Magazine article Technology & Learning

Brave New Multimedia

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Brave New Multimedia

Article excerpt

Multimedia--as entertainment, s a learning tool, and as a mode of expression--is becoming a fact of life. This month we round up products that will help you and your students harness the power in your school.

Multimedia has progressed from the days of plain-Jane text and graphics occurring on the same screen to the integration of video, images, audio, and text via hyperlinks--whether on CD-ROM or the World Wide Web. For better or worse, today's students and teachers are increasingly gathering information from such diverse sources as television news feeds, archival photos, sound clips of historic speeches, and texts ranging from this morning's New York Times to a digitized Book of Kells.

What they're doing with these resources is new, a too. While the familiar written report is by no means on the endangered species list, students and educators have gone from being mere consumers of multimedia to producing it themselves, using an evolving set of tools to create presentations and computer-based experiences that animate learning in powerful ways.

The relentless speed with which technology changes benefits multimedia perhaps as much as any other single area. For example, Intel engineered its new MMX chip to handle the unique demands multimedia places on the computer. Thus, the chip speeds through such traditionally sluggish tasks as video playback, image manipulation, and 3-D imaging. The chip will also let users play video in the MPEG-2 video compression format that's driving DVD development.

DVD used to stand for Digital Video or Versatile Disc, but its proponents decided that these labels were too limiting. So now DVD stands for itself. Essentially, it is a storage medium, similar to current CD-ROMs and audio CDs, but with at least one extra data layer (and potentially four), which enables it to hold over four gigabytes of information per side. That's enough for a 135-minute film at a level of quality that surpasses laserdiscs. Plus, for those of you who like your Fellini films in Japanese, DVDs have eight available audio tracks, and the capacity for subtitles in 32 languages. The disc will work with both computers and televisions, and for this reason is being positioned primarily as a consumer product. All of which sounds quite promising. As of last August, though, only 30 titles were in development for this new medium, and most of these were action-oriented games. So it may be a while before schools invest. However, it is "backwards compatible" with current CD-ROMs, so should you opt for early adoption, your library won't be obsolete. Drives are expected to hit the shelves this spring, with prices ranging from $700-$1000.

Not content to let plastic discs have all the multimedia fun, the Internet is gearing up tn deliver streaming sound and video. As anyone who's already online has probably seen, to date animations look rather pained, lurching across the screen. But larger bandwidth--cable, ISDN, and beyond--makes possible a range of motion quite dizzying to computer users raised on text, as implementations from TCI and other cable companies demonstrate.

The bottom line is that multimedia, whether via disc, wire, or satellite, is here to stay. It presents teachers with unique challenges, as students must hone their sophistication to cut through the dazzle and evaluate the worth of content. At the same time, both teachers and students increasingly make use of multimedia resources and present ideas with these dynamic tools. The important task, just as it has always been, is using the medium to express ideas lucidly, and discovering its creative potential.

No sweat. Educators have always done that.

RELATED ARTICLE: PIXEL-PACKING PICTURES

While they haven't yet overtaken film in price or image quality, digital cameras make it easy to add imagery to documents and presentations. Before buying, consider who will be operating the camera, how the images will be used, and how important image quality is, as it varies considerably from camera to camera (and usually correlates to price--higher resolution for more money). …

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