Production Journal: Nov. 15, 1994

Yesterday we went to a junior high on Long Island to show pieces of the plan to some kids and find out if the interactivity exercises will work. It was quite fascinating. Not surprisingly, volcanoes are of great interest. Despite the limitations of using small group reactions to base decisions on, we felt strongly that some exercises which were in danger of being abandoned would actually work well. Some exercises were almost too easy, but we figure there ought to be a range of levels of difficulty. We attract a pretty broad audience.

A lot of producers hate research. Their attitude is, We Know What Works and all these little tests either tell us what we know already or they are wrong. That is an approach that has always seemed out of sync with education, or with complex collaborative efforts involving intellectual content that is not going to be mastered by the producer. A feature film, with a story to tell, then yes, perhaps that authoritarian approach works, is even superior. But if the content of the program is being contributed by a source that is far removed from the crafts of production -- like a museum curator or a scientist or an educator -- then a cooperative spirit is the only chance of getting a superior result. In Jason, the collaboration is even more complex since it is partly driven by technology. The people who contribute that expertise have to be wedded to the people who know the subject and the people who understand the audience. To say nothing of the production people who have concerns straddling all boundaries and who are in the best position to synthesize the disparate points of view. Research aids that process greatly, because it allows the audience to speak. Ordinarily, the audience is represented by one group or another, but when they speak for themselves sometimes the message comes through in a new way.

Tomorrow I will spend most of the day with Art Wolff, the TV director. We will review everything we know about the content of the program, and start carving out the structure to hold it all together. We also will look at all the contingencies -- the what happens if the volcano stops; the helicopter can't fly due to high winds the first week; the bugs just sit there and look at us; clouds cover the views of Jupiter. But mostly we need to begin the scripting process.

The major point I want to make in this session will be that the style Jason has had in the past needs to be changed to be more like a live encounter. Jason has strived for this ideal, for telepresence not only technologically but in tone and voice, but I am determined to make that my primary goal. The scientists need to address the audience directly, with intimacy and relaxed candor. This is not a new idea, of course, but, like everything else I mention in this diary, "It's harder than it looks."

We are also going to meet some of the Argonauts who live in the area round New York. A second goal I have is to make the argonauts carry more of the load in the show, but this is going to be difficult due to the problem of scheduling. The argonauts are in two groups, so we have turnover in the middle of the show. And it takes a few days to get into the swing of a show, so just as they get comfortable in front of a camera we will lose them. Still, there has to be a way to make kids play a central role. I'm hoping Art has some good ideas.

Then it is off to Boston, where we have three days of intense examination of the plan with our downlink partners, whom we call PINS. This is our most knowledgeable audience, and we always learn a great deal from these meetings. I am most focused on the broadcast, but the meetings also go into the envelope of other activities that support and amplify the one-hour auditorium experience. The on-line aspects of Jason are growing daily more important, and this year the broadcast is integrated with network-based activities like never before. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't stay aloof from the cyberspace applications. In fact, I am intensely interested. Jason may be the most advanced educational media application in the world, but the world is changing fast.

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Gene Carl Feldman ( (301) 286-9428
Todd Carlo Viola, JASON Foundation for Education (