(Module reviewed: Macintosh version of Unit 4. Reshaping and Industrializing the Nation, 1870s-1920s)Producer:Davidson & Associates, Inc. (with Addison Wesley Publishing)P.O. Box 2961, Torrance, CA 90509Sales: 800-545-7677Web page: http://www.davd.comAmerica Online: keyword: davidson or email@example.com Target audience:Middle/high school students of US historyRequirements:Macintosh: Macintosh II, LC II, Centris, Quadra, Powerbook, Performa, or Power Macintosh series computers; 4 mb ram required with 2700 K available, 8 mb ram highly recommended; System 7.0-7.5; supports 12" or larger monitors, 256 colors; double-speed CD ROM drive; microphone for recording; mouse; printer; videodisc player (Level I requires barcode reader or remote control, Level III requires computer cable).Windows: IBM or compatible 486 SX or SLC 25 MHz computer; 8 mb ram; DOS 5.0, 6.0, or 6.2; Windows 3.1; Super VGA; supports 640 x 480 or larger display area, 256 colors; double-speed CD-ROM drive; MPC-compatible sound accessory and microphone for recording; mouse; printer; videodisc player (Level I requires barcode reader or remote control, Level III requires computer cable).Software: Classroom Pack (any individual unit) includes: CDs (5 duplicate copies), Videodisc, Videotape, Audio cassette (Vital Links U.S. Heritage Music), Overview Guide, Teacher's Guide, User's Guide, Training Guide, 30 copies of Vital Links Chronicle student newspapers. Cost:$450 per unit; $2,499 for all 6 units.Six units:1. First Encounters, up to 17752. Forming a New Nation, 1776-1840s3. Conflict in an Expanding Nation, 1830s-1920s4. Reshaping and Industrializing the Nation, 1870s-1920s5. The Nation Becomes a Global Power, 1920s-1950s6. Continuity and Change in a Maturing Nation, 1960s-PresentReviewed by Ginny Jones
Description and Features
Vital Links is a multimedia U.S. history program that incorporates computers, CD-ROM, video, audio, and print to give students access to a wealth of data from different time periods in U.S. history. A video introduction (included on both the laserdisc and videotape) introduces each unit. The CD-ROM contains the data and the tools: EXPLORE, WRITE, PAINT, ANALYZE, PRESENT. The Videodisc includes the unit introductions plus all the data, but does not include the tools; the videodisc may be connected to a computer (level III) or used with a barcode reader or remote control keypad (level I). A videotape repeats the unit introductions for classrooms that do not have laserdisc players.
Students work individually and collectively to produce several small products, then use their work to generate larger projects. These range from a "decades in review" multimedia presentation, to a class magazine that investigates diversity within regions resulting in conflicts and resolutions, to museum exhibits on politics, international events and technology since 1960.
General quality of content & instruction.
A great deal of flexibility exists in using the various components of the program. The product can be set up in a computer lab, in a one-computer-classroom, or in a classroom with a mini-lab of 4-6 computers. The "station approach" works well, with one to five CD-ROM stations, a laserdisc station (with or without a computer attached), a station for Vital Links Chronicle (newspapers that accompany each unit), one or more print or research stations, and an audio station for related songs from history. Students are also encouraged to complete additional research in the library or media center. The program is primarily targeted to middle school students but is easily adapted for high school.
The teacher guide and other support materials are extensive, including suggested lesson activities for twenty-five to thirty-two hours of instruction. These plans could easily be expanded or contracted. The guide also explains the constructivist philosophy and rationale of the program. Students access and analyze a wealth of data, ask and answer questions, then produce and present products that demonstrate their understandings. Collaborative learning, process writing, and authentic assessment are strong components. The manuals suggest many small and large group discussions about related data, as well as several very creative projects and assessments for students to produce in their collaborative groups. Individual as well as group grades are suggested. Vital Links is solidly based on current educational practices and integrates a multitude of engaging and interactive practices and strategies.
