In the decade or so since most schools first placed a computer in the classroom, technology has challenged educators and educational publishers to rethink traditional approaches to teaching. By and large, both have risen to the challenge. The extensive use of multimedia-- melding text, sound, graphics, animation, and video--for teaching science, mathematics, and social studies is a case in point. But surprisingly, multi-media has had less effect on the teaching of literature.
Now, however, with the release of some thoughtful new literature programs for secondary school, multimedia is being brought to bear on the teaching of characterization, plot development, literary devices, and more.
The primary tools of these new literature packages are CD-ROM and videodisc technologies. CD-ROM, with its vast storage capability, not only allows the reader to turn the computer into an electronic book, but offers options such as online dictionaries; text search functions; the ability to have text read aloud; and the use of audio, animation, and even video material to explain, interpret, or expand on the work under study.
Videodisc technology permits a considerable amount of high-quality video to be stored, and any starting point to be quickly accessed. Students may view a full-length film version of a story, and then cut immediately to specific scenes or other visual references, such as prepared literary criticism or historical footage.
These technological capabilities are, of course, not automatically a boon. In fact, they raise new questions about how best to teach literature. As an example, two companies whose programs we examined--Wings for Learning and Tomorrow's Technology 2Day (TT2D)--offer interactive videodisc packages on both plays and novels. Drama is a perfect match for this technology, since plays were written to be performed and seen, and the text is a vehicle for getting to the performance. Through an interactive videodisc program, students might read a scene from a play, and then, at the click of the mouse, watch that same scene on stage.
A novel, however, is not created to be staged or filmed, but rather as an end in itself. Multimedia packages enable students to study a novel side by side with a film adaptation of that novel, and appropriate clips from the movie can be a huge help in clarifying meaning, literary concepts, or other points. But when students are offered both text and film, they may have difficulty acknowledging the primacy of the text. If the teacher and the software developers are not careful, the primary interpretation of the novel may be the video version.
Only one of the companies whose packages we examined combined videodisc and CD-ROM, something we expect to see more of in the future. EduQuest/IBM's Illuminated Books and Manuscripts uses CD-ROM to store the text of literary works, and videodisc not for dramatic performances, but for footage of experts who discuss aspects of those works. As might be expected, each program has its advantages and drawbacks (in part depending on the teaching philosophy of you, the literature teacher), but all are interesting. We've grouped the products according to their technical similarities, giving you the opportunity to compare them directly with each other.
The Tell-Tale Heart Discis Knowledge Research, already an established publisher of CD-ROM storybooks for young children (see January 1993 T&L), is now creating titles for older readers. The first is Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." A second, "The Cask of Amontillado," is scheduled to ship soon.
Discis's Tell-Tale Heart is an electronic book in the truest sense of the term. Its display uses a book format with dramatic full-color illustrations on the left-hand pages and the story's complete text on the right-hand pages. Clicking on page corners turns the page.
The major functions for such electronic books are to have individual sentences or phrases read as you select them, or to hear a dramatic reading of the story while following along with the text. …