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Devil's advocate

Bob Crabtree sees in video technology a real force for good in the classroom.

Acommon staff-room complaint is that many children watch too much television and play too many computer games. This, it is said, means they have limited attention-spans and are hard to involve in lessons. Some say the only solution is to wean children off of these devilish inventions - though with no realistic explanation of how this might be achieved in a democracy. A less teacher-centric view is that society has irrevocably changed and that pupils, understandably, are making value judgments. If, as this suggests, some lessons are plain boring, ways should be found to grab pupils' attention by making them more interesting, perhaps by using the devil's own tools.

Even though video tapes and schools TV broadcasts are widely used, few in education appreciate that similar material - in fact, material that's better tailored to individual schools' needs - can be produced by schools themselves.

The basic tools to do the job - camcorders for filming, and modern computers for video editing - are already widely available in schools (mostly secondaries, admittedly) and can be bought relatively cheaply by those that don't have them. Indeed, any switched-on media studies department head will confirm that prices are a fraction of what they were a few years ago, when computers were slower and far less capable.

Videos - and the making of them - can enliven many different sorts of lesson. It's common, for instance, to carry out local oral history projects based on interviews conducted by pupils. But consider how much more informative and attention-grabbing a video history could be. Video tape is cheap, and the equipment will last if treated with due care, so the real limitation on video's use - apart from good taste - is the teachers' and pupils' imaginations. Filmed highlights of out-of-school activities, such as field courses, can do more than jst reinforce what was learned. They can also graphically show pupils and parents in future years what's involved, and act as source material for other lessons. What about turning the tables on TV and using video to promote reading - even of set texts - by producing a short book review video done in the style of a teenagers' TV programme?

Videos can also find a wider audience - in schools in the same education authority and outside it. The Internet is set to change our lives in many ways, and there's no reason to think that education won't be affected. Internet, media and telephone companies are rapidly coalescing and these astronomically-priced mergers are fuelled by the belief that we'll be turning to the Internet for more and more things, not least our daily dose of TV programmes, films and news.

But the cable, telephone and satellite infrastructures being put in place to allow high-quality video entertainment to stream over the Internet will also be at the disposal of educators and those who want to learn. This technology can bring education to students outside school, whether on a long-term basis through illness or exclusion, or simply working at home in the evening. Today, the Internet already offers a way of turning projects into permanent resources, and allows individual classes to have their own Web locations, where relevant resources - including homework schedules - are gathered in one place. Add video, however, and the Net becomes a medium more like television - and one where there are no tapes or CDs to lose or share. Students regard television as an everyday means of communication and expression, and once familiar with the use of video find it both natural and inspiring.

Bob Crabtree is the editor of Computer Video, the only English-language magazine dedicated to the editing of video with personal computers. The magazine's website is Bob's email is

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