Language development for Limited English Proficient (LEP) students is also featured. While most of the text and sound is presented in English, the unit overviews may be played in Spanish or English. LEP students will especially appreciate the VOCABULARY program, in which terms, definitions, and sentences using the terms in context are available in print and audio (both English) at the click of a mouse. The WRITE tool allows students to write in any language.
Vital Links does emphasize breadth over depth. Background information that accompanies the 400+ images is basic, often minimal, and the data spans sixty years. While this could be seen as a weakness, I view it as a strength. Students are intrigued by the information that is provided; to get details they must complete further research. What is provided allows students to formulate hypotheses; to investigate their hypotheses requires work away from the computer. I appreciate that aspect of the program. Additionally, the database represents a good faith and successful attempt to include significant numbers of men and women, as well as diverse ethnic groups. Certainly the content goes beyond military and political history to include daily lives at home and in the community, art, music and literature-truly a humanities approach.
Technical quality. Virtually all graphic and sound images in Vital Links are of superior quality. Navigation within the program is easy and was relatively intuitive for my students. Two students experimented with the program for two class periods, then showed me what they learned. They discovered a great deal of content, and were proficient using all but the WRITE and ANALYZE tools. This strategy (having students overview a product for you) may work well for other busy teachers-and it models students as teachers and teachers as learners.
EXPLORE allows students to do just that-explore categories of data in various ways. For instance, unit four (Reshaping and Industrializing the Nation) divides the content into three major topical clusters - Industrialism, Immigration, Disenfranchisement, (and WWI, though it's not identified as such), then further clusters the data according to: Home Life; Community Life; Art, Music and Literature; People; Events; and Geography. Once a topic and category are selected, data may be accessed either via a timeline or through an index of all topics. "More Info" gives background for each image (what?, when?, where?) and provides hyperlinks to related data. Sources are usually cited, though not always. The capability of investigating primary source material and links to related events and experiences was very compelling for my own students. An enhancement is the presentation of facts or "points to ponder" that flash on the screen each time you quit the program-a clever mechanism for ending the work session with thoughtful details, some of which raise important questions.
The WRITE tool is a limited-and fairly clumsy-desktop publishing tool that combines text and imported images into student documents. Several WRITE templates suggest student projects. Paint is an art and design tool for producing original graphics or customizing the images contained within the program. ANALYZE is a spreadsheet tool for analyzing and evaluating numerical data, and producing graphs and charts. PRESENT allows students to first produce "frames" that combine text, graphics and sound, and then to arrange the frames into film sequences or movies.
As a tool for writing and desktop publishing, I have serious reservations about Vital Links. The WRITE component is slow and cumbersome. It lacks the power and flexibility students need in order to take advantage of the powerful database of information-and even to complete some of the suggested projects in an efficient manner. My students and I tried completing a couple of the templates for suggested projects. Though importing graphics is easy, both adding and deleting text is clumsy, and there is apparently no ability to create text blocks of information tailored to selected visuals. One way around this issue is to look at the templates for ideas, then create your own documents with the "No Template" option. At least part of the problem relates to the background "picture" of a page from a scrapbook or newspaper or other item. That picture often makes it difficult to complete the tasks.
Printing is also very slow. It required almost 60 minutes to print each of two, one-page products in grayscale, with simple text and two or four visuals. (The printer was an Apple LaserWriter IInt; newer model LaserWriters will hopefully cut this time significantly.) However, a program revision is perhaps in order.
Reluctant to mention the issues of speed and cumbersomeness without further checking, I did contact Davidson Technical Support. The representatives were generous with their time and ideas in terms of speeding up several machines (Macintosh LC 550, II, III; Performa, 5300 AV).* I was finally able to work with acceptable processing speed on a Macintosh 5300 AV, with "System 7.5 only" extensions on. I did not recheck the printing issue, nor did I know about this problem in time to request help.
My students will use the database and, if possible, all but the desktop publishing tools. To produce class newspapers or magazines, we will try using ClarisWorks or PageMaker as our desktop publishing program. While the hyperlinks to the data would not be available to such an "externaquot; program, the Content and Pouches in Vital Links are categorized into folders of information on the CD, so searching and accessing the data is manageable if not "slick."
