning through information technology has emerged and it is becoming
clear that media and method are integrally related (Kozma, 1991). Video
technologies such as videotape and Level 4 videodisks, have become essential
tools for teachers in mediating situated learning. For example the Cognition
and Technology Group at Vanderbilt (1996) has made extensive use of videodisks
in programs such as The Young Sherlock Holmes and Jasper Woodbury Problem
Solving Series, where "video anchors" are used to create realistic,
interesting contexts that promote active construction of knowledge by all
Video curricula, particularly videodisks can be superior to print media
or even hands-on experiences such as field trips because they can be replayed
and reviewed as often as necessary, and may require less organization and
preparation time and therefore, can be immediately integrated into classroom
activities under direct control of the teacher or students. However, high
quality videodisk-based curricula are expensive to create and generally
have a fairly specialized purpose that may limit their utility across instructional
settings. Also, like textbooks, commercially produced video curricula,
impose the, point of view and theoretical perspective of the program author
and these may be incompatible with local curriculum goals and student needs.
Finally, even though teacher interest in use of video technology has grown
drastically in recent years, the VCR remains the dominant form of video
technology available for use in classrooms. Videodisk systems are readily
available to only about 12% of teachers and regularly used by as few as
5% (NEA, 1991), with most videodisk systems located in high schools rather
than middle or elementary schools (OTA, 1995). There are growing expectations
that adoption of networked digital video technologies in schools provides
the practical basis for many video solutions.
Networked Technologies and School Reform
While free-standing video technologies such as videodisks will continue
to occupy a niche in schools, momentum has been building steadily in recent
years for much more extensive integration of networked technologies in schools.
Educational policy increasingly is under the influence of powerful market
forces aimed at selling hardware, software, and connectivity to schools
and also, at gaining access through schools to the much larger home market.
For example, national and state telecommunication policies and regulations
recently have undergone significant revision to address the rapidly growing
potential of information technologies, with particular attention paid to
reducing inequities among technology "have" and "have not"
schools. Development of a National Information Infrastructure (NII) has
been identified as a national priority and significant private and public
sectors funds have been committed to the task of ensuring that all schools
gain access to the Internet. In response, the U.S. Department of Education
is in the third year of providing Technology Challenge Grants to public
school-lead consortia of universities and private businesses seeking to
demonstrate innovative approaches to use of information technology in schools.
At the same time, numerous states recently have staged "net days"
on which community volunteers install in-school wiring to facilitate wide
bandwidth Internet access, using wires and hardware donated by local telecommunications
In all likelihood, networked technologies will usurp other classroom technologies
as competition for limited school budget dollars intensifies. The clear
expectation is that information technology that facilitates distance learning
will have a major impact on the organization of schools and the nature of
teaching and learning in classrooms for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately,
the precise relationship between information technology and school improvement
has yet to be described. Even though vigorous school reform efforts are
under way nearly every state, school reform policy and practice generally
has entailed a much greater investment in revamping curricular guidelines
and establishing high performance standards than in improving access to
information technology (Means, 1994; OTA, 1995).
In the last decade, most national and international standard-setting organization
have issued rigorous new content standards that reflect this renewed attention
to learning theory and create the expectation that students demonstrate
proficiency in complex and critical thinking, problem-solving, manipulation
of information, communication, and cooperative work. In turn, these new
standards have influenced state and national content standards and curricular
frameworks that often are intended to serve as benchmarks against which
to measure the performance of schools. The project we will describe in
the remainder of this paper employs state-of-the-art networked telecommunications
technology in a format designed to promote improved instruction in content
classes, linked to rigorous performance standards and curriculum guidelines.
The Baltimore Learning Community
The Baltimore Learning Community (BLC) is a collaborative project of the
University of Maryland at College Park (UMCP), Johns Hopkins University
(JHU), and the Baltimore City Public Schools, funded as one of the U.S.
Department of Education Technology Challenge Grant. The goal of this five-year
project is to create a learning community through use of high quality digital
science and social studies resources and high-speed networking. The project
has two major components that both target technology "have not"
schools that serve high numbers of students who are academically at risk.
One component of the project, lead by a team of researchers from JHU, employs
interactive video conferencing and focuses on development of school-community
links to facilitate effective school to work transitions consistent with
the SCANS goals. The other component of the project is lead by a team of
researchers from the University of Maryland at College Park and focuses
on development of effective solutions for integrating high quality digital
video and other resources into middle school science and social studies
classrooms and linking instruction that uses these resources to rigorous
curriculum guidelines measured by a statewide performance assessment. This
paper will describe the UMCP component.
One goal of the Education Challenge Grants program is to demonstrate how
public school-university-business consortia can operate to improve educational
outcomes through enhanced technology. In addition to the school and university
partners, the BLC also involves a consortium of public organizations and
private businesses that have made a major investment in the project. Discovery
Communications Inc. participated actively in the development of the original
project proposal and is providing up to 100 hours of digitized video programming
from the Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel as well as ongoing technical
and conceptual assistance. Apple Computers has donated 40 computers as
well as significant technical support. The National Archives and the Space
Telescope Institute have provided significant content resources in both
digital and non-digital formats.
Overview of System Design
The project employs a multi-format, multi-source approach to providing
a wide range of instructional materials in content classrooms. When the
project is fully implemented, 12 science and social studies teachers in
classrooms in three urban middle schools will have access to still images,
various forms of text, WWW sites, and full motion video via high speed connections
to the Internet. Some of these resources will reside on a video server
consisting of a Sun Sparc 20 workstation running Starlight video server
software while other resources will reside throughout the World Wide Web.
