Social Education 57(1) pps. 11-12
©1993 National Council for the Social Studies

The Great Solar System Rescue: A Highly Usable Videodisc Program

Mary E. Haas
Tom Snyder Productions, which has led the way in providing stimulating problem-solving software for the microcomputer, is giving a repeat performance with their first videodisc. The two key points in the Tom Snyder philosophy-that learning should be a cooperative venture between students and their teacher and that technology should be an aid for teachers who love to teach-are clearly evident in the design and production of the videodisc. The Great Solar System Rescue includes both a library of easy-to-retrieve data in pictorial and graphic form and four investigative problem-solving situations. The four problem-solving exercises are, indeed, the plus that sets this videodisc apart from so many of the others. Working in cooperative learning groups with helpful materials to guide them, students decide how to retrieve a lost space probe in the most economical or cost-efficient way. Through these four problem-solving tasks, students learn to think critically to find relationships between facts and generalizations. To make the correct decisions, students must challenge their inferences and assumptions. In so doing, information about the planets and moons become much more than a description of individual entities; they become an organized set of characteristics of the solar system.

Overview of Videodisc Content
Moving away from the library storage function usually employed on videodiscs, side one of the videodisc challenges and assists students to use information and skills to solve problems. By placing this challenge on side one, the authors indicate what they believe to be the real benefit of the technology and illustrate its use. Adopting the familiar space voyage format and language, including music and sound effects from films and television, the video stimulates student interest. The simulation places students in the role of the top-flight crew of Star Fleet in the year 2210. Their mission is to locate and retrieve lost probes at the least possible cost. Procedures and clues to their location are provided through simulated broadcasts of interrupted transmissions. Students combine this information with the written materials and the encouragement and direction from their teacher to collectively perform the rescue mission.

The kit includes all materials necessary to complete the following five-step procedure: (1) view video transmission from the lost probe; (2) analyze the information from the transmission in small "expert" groups; (3) decide as a class which planet to visit; (4) convene again in small groups to review the characteristics of the probe's location and to choose the best way to rescue the probe; and (5) decide which rescue method to use after hearing recommendations of the "expert" groups. The videodisc technology combined with the computer provides an opportunity to review previously presented information and to purchase new information to help make the correct choice. When the decision is made, the narration on the disc responds to the students' selection with positive statements for correct choices. When incorrect choices are made, the program provides a short logical reason for the failure and hints that Star Fleet will be unhappy with the loss of equipment.

Side two is the more traditional library. Its short films illustrate and explain various characteristics of the planets. Still pictures of various moons and graphic representations of the planets' sizes, masses, and volumes compared to the earth complete the science data. The "Ancient Skywatchers" section consists of four video segments illustrating the views of various cultural groups and their efforts to learn about and explain the solar system. The segment on the Greeks describes ways of knowing that the earth is round. The segment on Mayans describes the influence knowledge of astronomy had on Mayan culture and architecture. The video on the Iroquois and Algonquian relates the story of the Great Bear; Galileo illustrates the telescope's importance in revealing new knowledge and a new interpretation of relationships within the solar system. Both the content of this library and its mode of presentation provide an important addition to textbook presentation.

Using the Videodisc and Support Materials
Users gain access to The Great Solar System Rescue videodisc through either remote control, bar code reader, or computer. When used with a computer, the product frees teachers from a number of managerial tasks and allows more time to work with students on the lesson's substance. Directions for installing the program on the computer are clear. Throughout the program, the computer provides the teacher and students with procedural reminders including when to distribute specific worksheets. The computer automatically keeps a logbook of student choices and calculates the money spent. This logbook can be accessed at any time for review. The technology also allows for replay of clues (without additional cost) that can be halted once the specific question is checked. Such possibilities allow and encourage students to use such important data-handling procedures as reexamining and checking tentative conclusions before making the final choice.

Additional features allow teachers to match the programs with their own schedules and classes. Teachers can reorder the rescue missions for different classes, save programs in process, and restart any program at the point it was saved. The "random student picker" function is used to select which group or student to call upon and helps to assure that all students are called upon equally and that teachers use a random pattern of calling on students or groups during class discussions.

The specific student reference manuals and forms contain clearly written directions and are especially adapted for each role. They help students' small-group work by solving some organization problems. They also assist in freeing the teacher from group organization problems leaving them more time to help students with reading and interpreting data or in making the logical choice.

Following the model developed for his Decisions Decisions software series, Snyder has each student work as a specialist in either astronomy, geology, history, or meteorology and then combine their conclusions to reach a final solution. Each rescue mission is completed by solving two problems. First, the correct planet is identified. Second, the students decide which of four pieces of equipment to send to perform the repairs. Each mission stresses different characteristics of the planets and their moons with one or two of the roles possessing the key to the solution. The teacher's guide provides a coordinated set of three lessons for each problem. These lesson plans lead teachers to the correct information in the library on side two of the videodisc. In this way, teachers and students are encouraged to use the problem-solving missions and the library systematically, and the rescue mission serves as an application lesson. The library index display is flexible and can be organized by the teacher according to topic, movie only, or alphabetical order. Therefore, the teacher can allow students to browse or review the library at will.