A power feature I'd like to see added would be the ability for students to create hyper links in order to connect maps with pictures, or link visuals to the concept maps, or link historical factors such as factory conditions and labor unrest. There are several hyper-linked slides
already created (maps, presidents, reformers, inventions, patriotic symbols). However, we were not able to make our own links from maps to graphics. For my purposes, this would be an important function to add, and would certainly allow students to better use the wealth of information available. In the meantime, my students will try using HyperCard to create their own links. (Perhaps Apple and/or Claris would license their products to be used instead of the WRITE tool in Vital Links).
Social Studies Evaluation
Social studies knowledge and skills are well emphasized and integrated. While the past is emphasized in most of the modules, there are ample opportunities to make "contemporary connections." The content is definitely issue-oriented and thematic, and the themes and issues are significant and enduring (in the reviewed unit, immigration, industrialism, and disenfranchisement). Knowledge of the development of human society and multicultural understandings are emphasized. Discussion, product creation, collaborative grouping, individual tasks within the groupings, process writing - many aspects of this integrated program support personal and social growth of students. Inquiry, critical thinking and problem solving are key components of the groups and projects.
In addition to projects completed on the computer, there are numbers of ideas for group projects and simple products completed off the computer, some as homework. These projects emphasize analysis, evaluation and synthesis; some are completed individually, others in groups. Graphic organizers of various kinds are provided. Many tasks call for connections between the past and present. Ideas for presenting the final products to "reaquot; audiences are sound. Each unit also includes suggestions for extension activities, community involvement, and/or service learning.
All in all I am very enthusiastic about Vital Links and plan to use Units 4, 5, and 6 in my 20th Century U.S. history courses. The complete package is among the best I've seen at creating real-world learning environments in our classrooms and integrating the computer as a tool to enhance that environment. The computer exists in the background; the emphasis is on the students. They access and analyze the data, use the electronic tools, and construct their own meaning-using the computer as a tool to "do"-or construct-history. A wealth of information is provided in the Instructor Manuals to enhance resources teachers have already collected, to magnify the good practices we have in place, and to expand our repertoires. The teaching materials are well researched and grounded in current educational practice. Outcomes are identified. The strategies wed the curriculum with instruction and assessment.
The weakness of Vital Links is in the tools for using the extensive database. While other more powerful applications could override the tools that come with the program, I have high hopes that the built-in tools will be improved. And in the meantime, it's worth the $450 per unit.
5 = excellent 4 = very good
3 = good 2 = fair 1 = poor
General Quality of Content:4.5
General Instructional Quality:4.0
General Technical Quality: 3.5
Technical quality of content:4.5
Technical quality of tools:2.5
Studies Social Knowledge:4.0
Social Studies Skills:5.0
Values in Social Studies:4.5
On the one hand, the government recognized the need to accentuate the positive. Posters "presented images of healthy, strong men and women cheerfully contributing to the war effort. Pictures of fists, muscles, tools, and artillery conveyed America's strength. American heroes and familiar national symbols appeared in high-minded appeals to patriotism....The strategy of ['Accentuate the Positive'] posters was to mobilize the nation with a spirit of indomitability that would carry it through the necessary tasks of war." On the other hand, OWI needed to underscore the threat posed by our enemies, in part by portraying them in ruthless, subhuman stereotypes. "The strategy of ['Miles of Hell to Tokyo'] posters was to energize the public-not with the justness of the Allied cause but with the enormity of the Nazi and Japanese threat. While posters from the first part of the exhibition are relentlessly upbeat, these posters hinted at a grimmer reality of war."
