Lucasfilm G-Force 12/8/86
In collaboration with Apple Computer and The National Geographic Society, we have designed and demonstrated a prototype educational experience, delivered by computer and videodisc technologies ("GTV"). As we move from development into actual production, there will be significant differences in both how we produce GTV and what GTV will be like. This is an outline of the differences we see in product and process, and their anticipated impact on the design.
Phase One Objectives-
Phase one of the collaboration was dedicated to design and research, not product development. The goal was to produce a prototype educational experience of what could be delivered as an eventual product. We also wanted to explore the computer's potential as an instrument for interaction inside the learning experience. The primary result was a level-one videodisc with twenty-one experiments in image and sound, a new model for education, and a new paradigm for interactivity in the classroom.
The Educational Model-
After talking to teachers, students, and educational experts, we began to develop an educational model based on the notion that learning happens in exciting ways when kids make connections between their learning material, their world, and themselves. We wanted students to have a direct and personal relationship with their material. We tried to accomplish this by using elements of pop-culture that kids are drawn to outside the classroom. The elements we chose center around styles of presentation found in popular media such as film, music-video, and cable-TV. (Had we done this project a few years ago, we would also designed with videogames.) Our goal was to reach kids by using a kinesthetic language of sight and sound they already understand and are receptive to. Using the hip sounds and attitude of modern music, the visual style and pace of music-video, and the eclectic nature of cable-TV, we designed a TV-like context for delivering educational material in a way we think is entertaining and compelling.
We believe that learning is a synergistic process that can be enhanced when learning material has an interconnected structure. Our model divided the material into short segments, each with a distinct look, sound, attitude, and educational point. These segments would be carefully designed to link together on both content and conceptual levels. Our theory was that by providing many of these short segments, and a simple, flexible way to combine and recombine them, powerful new learning experiences could take place as students view, review, and learn to connect their material.
Using segments, concepts would be presented in small, daily portions which over time, add up to The Big Picture.
The Interactive Model-
One of the greatest challenges we faced was to develop a model of computer interaction that could be applied to an entire class of students. It is unlikely that there would be a system for each student, so we recognized an opportunity to apply computer technology to the classroom experience. Much research has been done in the field of computer interactivity. A great deal is known about one-on-one computer interaction but the issue of groups has not been well addressed. We found no useful examples of group interaction and were unable to extrapolate our understanding of one-on-one interaction in a meaningful way. What we did was reexamine the importance of interactivity and its relationship to experience. We decided that computer interactivity is not intrinsically meaningful. Rather than being a focal point, we thought of it as another tool in the delivery of the experience. We felt that the group interactions of greatest significance were the ones that happen between students and other students, between students and the material, and between students and teachers. We did not want computer interactivity merely for its own sake. Instead, our model would use the computer to drive the experience in two ways. First, by being the behind-the-scenes choreographer, assembling optically stored data into viewable segments in real time; and second, by providing an interface for restructuring the presentation.
We presumed an interface paradigm based on the functionality of television remote control. Our notion was that computer remote control could be simple, well understood and an unintimidating way for teachers or students to structure the classroom presentation experience. This model is still under development.
We gave ourselves only four months to research and design a demonstrable experience. Because of this time constraint, we knew from the beginning that demonstrating a meaningful experience would be far more important than demonstrating the hardware's ability to deliver the experience. The hardware used in our demo was chosen for its availablity, familiarity, and immediate ease of use. For the demo, we used two Apple //e systems, a ten-key pad, a special videodisc player, and three monitors. One of the Apples was dedicated to displaying large text on one of the monitors. The other Apple served as a master controller. This control Apple was connected to the text Apple and told it what text to display. It was also connected to the videodisc player and sent it performance commands. We mocked up a crude interface which used the key pad for input and displayed on a small screen. When we were done, we had a working system that simulated some aspects of the experience we hope to deliver with the real system.
One of our most difficult challenges was to develop an organizing structure for the massive amount of A/V data that optical technology is capable of storing. We wanted to give teachers and students the greatest possible leverage in their everyday use of this material. We also wanted to provide a context for powerful, meaningful, new learning experiences. Our solution was to factor the material into short, commercial-like segments.
