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Imagine having the collected works of The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The National Gallery in your classroom, taking up no more space than a large art history book. That's only one of many advantages of videodiscs (a.k.a laserdiscs). Videodiscs are not new, at least not in terms of new technologies, they've been around for well over ten years, but have only recently caught on in the wider educational and consumer markets. You've probably seen the large collection of movies on videodisc available in stores; from classics like Orson Welles' Citizen Kane to new releases like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.

What Is a Videodisc

Videodisc is to images what a compact disc audio (CD) is to music... and more. Most videodiscs are about the size of a 33 1/3 album (12"; 30 cm), but have the sheen of the new compact discs. To play music, CDs use a laser that reads the information from the disc; nothing touches the disc itself so there is no erosion of the CD. A videodisc reads information in a similar manner so that it maintains the integrity of the visual image. Videodiscs used for education and training, store up to 54,000 still frames (images or text) or thirty minutes of motion video per side; those frames can be accessed in any order, almost instantly. Videodiscs also have a sound track so you can listen to commentary about the collection of images you are viewing, be it a historical survey, artist biographies, aesthetic discussions, and so on. If you prefer, you can browse through a collection. And, when used with a computer, videodiscs provide opportunities for interactivity allowing for differences in learning styles.

How Can I Use this Technology?

There are several configurations that are possible, and each of these will affect how you use videodiscs technologies in your art program: Look, Look and Control, Integrate and Interact.

1. Look: Videodisc player and monitor. Use this setup like a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR). In other words, when attached to a monitor, you can show videodiscs just as you would show a movie on a VCR. Simply put the disc in the player and play! Most educational discs have some sort of overview with the disc. The National Gallery disc has a tour of several galleries, as well as over 1,600 individual frames of paintings.

2. Look and Control: Videodisc player, monitor and remote control. If your player has a remote control, you can access individual frames by keying in the frame numbers through the numeric pad on the remote. Using the videodisc in this fashion is much like using a slide projector, except the images are far superior to most slides. What this means is that the integrity of the image is maintained no matter how many times an image is shown; no more red or blue slides; no more annoying rewinds or blurry images.

If you're completely technophobic, there's a new bar code reader available which allows you to scan the code for the image you want; the reader sends the information to the player and the frame you want is selected for you (much like UPI readers in supermarkets). Please note: Because this is a new technology, not all videodiscs include bar coding.

3. Integrate and Interact: Videodisc player (with RS 232 interface) and computer. Use the computer to control the sequencing of images, or sort through thousands of images according to any criteria. Additional information can be added (critiques of works, reviews of exhibits, student reactions, historical perspectives and so on) because you can create your own database of information. The viewer can type in information and create a variety of paths through the videodisc.

The release of HyperCard by Apple computing was a breakthrough for many educators. Up until that time, authoring software was cumbersome and difficult to use. The easy interface of HyperCard and Macintosh gave software developers, educators and students a new tool for creating custom-designed interactive packages. Other authoring languages are also available for use with various computers.

In addition, there are commercially available software packages. Stacks or what Voyager calls Companions are available for many discs. Stacks are available for Dream Machine, The National Gallery of Art, Van Gogh Revisited and others. These stacks are not necessarily just databases. For example, on the Michelangelo disc and HyperCard companion stack, the user can point and click on a section of a map of the Sistine Chapel on the monitor. Immediately, that part of the ceiling appears in close-up detail. If you have audio capabilities you can also hear the words of Michelangelo on that particular section of the fresco.

In the Artroom

The storage capacity of videodiscs means that whole collections of museums can be stored on disc with room to spare. Each artwork stored on one frame followed by a frame with pertinent information and/or historical facts. Most of these videodiscs have been very well produced and contain interesting insights and information. The Mystery of Picasso disc contains a collection of Picasso's works, but also Picasso creating fifteen of his works! Through side-by-side and super imposing images, the Helga disc provides a wonderful comparison of these works by Wyeth with his earlier works.

If the programming of the disc is carefully designed, the videodisc can allow for a variety of approaches, and a diversity of levels. Earlier, I mentioned the Michelangelo disc which, when used with companion stack, provides a map of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It also includes quotes from Michelangelo's letters and diaries. Imagine creating a presentation combining all this information. Zoom in to a specific section, then pull back to view the whole ceiling! Create a narrative that discusses the inspiration of a section, or difficulties confronted while creating it. Write your own programs. Authoring systems exist that allow for computer access and control of the videodisc. And if you haven't the time (and who does?), challenge your students to be creative.

A Final Thought

If advances in computer technologies, software development and research into Artificial Intelligence has done nothing to change education, perhaps the change is in the attitude toward learners. Teachers know there are many different styles of learning, and the videodisc can offer students the option of finding their own path through art exploration, branching out and searching for related material, adding their own unique spin to the exploration.

Think of the possibilities of being able to zoom in to a specific section of an artwork for close study, or being able to access two works of art at the same time for comparisons on a split-screen display. As authoring systems improve and become more user friendly, we may find students developing lessons or writing term papers that access the disc. Imagine, students producing visual term papers!
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Greh, Debbie
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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