The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Videodiscs - The Ultimate Computer Input Device? (computer-videodisc interface, bibliography)

graphic of page

hour's worth of TV corresponds to about 1O" bits of
information. Discs are already randomly accessible
although at too slow a rate. lt does not seem to be too great
an engineering problem to increase the ability to access
randomly an area of the disc given that all that is necessary
is to move a light beam.

I envision that each disc will contain a complete multimedia teaching package.
Thus, a particular disc might be an
elaborate teaching sequence for physics, having on the disc
the computer code for that sequence (including possible
microcode to make the stand-alone system emulate the
particular machine that material was originally developed
for), slides, (one turn around the disc), audio messages, and
video sequences of arbitrary length, all of these many
different segments. Thus, a teaching dialog stored on a
videodisc would have full capability of handling very
complex computer logic, and making sizable calculations,
but it also could, at an appropriate point, show video sequences of arbitrary
length or slides, or present audio
messages. Another videodisc might have on it a complete
language, such as APL, including a full multi-media course
for leaning APL interactively. Another might have relatively little logic, but
very large numbers of slides in connection with an art history or anatomy
course. For the firsttime
control of all the important audiovisual media would be with
the student. The inflexibility of current film and video
systems could be overcome too, because some videodiscs
might have on them simply nothing but a series of film clips,
with the logic for students to pick which ones they wanted
to see at a particular time.

The procedure I envision would be something like this.

The videodiscs would be prepared by some central sources,
either the large educational technology centers discussed
in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education study,
The Fourth Revolution, or by commercial vendors, perhaps
even the current textbook publishers. They would be
stamped out by record companies, and they would be sold in
stores as ordinary records are. Note that the manufacturing technology for such
records is expensive, so there is
likely to be little pirating. It is much easier to copy a magnetic tape than it
is to produce a new record without access
to the master.

Thus, we would have, for the first time in using the
computer in instructional ways, a sellable product, difficult
to pirate. This would mean that all the usual mechanism of
royalties for authors, advertising the materials, etc., would
be possible. Students would carry home a stack of records,
representing courses they were going to take. The record
would be put into a slot in the machine, perhaps using the
student's own home TV set and home videodisc unit
(although it's not clear that this last would be possible
without some modification). The lesson would start up
immediately as soon as the start button is pressed.

Although I refer to the device as being in the student's
home, it might well be in an educational institution, either a
conventional one such as a school or university, or an unconventional one such
as a public library. Indeed, one
would expect that the records would be available for loan in
libraries just as current records are available in many
libraries. If record keeping were necessary to insure credit
or for taking on-line exams, this could be done either by dialing to a remote
computer or by local magnetic storage,
perhaps a spearate floppy disc, perhaps a magnetic area on
the videodisc.

We should not underestimate the needs of computational capabilities here. It may
be that through use of the
fixed storage media, the videodisc, we will be able to get by
with less "reaI" storage, and some fast memory will be
essential. Some storage will be necessary to refresh a TV
screen rapidly; the screen resolution will be very important
so that storage will not be trivial.

How do we get all this to happen, and what kind of time
scale are we talking about? The time scale seems to be on
the order of five years, perhaps a bit longer. The microcomputer technology has
perhaps not evolved quite to the
point that would make this system economically practical,
but it is rapidly approaching such a situation.

The videodiscs are not on the market, and it is possible
that there may be competing systems before the issue is
clarified. One of the most difficult issues isto bring together
people with educational computer expertise and people
with expertise in the videodisc technology. Perhaps the first
demonstration systems will be developed in university
laboratories, or in collaborations between universities and
industrial companies, before companies are convinced of
the vast possible mass markets for such systems.

So far computers, although useful, are not playing a
major role in our educational system. The vast majority of
students, both at the K through 12 level and at the
university level, never see computers except possibly in
courses exclusively oriented toward teaching programming. So the full
potentiality of the computer for revolutionizing the way students go about
learning is not yet fully
appreciated. Nevertheless, this effectiveness is real, and
views of the future of learning which do not include
extremely heavy use of the computer are inadequate. While
one can develop various views of the future (the one in
George Leonard's book, Education and Ecstasy, is an
appealing possibility, somewhat different from the one suggested here), the
prospects are nevertheless exciting. Let's
get to work on it!

"Videodiscs. The expensive race to be first."

Business Week, Sept. 15, 1975.

"The Videodiscs are Coming." Science News, Sept.

27, 1975.

"Videodiscs" IEEE Spectrum, Aug. 1975.

"Video's New Frontier." Newsweek, Dec. 8, 1975.

"Video in the Round." Time, Oct. 17, 1975.

"A Review of the MCA Disco-Vision System" by
Kent D. Broadbent. SMPTE Technical Conference,
April 26, 1974.

"MCA Disco-Vision" (booklet) 1975.

"A Home TV Revolution" by Robin Lanier. The New
York Times Magazine, May 25, 1975.

"Round and Round They Go." Technology Review,
Oct/Nov 1975.

"Videodiscs. The Ultimate Computer Input Device?"

by Alfred Bork. Creative Computing, Mar/Apr 1976.

"The $2.98 Computer Library" by Arthur Luehrmann. Creative Computing Mar/Apr


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