As one navigates through the screens of this exhibition, the program displays a pop-up listing of sound and movie files that are related to the immediate topic. These include excerpts from radio addresses and news features, newsreels, and movies (most of which were produced by the Office of War Information). From each screen of the "Accentuate the Positive" and "Miles of Hell to Tokyo" sections, the user can click on buttons that lead to "World Leaders" (Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler), "Posters" (the core of the exhibit material), "Artists" (brief notes about the poster artists), and "Articles" (background commentary about propaganda techniques evident in World War II posters). Users can also look back at the section on symbols, view an index of posters (by title), search the database, and return to a table of contents.
Quality of content. The authors of Powers of Persuasion have pulled together a potentially powerful collection of poster images, supplemented with radio, newsreel, and movie excerpts, that demonstrate the use of information as a wartime resource. The posters were clearly the centerpiece of this electronic exhibit, but I was pleased to see both breadth and depth reflected in the audio and video clips. One of the typical criticisms of multimedia is its tendency to reduce people and events to sound bites and fleeting images-MTV on a disk. On more than one occasion, the authors chose to include lengthy audio and movie pieces, including a nearly 38-minute presentation of Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech (shorter excerpts from the speech are also provided). A lengthy movie clip entitled "Who Died" is a particularly poignant example of how the realities of the war were "brought home" to every Oak Street in America. Fireside chats, Arthur Godfrey's description of the Roosevelt funeral procession, exhortations to share a ride to save rubber, Fibber McGee and Molly, Tokyo Rose, and many other wartime artifacts from the National Archives can be examined and savored in this product.
General instructional quality. The product excels as a database of resources. The screens and navigation provide the scaffolding for viewing posters, listening to audio clips, and viewing newsreel and movie segments. Direct instruction about propaganda is limited, and the "articles" are insubstantial. Indeed, I would have used the term "comments" rather than "articles" to more accurately characterize this component of the product. More value could have been added by presenting deeper background on propaganda techniques in general, how these general techniques are applied to the posters (and to the radio and film excerpts, for that matter), and how similar propaganda techniques have been used since World War II.
The previous observation reflects the irresistible temptation for reviewers to catalog an assortment of features or items they would like to have seen in a given product. While most often presented as a criticism, I offer the following more as a guide for teachers who will want to supplement Powers of Persuasion with additional material. For example, background information for many audio and video clips is absent, and many excerpts are undated. Similarly, while one can gain some information about the poster artists, the biographical information is sparse. Examples of wartime propaganda posters from Germany, Italy, and Japan would be good, too. I would like to have seen more than three world leaders reflected in the material (a breadth argument), or more effort to explicitly link the materials about three leaders to the techniques of propaganda described in the product (a depth argument). While the pop-up menu of audio and video resources is a good idea, the items listed as relevant to the topic varied widely in relevance, from "right on target" to tangential. Finally, the index and search features are generally based on the titles of posters rather than on topics or events. While I know there were posters relating to the attack on Pearl Harbor, for example, a search for "Pearl Harbor" yielded no hits.
I like the fact that text and poster images can be printed and copied (as text files and PICT files, respectively) for later use. Both can be pulled into Macintosh-based word processors and Hypercard, and can be used royalty-free. Clearly, providing teachers and students with the ability to export resources was a fundamental goal for the developers of Powers of Persuasion.
General technical quality. The creators of the product stored all of the poster images as PICT files, with two different resolutions-one for displaying on the monitor and one for printing. As a result, the images in both media are clear and crisp. One-screen images can be expanded to full screen. The producers rightly suggest the Macintosh monitor be set for "thousands of colors" rather than 256 (change by accessing the Control Panel, then Monitors). This enhanced bit depth improves the quality of the newsreel clips, some of which have not withstood the ravages of time and the migration to QuickTime as well as others. On a Quadra 660AV, the application responded quickly and CD-ROM access was respectable; the documentation notes that Macintosh LC 520s and 575s have sufficient power for the product. As recommended by the developers, move the Powers of Persuasion application file onto your hard disk; that will speed up the application, since CD access time is considerably slower than access to the hard disk (leave all the other files and folders on the CD). You will need 5.1 MB of disk space to accommodate the application.
