Inside the Tolles Technical Center "mobile computer lab," six headphone-wearing tourists are riveted to their PC screens. The quiet hum of a generator is punctuated by the sounds of fingers clicking on keyboards and mouse buttons--and the occasional squeal of delight.
Click. Up comes an encyclopedia menu. Double click. Now an elephant herd clomps past on one screen. Another click brings the mammoth's trumpeting call through the listener's headphones.
The videodisk encyclopedia is just one of many educational tools available in the lab. a 40-foot-long bus that attracted the attention of several curious tourists on their way to the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., in June
The Tolles bus made the trek to Washington at the request of the Smithsonian Institution, which was sponsoring an education symposium on technology. The Central Ohio Joint Vocational School District, which includes Tolles Technical Center, had been nominated for a Smithsonian/Computerworld technology award.
Symposium organizers thought the bus would be a great way to showcase hands-on education through technology because it's filled with the kind of equipment that government leaders want to see in all schools.
Inside are 16 student work stations, each topped by a 33-megahertz, 486-DX computer with three CD-ROM drives, voice recognition and video capabilities. All the computers are networked to an instructor work station. Software ranges from the research-oriented to three-dimensional design and word processing.
The bus has many purposes. It travels to middle schools to get students thinking about technical careers. It's a GED testing center for adult dropouts. It's a mobile training center for industries that want employees to update their skills. It's great PR for Tolles Technical Center.
For the rest of the nation, the magic bus serves as a rolling reminder of the technological possibilities for schools.
Computers, video, CD-ROM, simulation software, electronic communication, virtual reality, intelligent tutoring, multimedia--these are the tools gradually replacing the filmstrips, overhead projectors, typewriters and protractors of classrooms past. Here are a few ways this technology is changing the educational landscape:
* With powerful personal computers, students can retrieve data and compose their thoughts with incredible speed and flexibility. No more typing and re-typing, cutting and pasting of research papers.
* Networked computers allow electronic communication. Within a school, these networks mean students and teachers can share databases and send messages (called e-mail) to each other. Bring in satellite, microwaves or fiberoptic cable and that network can expand around the world through the Internet, an international collection of networks through which an estimated 20 million users communicate with each other and retrieve data from thousands of sources. Commercial on-line services such as Compuserve and Prodigy help users access hundreds of periodicals and other reference material.
* Computer drives now accommodate interactive videodiscs and compact discs, which can store and rapidly retrieve massive amounts of information, including video, sound and text. Sony even has a hand-held "Data Discman" that can read books published on CD, each of which can hold up to 100,000 pages of text.
* Drafting and design students can create architectural drawings on a computer screen with simulation software, such as AutoCAD, and never have to touch a pencil or drafting board. The U.S. Defense Department is a leader in the development of simulation software for everything from construction to jet engine repair.
* Intelligent tutoring is the term for the evolution of computer-assisted instruction, which now can evaluate a student's progress on problem solving and increase or decrease the level of instruction accordingly. …