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Better self-image

Digital video cameras can improve pupils' games at all levels of ability, says Martin Whittaker

In the sports hall at Tiverton High School in Devon, eight boys are learning to play badminton. After 10 minutes, they gather round a laptop connected to a digital video camera.

"OK, let's take a look at that serve," says Paul Collins, head of PE at Tiverton. A click of a remote control and an image of a pupil serving is played back in slow motion and repeated in a loop. "Now - what happens to the shuttlecock when he's serving?" Hands shoot up.

"It tumbles," says a student.

"Very good."

A year ago Paul would have taught this by standing on the court, demonstrating a correct serve and hoping it sank in. Now, thanks to a new piece of software, the children can learn by watching themselves in action and analysing what they're doing.

The Devon video-based Physical Education Project is a collaboration between Devon Curriculum Services and Dartfish, a Switzerland-based multimedia software company which provides digital images for sports broadcasting companies throughout the world.

They have developed DartTrainer, a system which stores and organises digital images to give immediate feedback. It is based on software designed for analysing professional sports players' performance and has been customised for schools.

Eight Devon secondary schools, including three sports colleges, have been piloting the system in a range of sports that include trampolining, gymnastics, weight lifting and volleyball. From Easter, a further 40 schools in Warwickshire, Durham, Kirklees, Kent and the London borough of Enfield will begin using it.

Steve Kibble, PE adviser with Devon Curriculum Services, says: "It's fascinating to see not just the speed at which the children are learning, but also the impact on motivation. Initially we set out thinking elite performers would really benefit. But from our research the low ability performers are so much better motivated - they learn to visualise movement, to see themselves and perform following immediate feedback."

At Tiverton High School , an 11-16 comprehensive, a Tuesday afternoon badminton lesson starts with children setting up the equipment. The system loads images straight into the computer's memory which allows them to be played back within seconds. One image can be played back while the camera is filming the next.

Film clips can be slowed down or watched in one continuous stream of motion, showing a long-jumper at every stage of the jump, for example.

Images can be superimposed and are automatically synchronised, allowing one performance or movement to be compared with another. The system stores and can build up a database of different images, and with a digital projector they can be splashed onto a screen. Paul Collins has used DartTrainer for a year and believes it has transformed the way he teaches PE.

Previously if he wanted to demonstrate performance on video, time was wasted rewinding the video to the right place. With digital it is instantaneous. Paul believes it gets pupils more involved and motivated.

"We're focusing on performances that need improving. We're saying this is how an average Year 8 pupil should be performing, so we can set targets for them - this is where you are now, this is where we want you to be," he says.

"It is certainly improving the quality of my teaching. In the past PE has been very much on how well you can perform something. We're moving away from that now. It's how well you can analyse it."

Paul encourages students to use the equipment themselves and evaluate each other's performances. It's also a better way of occupying children with sick notes than have them sitting on the sidelines. Another potential use is parents' evenings. "When parents say how's my son or daughter done, they'll click up on screen, and there's little Jimmy doing his gymnastic sequence."

Devon education authority offers teachers two three-hour training sessions and says this is enough for teachers to become confident. Children can learn how to record and play back the images in minutes.

Steve Kibble believes the applications for DartTrainer are much wider than sport. Pilton Community College in Barnstaple, for example, hopes to use the system to help pupils learn languages and is incorporating this in its bid for language college status. The next version of the software out later this year will allow teachers to add images to websites and share them as resources. Ultimately Steve envisages a national database of digital video images built up by schools which they will all be able to access via the National Grid for Learning.

"The potential is massive," he says. "We think the biggest market is not sport but teachers in other subjects. We have shown the software to advisers in subjects like science, humanities and RE, which use video to support their teaching. " The standard version of DartTrainer for schools costs just under pound;800. A professional version which might interest sports colleges is pound;1,800

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