Most of the audio and video resources are of very good quality; others are a bit ragged in audio quality and visual clarity, but they certainly retain their usefulness. The producers have included a special Macintosh extension on the CD that you might find improves that quality of these resources. The Apple Multimedia Tuner can be dragged into the Extensions folder (in the System folder) to increase the efficiency of QuickTime 2.0 and Sound Manager 3.0.
Social Studies Knowledge, Skills, and Values
Powers of Persuasion supports a number of the thematic strands in the curriculum standards for social studies (National Council for the Social Studies 1994). Teachers can use the resources contained in the program to support the "Time, Continuity, and Change" strand, by engaging students in historical inquiry using evidence that is meant to be critically examined for perspective and bias. That strand is also supported by a study of propaganda in general. The techniques of propaganda and persuasion have endured over time, while the media through which propaganda is communicated have changed. The considerable number of resources devoted to rationing, war bonds, rubber drives, and related efforts would provide grist for the "Production, Distribution, and Consumption" strand, while the efforts of governments to manipulate public opinion through propaganda raise important issues of "Power, Authority, and Governance." Cultural stereotypes, especially as reflected in wartime depictions of the Japanese, raise questions relevant to the "Culture" theme. Certainly, public opinion (the object of propaganda) and commitment to the common good (a goal of wartime propaganda) figure prominently in the "Civic Ideals and Practice" strand.
Seen as primarily a database of multimedia primary sources, Powers of Persuasion supports an inquiry-based curriculum. The topic of propaganda is rich in opportunities to develop critical thinking skills, and a database of propaganda images provides a fertile environment for applying those skills. Finally, when fears of national destruction were highest, propaganda posters of World War II portrayed in high relief the values for which the people of the nation were willing to fight, overseas or on the home front. The issue of core national values is of considerable moment today, and Powers of Persuasion provides some of the raw material for an exploration of national values, then and now. n
POWERS OF PERSUASION
5 = excellent 4 = very good
3 = good 2 = fair 1 = poor
General Quality of Content:4.5
General Instructional Quality:3.0
General Technical Quality: 3.5
Social Studies Knowledge:4.5
Social Studies Skills:4.0
Values in Social Studies:4.5
Charles S. White is editor of the Instructional Technology department and teaches social studies methods at Boston University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Thanks as always to educators in the Round Rock Independent School District, Austin, Texas, for their thoughtful evaluations of the videos below. Reviewers for these products included Nolan Turner, Kevin Brown, James Chapman, Sandy Naylor, Sandy Teague, and Margaret Bradley.
Title: Goin' to Chicago (1994)Grade level: HS (high school)Publisher/Producer: California Newsreel149 9th Street, Suite 420San Francisco, CA 94103Tel: (415) 621-6196Cost: $69.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 70 minutes; Study guideComments: Addresses African-American culture. Subject matter presents a present-day family gathering, migration to and from the deep South, and the history of life in the South in the early part of the twentieth century. Reviewer felt that the video could be shortened and still retain its primary strength, presenting personal accounts of life in the South. Recommended with reservations.Title: Money, Banks, and the Role of Government (1994-5)Grade level: HSPublisher/Producer: Churchill Media6901 Woodley AvenueVan Nuys, CA 91406-4844Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978Cost: $99.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 30 min.Comments: Subject matter includes the role of money, its use, and how banks operate. Explanation of money's role useful for both micro- and macro-economics. Recommended.Title: Production (1994-5)Grade level: HSPublisher/Producer: Churchill Media6901 Woodley AvenueVan Nuys, CA 91406-4844Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978Cost: $99.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 24 min.Comments: Film discusses factors of production and productivity, as well as the interrelatedness of technology and labor. Rich in economic concepts. Recommended.Title: Windows to the World: Vietnam (1995)Grade level: MS (middle school), HSPublisher/Producer: IVN Communications2246 Camino RamonSan Ramon, CA 94583Tel: (510) 866-1121Cost: $69.