Marsh, Richard/Dearborn Press and Guide/14 April 1998: D10
What will likely be the next wave of teaching innovations is under development in what might seem like an unlikely place – the theater department at Henry Ford Community College. Dr. George Popovich, head of the theater department at the college, has been spending large amounts of time exploiting the possibilities new technology offers for the academic realm. As would be expected, the innovations Popovich has developed have been implemented mainly in the theater area, but the applications can easily be adapted to other disciplines. The following is a look at some of the new technologies Popovich has been working on.
In simple terms, the Internet is an interlinked network of computers around the world through which information is easily exchanged. Information in this context includes human communication as well. Almost every type of information is available somewhere on the Internet. It is simply a matter of finding it. Common information is readily accessible. Teachers can obtain considerable background material on a subject. For drama, Popovich literally has thousands of theater sites he can look for material. On contemporary issues, the information is the most current available, sometimes updated within the hour ( world politics, for example). The Internet also allows a person to contact experts on a particular topic for more specific information.
Popovich can retrieve materials like the complete works of Shakespeare and artwork depicting costumes of that period and sets other people have designed for the Bard’s plays. Other obtainable items involving the arts are audio performances by acclaimed actors like Patrick Stewart and John Geilgund.
“I can them play these for students and they can hear how a certain character can be portrayed,” Popovich said. He can also set up a link with a performer hundreds or thousands of miles away so a local student can interact with him or her, even read a scene together.
Multi-media involves the use of still and moving photography and audio for presentation or study. Any teacher can tell you some of the disadvantages of using established textbooks for instructional purposes. One of the biggest drawbacks is you are using someone else’s format for teaching. You may like one chapter and not another, for example. You may want certain topics but not others. Usually, the way teachers work around this is to skip unwanted passages. With modern multi-media, a teacher can tailor a day’s lesson, even changing it from class to class in the same day. A teacher may select any amount of information on almost any given subject and even select the examples to be presented. A special computer program allows the instructor to seamlessly edit the presentation.
In his Horror and Science Fiction class, for example, Popovich scans into the computer photographs from many old and sometimes otherwise lost motion pictures. This is after he obtains the proper permission and obeys the copyright guidelines for such work. With the help of the computer, Popovich is able to better plan makeup and costume design for a play by seeing how various combinations of colors and designs look before investing time and money on the real thing.
Like most other applications of high-tech in the outside world, most people’s experience with virtual reality come from games. Virtual reality provides a three-dimensional view from any perspective, usually with the help of special headgear for the eyes. A person can see the image as if he or she were part of what is being viewed. An application Popovich uses is a visual tour of a Greek theater and the famed Stratford Upon Avon in England. A student wears the virtual reality gear and watches as Popovich narrates what the student is seeing. With proper editing, Popovich can show and explain exactly what he wants without any unnecessary side trips. The equipment also can include a device which allows people to “roam” the tour site themselves.
The device reads the change in position of the person’s head and adapts the image toward the ceiling, for example. Popovich can create his own imagery with the help of a CAD ( computer-assisted design) program or download material like this from the Internet. He can also use this format to show sets from previous shows and experiment with ideas for future sets.
Practical applications of the virtual reality tours in other disciplines include sociology, history, geology and any other area of study where a field trip would be beneficial, especially if one is not practical (visiting locations not currently accessible or earlier time periods, for example).
With the help of the above resources and a digital video camera, Popovich is able to archive as much of the history of the theater department as he can obtain. This includes photographs of previous exhibits, background information on the many shows, and all other background on every aspect of the theater program. Popovich plans to eventually include as many video and sound bytes as he can. This will include scenes from the college’s plays, dialogues by students and much more. If the music department were to start its own archives, it could include recordings of the various groups throughout the years. The art department could visually catalog its exhibits for later viewing. With the three dimensional effect, a person could actually experience an exhibit years after it was offered at the college. Any of these archives could be made accessible to people on the Internet, saving the college’s work in these areas for posterity as well as expanding the reputation of HFCC.