Technology That Enhances Visual-Spatial Intelligence

Today's students have grown up watching television and are highly oriented to visual learning. Slides, overhead transparencies, filmstrips, and movies are important adjuncts to their learning. Copy-machines and computer- printers are also essential support systems for any kind of academic work. When interactive systems are also part of the learning process, students move from passive observers to active thinkers.

For example the VCR, which is available to most teachers, lends itself to active learning in numbers of ways. Rather than running a program from beginning to end, teachers can take advantage of the opportunity to stop, rewind, and replay. Frequent opportunities to discuss what students have already seen and what they are about to see next make possible the anticipatory and participatory learning that are critical to the educational process.

In presenting dramatic productions, teachers may wish to preview a film to make note of the location of various segments that can be played out of context ahead of time for the purposes of comparison and contrast. Or the film may be stopped before the ending, allowing students to guess what occurs next. The VCR is a flexible and adaptable tool that can be utilized for innumerable educational purposes.

It is a logical next step to use a newer form of technology, the interactive videodisc (IVD). The IVD combines into one system all the different media and delivery options, including lectures, slides, films, video, and computer-based instruction. The disc can hold 54,000 frames or slides on each side, 30 minutes of video, and two 30-minute audiotracks. It can randomly access from a menu any video or audio segment in 3.5 seconds, when the user presses a button or "mouse" or moves a wand over a bar graph.

Operated through a videodisc player, a television monitor or two, and a personal computer, the system is easy to learn and operate. It is flexible enough to incorporate other emerging technologies such as compact disc-read only memory (CD-ROM), digital video interactive (DVI), compact disc interactive (CDI), and artificial intelligence.

In a 1986 study of a number of IVD classrooms, IBM reported a 30-to-50% increase in learning scores and a 300% increase in the number of students reaching mastery level.

Geographic Television (GTV) is currently one of the most recent developments in interactive video for the classroom. It has been developed by the National Geographic Society in association with Lucasfilm Ltd., and combines the interactive capabilities of the computer with instant access of the videodisc composed of National Geographic pictures. The subject of the first program is U.S. history with an emphasis on geography; other subjects in the proposed series are under way at this writing.

Another pioneering educational effort is The National Geographic Kids Network, a telecommunications system that links students throughout the world. Students share information with each other about geography and experiments in science using computer-generated maps and charts.

The availability of camcorders makes it possible for students to produce their own videos as an alternative to written reports. Teachers may also produce videos as lesson presentations-- this is one way for teachers to clone themselves and reduce class size for portions of the day!

Students with special needs can also be helped in new ways through visual media. For example, those with speech difficulties can actually see their speaking patterns through IBM's SpeechViewer; from this visual feedback, they learn to make appropriate changes. Students who cannot move, may talk into the computer and it will print out what they say; others who can move but cannot speak may work with computers that say back what they have written on the screen. Children with delayed speech may be helped by using a "Wolf" board with overlays of pictures or words that "say" what they are when touched.

Computers allow visually oriented students to learn through their strengths as they interact with the technology. They can take advantage of opportunities to see and manipulate the material they are accessing or creating in many different forms before they make final copies of a written project. Such publications as Stanley's Exploring Graphic Design: A Short Course in Desktop Publishing offer helpful information on the essential principles of design and how to apply them to the preparation of publications.

By using HyperCard or LinkWay software, students can create multimedia reports. Or, they may create a report totally in visual form, combining film clips, slides, photographs, and other illustrations. These multimedia productions make learning a fascinating process, as students work with knowledge in many forms. Scholastic "HyperScreen" is one example of a software program that contains built-in fonts, clip art, and drawing tools. Each screen can contain up to 15 "hotspots," or buttons, that make it possible for users to interact with the lesson or report.

Scholastic "Slide Shop is a program for creating computerized slide shows, producing audiovisual aids for talks, video title and credit screens, or for creating illustrated pages in student-produced books. Students can design their own screens using clip art, backgrounds, borders, fonts, music, and sound effects from this program.

An increasing number of graphics programs, such as "IPMNT" or "SuperPaint," offer a wide range of experiences that can enhance artistic creativity and fluency by facilitating the technical processes involved in graphic design. Students can create their own works of art or modify existing ones as they explore such com- positional devices such as perspective, balance, and color.

Interactive videodiscs are also becoming more available in the classroom as costs for equipment and software decrease. Valuable information for teachers using this technology is available through The International Society for Technology in Education Hyper/multimedia Special Interest Group and the HyperNEXUS... Journal of HyperMedia and MultiMedia Studies published by ISTE.

An interactive disc on Picasso's painting "Guernica" produced by EduQuest is one means for exploring art. In this random-access database, the viewer can learn about the technical creation of the painting, biographical information on Picasso, images drawn from the Spanish war, and historical and mythological sources of the subject matter. The viewer can ask questions that are answered not only in visual images but also in text and voice.

Visual peripherals that reinforce topics and skills to be learned are an important part of accelerated learning classrooms, and needless to say the task of changing them frequently can be made easier through technological "teaching walls." In some newer schools, entire electronic walls may be available; in others, large screens or monitors perform this function. Teachers and students alike can be involved in creating the visuals for such displays, using material, for example, from documentary files of CNN or from live newscasts accessible through computer networks.

And on the horizon, is Virtual Reality technology-which will make all other simulations pale by comparison. Still in its infancy, this computer~generated world, offers memorable learning in new dimensions. A student dons a helmet or goggles, which contain miniature television monitors, earphones, and an electronic glove. This equipment is linked to a computer that coordinates sensory input with physical movement. The computer monitors the location of the gloved hand, and will create "real" experiences. One of the first programs allowed the participant to "walk" down a street in Aspen, observe the surroundings, and even change seasons of the year. When the participant reaches the corner by directing the electronic glove, he or she can turn right or left to continue the tour, and explore the inside of some buildings. It takes little imagination to project what such learning experiences might offer to students of physics, chemistry, biology; architecture) or medicine.

Although these visual-spatial tools are not essential for the learning process, they do offer exciting and motivating ways to engage the learner through exercising visual-spatial intelligence and make any subject more accessible to a variety of students. They will surely be of major value to students with physical disabilities or other special needs. They will, in fact, move what might otherwise, for many, remain meaningless abstractions into understandable, visible reality.

- Dee Dickinson
© 1998 New Horizons for Learning and America Tomorrow, Inc.

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