The videodisc contains high-quality pictures and graphics and the selection of materials is geared to linking the role of four disciplines (history, astronomy, geology, and meteorology) to increase the users' understanding of the solar system. The library's content incorporates science data from the space program with historical and cultural interpretations. The rescue missions apply common science fiction story techniques to the problem-solving model in ways that engage students who are familiar with science fiction films and television.

Although only a small amount of the material on the disc is directly related to the social studies, it illustrates the connection between science technology and society and the importance of rational decision making. Science teachers will find much from the physical sciences to stress; social studies teachers can raise issues that address, for example, the ways various cultures have used and interpreted scientific knowledge. Or they can explore how changes in scientific knowledge and study have contributed to conflicts within society. The criteria in the problem-solving programs provide a means to approach consideration of the problem of scarcity and its effect on the future direction of space exploration.

Unlike many videodisc programs, The Great Solar System Rescue provides teachers with an easily usable package that actively involves all of the students in the classroom in a relatively short period of time. Clearly, those who developed the program understand the needs of both teachers and students not only for information, but also for assistance in considering large amounts of data. This program is not an adult's high-tech, high-priced toy but a program for educating students. As such, it serves as a model that future videodisc programs should emulate if the videodisc is to play an active role in teaching many students rather than a more passive archival role for a few.

Mary E. Haas is Associate Professor of Social Studies Education at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia 26506.

Recently Reviewed Video Products

The following product reviews have been conducted by our video reviewer, Denee Corbin, Professor of Social Studies Education at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. My thanks to Denee for her continuing work in evaluating these products.

Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1990)
Ellen Bruno/CMS Media Services
2565 Cloverdale Avenue, Suite C
Concord, CA 94518
(415) 680-0651
Contents: One twenty-nine-minute video ($295.00)
Samsara presents the recent history of Cambodia through the voices of the people and their literature, folklore, and religious and philosophical beliefs. This sensitive presentation of the culture offers vivid images of the effects of war and a people struggling to rebuild their lives and their country. Highly recommended.

Unknown Secrets: Art and the Rosenberg Era (1990)
Green Mountain Post Films
P.O. Box 229
Turners Falls, MA 01376
(413) 863-4754
Contents: One thirty-minute video ($250.00; book, $24.95)
With a four-star rating from the Video Rating Guide for Libraries, this video uses art to examine U.S. response to the McCarthy Era generally and to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in particular. Based on the book and touring art exhibit, this video will certainly generate "and-then-what-happened" and "why" questions from students. Highly recommended.

Biting the Bullet (1991)
The Video Project
5332 College Avenue, Suite 101
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 655-9050
Contents: One twenty-eight-minute video ($75.00)
From the award-winning public television series "We Do the Work," this video examines economic conversion of the defense industry in light of the end of the cold war, offering an opportunity for debate and problem solving about an important contemporary issue. The complexities are well presented and not oversimplified. Individuals and communities effected by military cutbacks are profiled, and solutions from business, labor, and political leaders are explored. Recommended.

Grenada Revisited: Lessons for Today (1991)
The Video Project
5332 College Avenue, Suite 101
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 655-9050
Contents: One twenty-eight-minute video ($25.00)
Produced by the Center for Defense Information and drawn from the public television series "America's Defense Monitor," this video analyzes the 1983 invasion of Grenada, including precipitating events and consequences. Grenada's current prime minister, Nicholas Braithwaite, members of the Bishop government, a former U.S. ambassador, and citizens of Grenada offer their views about the episode. This balanced presentation offers students a chance to exercise their analytical thinking skills and to consider the many dimensions of a complex situation. Recommended.

Bound by the Wind (1991)
The Video Project
5332 College Avenue, Suite 101
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 655-9050
Contents: One video ($75.00)
Bound by the Wind examines the effect of nuclear testing on people who live downwind from U.S., French, and Soviet test sites. The video catalogs various efforts to halt all nuclear testing and looks at the politics behind continued testing. Students will find ample opportunity to test their critical-thinking skills and to analyze political action in the context of this controversial issue. Recommended.

Scrapping Chemical Weapons (1991)
The Video Project
5332 College Avenue, Suite 101
Oakland, California 94618
(510) 655-9050
Contents: One twenty-eight-minute video ($25.00)
Also produced by the Center for Defense Information and drawn from the "America's Defense Monitor" series, this video addresses the issue of chemical weapons disposal by the United States and the former Soviet Union. As with other Video Project products, this balanced presentation about a critical issue of global significance draws from a wide range of views and perspectives. Recommended.

Ni–a, Pinta, and the Santa Mar’a (1992)
Only Shakespeare Production Company
2403 W. Rogers Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21209
(410) 367-8855
Contents: One thirty-minute video ($19.95)
The reviewer found the quality of this production unacceptable, noting poorly organized content and low production values. While the reviewer noted that only a rough cut was available for review, she did not believe that a final version would produce a sufficient improvement in instructional value to justify purchase. Not recommended.