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Laptops can speak your language

One of the dilemmas of using computers in class in secondary schools is their availability. Desktop computers are not the solution.

Quite apart from the cost of equipping every classroom, they would leave little space for pupils to do other work. Laptops could be the answer.

One solution is to provide pupils with a laptop for their use throughout the school. The Dundee Future Schools project has already examined the issues in a sample primary class and in two secondary classes.

Using another approach, the modern languages department at Grove Academy in Dundee has been provided with 20 laptops for use in language classes, in line with the aims of Citizens of a Multilingual World, the ministerial action group's report on modern languages (2000).

This seems a clear-cut solution, allowing simpler administration. The computers can be stored in a secure mobile unit, such as a LapSafe, where they can be recharged and wheeled from room to room.

Grove Academy's laptops have wireless connections to the school's computer network, where pupils have space to store files. These files can be retrieved from any computer on the network. In the project's first months, there have been few technical problems, which is an essential factor.

The use of technology within the language curriculum should enhance teaching and learning. For continued use, it should be an integral part of the pedagogy.

It follows that language teachers must be comfortable with it: it must sit easily within their level of expertise and not impinge unnecessarily on their interaction with the class. The use of computers should improve the pupils' enjoyment of language learning and not provide a diversion.

Comprehension, vocabulary, speaking and listening are important aspects of language work that can be readily enhanced by ICT.

At Grove Academy, we use PowerPoint presentation software, FrontPage for creating web pages, CD-Roms, DVDs and video-conferencing. It was not considered feasible to use the laptops across all year groups. Tasks fitting the S1S2 syllabus were identified and, at the top of the age range, there were DVDs for use with Higher pupils. This scheme helps teachers develop computer management skills in a classroom, supported by a staff tutor.

Early in the project, S1 and S2 pupils started using PowerPoint, before moving on to web page design with FrontPage, which does not involve programming and allows access to formatting. A page template was the starting point. Pupils can add pictures from digital cameras, the Internet or digital video clips.

Web pages can be created at any level in any language and viewed at home in any browser. Experience shows that pupils are more likely to show them off, too.


Bob Hill, ICT staff tutor for Dundee City Council, talks on Managing Wireless Multimedia in a Modern Languages Department, Thurs, 1.45pm

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