Things We Learned-
We made twenty-one experimental segments which were pressed onto a level-one videodisc. We've learned a lot about segments since then. We think it is important for segments to be specifically focused. Segments don't seem to work if they have too many concepts or try to say too much too quickly. Complex topics could be explored with many segments, thematically linked to form a series. For example, our prototype segment on San Francisco seems shallow, largely because it is overly broad and unfocused. It talks about San Francisco's location, climate, history, architecture, and culture, but because of its lack of direction, winds up taking us nowhere. Instead of making longer segments, we think a better way to cover a rich and muti-faceted subject would be to make many segments, each concentrating on a specific point of interest or point of view. Thus when we do San Francisco again, we we might do a segment on the Golden Gate Bridge, a segment on Victorian architecture, a segment on the fog, a segment on cable cars, history, physical geography and so on. Over the course of the school year, we think the viewing and repeat viewing of these many segments will build a better understanding of the subject as a whole.
How We Rate the Prototype Segments-
We propose a formative evaluation process to help us refine our work. More on this later. It has been important for us to remember that we saw all of the segments on the prototype disc as experiments, designed to help us learn about our model and how to make it better. We've rated each segment with a scale of zero to four stars based on how successful we think each one is in educational, artistic, and cross-segment design.
Well focused, straight-forward and informative, we think this is a good segment. While it breaks no artistic ground with its simple, linear, narrative approach, it clearly communicates its point and it offers a wealth of linking possibilities.
PPP Mt. St. Helens-
Deeply moving and rich with emotional texture, this is a good example of our format's dynamic potential. Although we still need to experiment, we think it represents the slowest pace and longest duration that is appropriate for a segment. We like the subtle way it presents factual information and think this could be an important presentational technique.
PPP The San Francisco Earthquake-
The only running video segment was not really video, but jiggled still images. Obviously, there are better uses of running video. Where we like this segment is in its tight organization and dedication to a single event. It is short, well written and clearly narrated.
PP Natural Hazards-
This segment seems too loose. It begins to make strong points about hazards in the Pacific States, but winds up skimming through the information without taking us anywhere. We think the Adaptation PSA makes one of the general points with much greater economy.
PP California Agriculture-
This segment seems much too long for the simple message it delivers. The message about argicultural diversity being due to climactic diversity is lost.
---- San Francisco-
Overly broad, totally unfocused, and technically sloppy, this segment is an example of what can go wrong. There were problems in both production and design of this segment. We had trouble getting clear narration from amateur narrators.
---- Pacific States-
This segment was supposed to be a conceptual overview of all the other segments. Instead, it's a barrage of facts, poorly connected and far removed from the intended message.
Segments We Didn't Make-
Although we have not yet demonstrated a First-person segment, our Geographer-on-the-Street attempt taught us that clearly defined intent is important. We think that first person perspective will be a valuable way to make facts meaningful and want to explore this further.
The Logging segment seems to be an example of a Content segment, but other forms are possible as well. A Concept segment might be something like our Adaptation PSA, which introduces the specific concept of adaptation. It might be like our Cities promo, which raises general questions about the nature of cities.
We have not yet demonstrated a Linking segment. The idea is that it works as a higher level conceptual connector, linking content to content, content to concept, and concept to concept. We also should think about Meta-segments, segments that bind together the lower segments and help form the Big Picture.
We found very few cases where running video would give us any significant advantage over carefully juxtaposed stills and sound in making a particular point. We think running video can be important however, and the model is designed to incorporate it.
The segment information, course design information, curriculum, and storage media can be thought of as the Data Product. For the prototype this was a level-1 disc with twenty-one playable segments. The real Data Product will be entirely different. We will make a level-3 disc with thousands of still images, grouped into 250 or more segments. The music, narration, and sound effects will be on the CD-ROM disc, along with a text database containing information about the slides and segments.
The real system will be much different than the demo system. It can be thought of as two products -- System Product and Data Product. The System Product we envision is a rollaway cart with a sound system and monitor, an Apple IIgs computer system, frame buffer or video overlay capability, a level-three videodisc player, and a CD-ROM drive. There would also be a remote control input device, and system software that manages performance data, manages teacher/student data, and provides the system interface.