The project is employing a client-server configuration with client machines
installed in the middle school classrooms and digital resources available
on a download basis from the server. Upon final implementation, video streaming
will be supported, with all resources available "on demand" from
the server or the World Wide Web.
Each of the 12 classrooms is equipped with three or four Apple Macintosh
5200 computers capable of displaying MPEG video. These machines are available
for student use. In addition, the classrooms also include "planning
and presentation" platform consisting of an MPEG-capable Apple Macintosh
5400 computer equipped with a 4gb hard drive as well as one or two large
screen "s-video" monitors for classwide display. Presently, each
of the schools in the project operates an ethernet-based LAN with a hubbed
dial-up connection to a proprietary Internet provider. All teachers on
the project also have been provided with Internet access at home. The project
will migrate to fiber or a hybrid wired/wireless solution in the last two
project years. Currently, the Sparc 20 server resides at the University
of Maryland but upon full implementation of the project, the server will
be located in the school district and schools will have ISDN or better bandwidth
Indexed Resources and Linkage to Curriculum Standards
The networking and video-server configurations employed on the project
for the most-part use "off the shelf" technologies. This is consistent
with the goal of ensuring maximum scalability of all aspects demonstrated
on the project. However, the project has required development of two software
innovations. These are an indexing system that employs a graphic display
for retrieval and previewing of digital resources, and a user interface
that links access and use of digital content resources directly to an instructional
decision-making and planning process based on curriculum standards. The
customized search and explore interface uses a dynamic query interface (Allany
& Shnierderman, 1995) to support teacher access to the resources.
Multimedia Indexing and Retrieval System
The teachers currently working on the project function as full development
partners and have been largely responsible for identifying materials appropriate
for their curricula to be stored on the server. These resources include
broadcast quality video material from Discovery Communications Inc., as
well as scanned graphics from the National Archives and various historical
and local interest text documents.
The multimedia indexing and retrieval system employs a starfield display
that allows the user to search for digital resources stored on the local
server by subject area, topic, or subtopic. The display crosses topics
by standards on two axes and displays variable length bars corresponding
to video, graphics, WWW sites, and text resources, and modules previously
created by other teachers. The number of each type of resources available
on the server varies according to the particular subject area, topic, or
subtopic selected and the size of the bar displayed in the starfield corresponds
to the number of resources of each type that are available for retrieval.
This display is illustrated in Figure 1. Currently, over 1000 objects
are stored on the server, and we anticipate that this number will grow to
over 50,000 by the end of the five project years.
Insert Figure 1 Here
By clicking on any of the bars in the starfield display, the user can
obtain more detailed information about the resources available and then
select specific items to preview. The preview mode presents thumbnail images
of the resources available on the server so the user can decide whether
or not they want to acquire the image for use in the classroom. The preview
mode is illustrated in Figure 2. Once the user has decided to use an item,
it can be downloaded and stored at the planning and presentation workstation
in the teacher's classroom.
Insert Figure 2 Here
Instructional Planning Interface
The overriding goal of the project is to create technological support for
instruction in middle school content classes that enables students to meet
rigorous performance outcomes. The digital materials that can be accessed
in the project are expected to function as instructional anchors that will
help teachers create a context within which to situate instruction. Unlike
videodisk-based programs in which instructional planning and organization
are conducted by the program authors, this project leaves virtually all
of the decision-making about how the digital resources will be used up to
the teacher. Generally the video content stored on the server is less than
3 minutes in length and is intended to be used within an instructional context
mediated by the teacher rather than to function as a complete instructional
program. To assist teachers in this process, a user interface has been
created that requires a series of instructional planning decisions before
the digital resources stored on the server are incorporated into instruction
in the classroom. The interface is an HTML-based form with cgi scripts
that support development of Instructional modules that can be stored on
the server and displayed at the planning and presentation workstation in
Instructional modules can then be used in any context the teacher wishes,
ranging from a single, self-contained lesson to a series of lessons that
occur over numerous class days. These modules are stored on the server
and always available for use in the classroom. The user interface offers
a Planning Mode and a Presentation Mode to support module development.
To create a module during Planning Mode, the user must specify specific
information such as grade level, content area, and curriculum goals the
instruction is intended to address (see Figure 3).
Insert Figure 3 Here
Currently curriculum outcomes from the Maryland School Performance Program
are required, however, the final version of the system will support user-defined
curriculum goals. Linkage with performance assessment tasks also will be
included in the final version of the system, although this function is not
included in the current version. The user also is asked to identify activities
and tasks that will occur before-, during-, and after-instruction. Once
this information has been specified, the path name or URL of resources the
user has selected from the starfield display are listed and available for
display in the classroom. When the teacher is ready to use the module in
class, the resources can be accessed from the list and displayed via the
TV monitors. The Presentation Mode permits resources to be displayed in
full motion, at full screen under teacher control.
The early stages of this ambitious project focuses on demonstration and
evaluation of the use of rich resources accessed via high speed networks
to learning in middle school content classes. However, an additional goal
for the project is to provide a vehicle for sharing knowledge and resources
among students, educators, parents, institutions of higher education, state
and federal government agencies, business groups, and community organizations
and individuals with expertise in the subject matter students are learning.
As teachers become adept at creating and using the instructional modules
supported by this project, they will be encouraged to submit completed modules
for review by their peers within their own school and the other schools
on the project. In turn, these modules will be stored in a "public"
sector on the server so they can be viewed by the word at large through
the WWW. Much as the digital resources will function as anchors to situate
instruction in the teachers classes, we expect the creation, review, and
public sharing of modules will create a context for communications among
a wide range of individuals intereted in student learning. We believe that
development of this learning community function may actually be the most
powerful contribution this project will make.
Project information may be found at: http://www.learn.umd.edu
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