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 30 minutes; support materialComments: Gives an overall picture of Vietnam's geography, history, contemporary Vietnam, culture, and everyday life. Support material provides help with vocabulary, critical thinking questions, suggested supplementary materials, lesson plans, and maps. Current and archival film footage. Portrays a favorable view of the Vietnamese people. The reviewer raised a question about what the filmmaker intended when referring to the Vietnam War as "the American war. " In general, the film can serve to generate discussion about what is still a sensitive topic. Recommended with reservation.Title: Over Here, Over There (1995)Grade level: MS, HSPublisher/Producer: National ArchivesCentral Plains Region2312 E. Bannister Rd.Kansas City, MO 64131Cost: Interlibrary Loan (individual use); Free copy to curriculum/resource centersContains: 1 video, color, 90 minutes (divided into 4 discrete segments); Teachers guideComments: A high school student and his grandmother discuss World War II. The grandmother shares memories of the events leading to the war (including World War I and the Depression), the rise of dictators, and her relatives in Germany. Social issues explored include the Holocaust, atomic weapons, and attitudes toward Japanese-Americans at the outbreak of the war. A thought-provoking video using archival film footage. Considerable material on the home front. Organization of the film into four segments facilitates classroom use. Highly recommended.Title: Windows to the World: Japan (1995)Grade level: MS (middle school), HSPublisher/Producer: IVN Communications2246 Camino RamonSan Ramon, CA 94583Tel: (510) 866-1121Cost: $69.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 30 minutes; support materialComments: Gives an overall picture of Japan's geography, history, contemporary Japan, culture, and everyday life. Support material provides help with vocabulary, critical thinking questions, suggested supplementary materials, lesson plans, and maps. Current and archival film footage. A good video for a unit just on Japan, or on Asia. Recommended.Title: Abstinence... It's the Right Choice (1995)Grade level: MS, HSPublisher/Producer: Churchill Media6901 Woodley AvenueVan Nuys, CA 91406-4844Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978Cost: $149.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 22 min.Comments: Appropriate for human growth and development classes, the video focuses on the identification and use of refusal skills relating to sexual activity, and validation of one's right to abstain after having been sexually active. The use of young people and contemporary issues, age-appropriate settings, language, and activities strengthened the video. Recommended.Title: Making It Happen: Masters of Invention (1995)Grade level: INT (intermediate), MS, HSPublisher/Producer: Churchill Media6901 Woodley AvenueVan Nuys, CA 91406-4844Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978Cost: $149.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color & B/W (archival footage), 22 min.; Teachers GuideComments: This documentary outlines contributions of African-American inventors from the 1700s to the present. Inventions span the commonplace to the complex. Engaging narration is well integrated with photos, artwork, and archival footage. Teachers' guide includes high-interest research projects and activities. The video's positive message is presented along with reminders of racism and repression. Recommended.Title: Making It Happen: Women Space Pioneers (1995)Grade level: INT (intermediate), MS, HSPublisher/Producer: Churchill Media6901 Woodley AvenueVan Nuys, CA 91406-4844Tel: (800) 334-7830, (818) 778-1978Cost: $149.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color and B/W (archival footage), 25 min.; Teachers GuideComments: Historical overview of women in the space program. Includes interviews with astronauts. Footage includes the selection and training of astronauts and a number of space missions. Professionally presented and well paced. The teachers guide includes activities and discussion questions, as well as supplementary materials from NASA. Excellent motivator for young women considering careers in space exploration and related fields. Recommended.Title: The Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia Experience (1995)Grade level: MS, HSPublisher/Producer: IVN Communications2246 Camino RamonSan Ramon, CA 94583Tel: (510) 866-1121Cost: $69.95Contains: 1 video (VHS), color, 47 min.Comments: The video follows the exploits of a contemporary traveler through Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia. Good as an introduction to the region, the video could serve as an effective interest grabber. The video does not present detailed information about the region's geography. Bungee jumping on the Zimbabwe River, white water rafting, eating boiled worms, seeing the Namibia desert, lions, and crocodiles will rivet the attention of students. Recommended with reservation.