We have not yet designed the system software, but have these thoughts as to how it might work. We are now thinking of the product as being more teacher-oriented than student-oriented. Everything we want to provide students with will still be there, but for now our emphasis is on teacher use. We want a system that's fun and easy to use and provides tools that anticipate a teacher's evolving needs. Listed below is a rough outline of some of the activities and tools we expect a teacher will want.
- lesson/course plan
- program length
maps and graphics:
- standard numerical charts and graphs
- temporal maps
- customizable maps, chart/graph graphics
- text/graphics overlay
- graphic models/simulations
cut and paste:
- images (slide show)
- images + sound (segment)
- text (handout)
- text + images (report)
- text + images + sound (segment/tests)
Teacher Involvement levels-
At beginner level:
- play a canned program
At intermediate level:
- explore system resources (browse segments, images, text, etc.)
- modify a day's program
- modify programing on a series level
At advanced level:
- fully construct a day's program
- plan/construct programing on a series level
- plan/construct a complete line-up
- design/use tests create slide shows
We think it's important to remember the "atomicness" of the segment when thinking about how the material will be re-purposed. For example, although it will be possible for teachers or students to assemble their own segments, we believe their greatest leverage will come from taking advantage of the wealth of segments we provide.
Other Things We Have Not Done-
We recognize that many aspects of our model have not been demonstrated, but based on our conversations with educational experts we believe we are on the right track. Here are some of the things we still need to do: We need to test our theory of presentation on real kids to see how they will respond. We need to find out how our model for learning will work in real classroom situations and how kids will actually learn from it. We need to find out how teachers will use the system and what tools they will need. We need to design and implement the interface. We need to form and conform to the educational curricula; and we need to set up a process of formative evaluation so we can refine the model as we construct the product.
As well as acknowledging the many things we have yet to demonstrate, we should also consider some things we didn't do that many people thought they saw. We did not intend to demonstrate a desktop video system. We have yet to prove that cutting and pasting text and graphics as one does with a desktop publishing system has a meaningful analogue in the video domain. We did not intend to demonstrate a high-tech filmstrip jukebox. While a segment such as Logging seems entirely filmstrip-like in structure, we contend that it is inexorably defined by nature and context of its transmission medium. Segments are designed to be the building blocks of our model. They are not and cannot be the model itself.
Production of the actual product will be a much different process than production of the prototype. Instead of creating a level-1 disc with twenty-one playable segments, we will make a level-3 disc with thousands of still images, grouped into 250 or more segments. We recognize the need for a comprehensive production plan and propose the following process which is outlined in the attached flowchart.
The process starts with the GTV team (NGS, Apple, and Lucasfilm), the state of California, and our educational consultants meeting to define a product: the disc and printed materials. The outcome is a content outline defining the scope of the product and the curricular demands of the course material.
The next step is the "chunking down" of topics in the product description/ content outline into specific segments. Segments are focused in concept or content, and are linked by the meta-concepts of the curriculum. As a result of this process, we will generate The Map -- a multi-dimensional curriculum outline and segment directory which will show some of the explicit connections between segments.
The Map will be our guide in the production of the product. It will be a shared referent which will identify the content and linkages of the segments. We will probably want to publish it as a poster for reference in the classroom. The classroom system will contain a computerized form of it which will be available as a research and programming aid.
In many cases during the construction of the prototype, segment design was based on the available images, often to the segment's detriment. In the upcoming production, when we find that picture resources are inadequate to construct a planned segment, then we must revisit the segmentation process.
Research and Design-
In this phase, we collect and sort images, sounds, and printed information for each segment. One way of delegating these responsibilities is to set up a "buddy system" where two members of GTV work together as a creative team. Although they may represent more than one organization, their responsibilities will be dictated by function.
Apple and LFL will create a development system, which will permit us to create segments and produce masters at significantly lower cost per segment than the ad-hoc production techniques used in the first phase.
When the raw materials are ready, we will use the development system to make a demo tape of the segments. If, after careful evaluation by an independent judging committee they pass the Good TV test, we push a button and produce a master tape which will be pressed into the final disc.
Thoughout the entire product development process we will want to be evaluating educational, artistic and cross-segment design of disc and printed material. This is a formative evaluation process where the goal is to further refine the model. We propose that an independent committee, made up of representatives of the three organizations and expert consultants, be assigned this task.