Multimedia for Everyone

Article excerpt

A cross the nation, multimedia is "taking ore' in K-12 education, as more and more schools discover the benefits of interactive, multisensory learning. To illustrate: use of CD-ROM and laserdisc technology is increasing at the respective rates of 93percent and 80percent --just in the past school year!(1)

But these statistics only tell part of the story. Educational multimedia is more than just "smart textbooks" on optical disc -- it's also a revolutionary medium for student presentations. With multimedia "authoring tools" such as IBM LinkWay(TM) software, students can delve into a thrilling palette of images, sound, motion video, graphics and text to present unique "multimedia stories" to their classmates and teachers. With multimedia authoring, learning becomes a hands-on adventure of research, creativity and group presentations -- stimulating the imagination of students, and making education exciting and immediate.

The key: getting students involved

While schools all around the country are moving quickly into multimedia authoring for individual classes, one school has taken a "total immerion" philosophy. At Exeter-West Greenwich (EWG) Junior/Senior High School in Rhede Island, multimedia authoring is as basic as penmanship -- and as essential to student expression.

Technology at the school is anchored by a robust IBM token-ring network, linking 11 IBM PS/2(R) file servers and 190 PS/2 workstations -- all of which can run multimedia applications right off the schoolwide network. Every teacher has a computer on his or her desk, and many have computers at home, too. The nearly 4-1 computer-to-student ratio enables every student to have ready access to computers for multimedia authoring. Class multimedia presentations are aided by large-screen computer monitors and color LCD projection panels, plus multimedia peripherals that include laserdisc and CD-ROM players.

"Our school is guided by a technology philosophy," says Normand Leveillee, one of EWG's 'leading lights" of technology, who also teaches French and the school's Talented and Gifted classes. "A lot of the faculty were hired with the knowledge that they would be expected to incorporate technology -- and especially multimedia -- in their teaching.

"Our goal is to embed multimedia across the curriculum," Leveillee continues. "We try to encourage multidisciplinary projects that involve two or more classes, to promote cooperative learning. Our whole philosophy is geared toward student multimedia production and expression."

Multimedia helps make the difference

While EWG's ambitious use of multimedia involves extensive technology, the school is hardly privileged with a rich community's bankrolling. Exeter and West Greenwich are large, rural communities that historically have been among the less wealthy locales in Rhode Island. According to a recent study, available property value supporting each student is still only $155,531, vs. the statewide average of $226,770.

Prior to the opening of EWG in September 1990, students in grades nine through 12 had been tuitioned to high schools in neighboring districts. Over time, approximately 40percent of these students left high school before graduation -- a depressing historic pattern that the district attributes to student financial need and poorly defined student educational aspirations.

The new school, which serves 850 students in grades seven through 12, is actually the first high school constructed in Rhode Island in the past 20 years. Already, EWG is a stunning success: the current dropout rate is abeutfourpercent -- a 90 percent drop in less than three years.

From its beginning, EWG was intended to provide a new and different environment for students. Students would be educated not only within a local school, but also within a building ready for the next century of learning. This building was envisioned as a "School of the Future. …