Every Kansan should experience the Hutchinson Cosmosphere, or a similar IMAX theater found in science museums. The screen extends overhead and side-to-side beyond your peripheral vision. There is no border to frame the picture. They issue serious warnings about getting airsick. The audience gasps and dodges as we speed around a racetrack, hurtle over cliffs, or lift off with the Space Shuttle. You will not forget the blazing oil fires of Kuwait because your brain says “you are there.”
Now switch to the normal community theater screen. Yes, “Halloween Part 56" can be pretty scary. But the screen edge is always visible, and you aren’t really “in” the picture like you are with an IMAX screen.
And then you rent “Halloween Part 56" again—to watch with some friends—and where did the scariness go? We all know movies have more impact “on the big screen.” Watching a video at home IS cheaper. More convenient. But also more “ho hum.” More “forgettable.”
Does this really matter? In the entertainment realm, I am glad to let it play out as it will.
But in education, the stakes are more important, and “forgettable” is a problem.
Veteran teachers already know what I mean. Through the 1980s, we showed 16mm films. Despite the clicking and occasional jumping splices, it projected on a large full-color screen. Students paid attention. Then administrators decided we had to ditch the films for the new videotapes shown on classroom TVs.
I call them “postage-stamp videos” since the screen is about the size of a postage stamp held at the end of a students arm when viewed from mid-classroom. The captions and labels, designed for the larger screen, were too small to be read. And students, conditioned at home to watching TV while eating and socializing, brought those bad habits to the classroom.
Recently we gained videoprojectors so we can again project on a large classroom screen at ten times the cost of the old 16mm films. But the detail is fuzzy and High Definition has yet to make its way into the classroom.
Now we have the arrival of the I-Phone. The postage-stamp video is hyped as television–internet–computer—and now phone, all rolled into one. Without any research showing it is effective, some Kansas educational institutions have jumped on the bandwagon to offer podcast courses and appear hi-tech. But not the advertisers. You have had two years of being able to download Comedy Central and your favorite soap operas. Advertisers know what you and I also know; the tiny screen just isn’t that commanding.
This year I eagerly awaited installation of a high definition (HD) video-projector for my 14x14 foot classroom screen. We turned on the HD unit and sadly, each pixel on the 1080 line screen was the width of my finger. I shot a 2"x2" Kodak carousel slide next to the HD image and the “modern” technology was no match for the old technology with infinite pixels and infinite color. It was then I realized that we will never return to the quality of the older equipment.
I don’t mind if entertainment is forgettable.
But our students deserve a big-screen memorable education.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.