A Multimedia Standard for Educational Videos

Frank B. Withrow - The Dawn Patrol

[Note: Frank was the program manager for the U.S. Department of Education’s television series, including Sesame Street, Footsteps, a series on child growth and development for parents, and The Voyage of the Mimi, a multimedia elementary science and mathematics series. He also directed bilingual television programming that included Hispanic, French, Native American, Asian, and Afro-American themes. All programs included captions. -Editor]

During the Carter administration the U.S. Department of Education issued a request for proposals for an upper elementary school multiple-media television series that featured science and mathematics. In addition to the television component, the product was to include books and computer programs in a comprehensive multiple-media package.

Bankstreet College received the award with veteran Samuel Y. Gibbon, Jr. as the executive producer. Two seasons of the series were produced with 26 programs altogether. Each series included a disabled character chosen not for their disability but for their expertise. The first season had a deaf woman that was a communication expert, and the second had a one-legged female scuba diver. The series began to air on PBS in the 1980s. Each program had a dramatic story section and a scientific documentary section that reinforced the storyline. We estimated that more than 60% of the elementary schools in the US used these materials.

The age cohort star was twelve-year-old Ben Affleck. The series can be found on the Internet today. The Internet site has a comment section that is very informative. Many of the comments indicate that The Voyage of the Mimi was the most significant thing about their elementary school experience. For example, one person said, “Wow! I didn’t realize that this was so old when I watched it. But it was because I watched it like 15 years ago. It was one of the best things that happened to me in elementary school. I learned a lot from it — and I still remember a lot I learned!

 The programs were broadcast on PBS and also available in tapes, videodiscs and DVDs.

In addition, there were email segments that allowed students to ask a scientist questions from the documentary sections. For a period of time after the broadcast, students could email questions to the program and they would receive email answers.

The commercial distributors of the series were also required to provide training programs for teachers using the materials.

We envisioned that all future USDOE television productions would be patterned after this multiple-media pattern. In fact, we anticipated that audio elements would also be part of the pattern. The developers created an audio section of seafaring songs.

Unfortunately, USDOE lost its legislative authority to produce television. Eventually it regained some television production authority but has not developed more multiple-media products. Some series such as Sesame Street have multiple products, but as far as I know only Mimi has had a high degree of coordinated products.

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