Suite can be the main course

Hugh John

The choices for creativity in the classroom can seem bewildering but, as Hugh John explains, a little bit of research can yield a feast of artistic endeavour.

Printer, computer, scanner, camera... or a "creative suite" for the classroom? Sometimes, it's little more than a matter of perception. There's no doubt that students and teachers are enormously stimulated by the creative possibilities afforded by modern technology, whether in music, design and technology, history, art or any other subject. What's not always appreciated, however, is how easy it can be to put that classroom suite together.

Schools setting out on the great digital adventure might want to consult with education experts such as RM or TAG (or, for advice on music, a specialist company such as Dawsons Music or Counterpoint MTC) before installing a complete suite. For many institutions though, it's simply a matter of deciding what they need to buy to complement their existing equipment and whether the equipment they already have is suitable (see panels overleaf).

The first stage in creating a classroom suite is establishing what input devices are required. This, in turn, is governed by what sort of information is going to be imported. If, for example, your students are working primarily with sound, then a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) keyboard, microphone and CD-Rom or DVD player are essential for creating, recording and entering a gamut of sonic possibilities that include speech, vocals, chord sequences and looped rhythm samples.

There are more exotic options. A keyboard with a built-in microphone so that kids can record a karaoke version of their favourite songs? Why not? Yamaha's PSR-K1 Karaoke keyboard does just that, and much more. A twin-track digital mixing desk that lets students mix digital samples including house, drum and bass, techno and hip-hip, and add their own vocals? Certainly. If you're at BETT stop by the TAG stand (F50) and they'll show you the MixMan DM2, (Pounds 45), nominated for a BETT Award in the Early Years and Primary Hardware category. If you want to know how MixMan can be used in a classroom context follow this link.

www.hitchams.suffolk.sch.ukictmusicmixman. RamesysTES ICT award winner Andrew Trythall of Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in Sussex has created Mixman support pages.

If the main focus of the suite is digital imaging you'll need at least one of the following: a digital still camera (see panel), a digital video camera (see panel) and a scanner. It's worth remembering that some devices are multifunctional. Most digital video cameras take still images (and vice versa) and both video and still cameras can record sound clips. If your classroom has a web camera, is it tethered to the computer by a USB cable or can it be unplugged and used without encumbrance as an ordinary digital camera?

Images, text, maps, newspaper articles - they're all grist to the digital mill if you've got a scanner. With prices ranging from pound;50 to over pound;300 for flatbed models there's a lot to choose from.

Two prime considerations should be resolution and appropriateness. If you're only printing up to A4, will you need a scanner that delivers exceptionally high resolution? And why pay extra for a transparency unit for scanning slides and negatives unless you're sure you'll use it?

Canon (stand A50) Epson (stand D100) and HP, three of the leading manufacturers. all have keenly priced entry-level models ) Canon 3200F Pounds 70, HP 1200 pound;80, Epson 1670 pound;90).

Will your students be entering information by hand - "digital" drawing or writing perhaps? Then you'll need either a graphics tablet or, less commonly, a digital pen. Both tablet and pen are highly sophisticated, relatively fragile and portable and classroom use needs to be carefully monitored.

When choosing a graphics tablet, size, emphatically, matters because the bigger the tablet the bigger the hole in your wallet! Schools generally stick to 4x5 inches or 6x8 inches for two eminently sensible reasons; desk space and cost. Within these parameters the Wacom Graphire 3 (pound;85) is an attractive option featuring cordless and battery-free mouse and pen, pressure sensitive pen and eraser and bundled software that includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 and Pinnacle Studio 8LE. (Wacom is at stand V90) The Nokia digital pen (TAG stand F50) allows users to take notes and make drawings - on proprietary stationary - which can then be transferred to a computer via a USB docking station. Additionally, Bluetooth technology enables pages to be uploaded directly in Word, PowerPoint or Outlook and optical recognition software can convert handwriting into text.

Desktop, laptop and tablet computers (page 52) fulfil a dual role. They're input devices but they're also where the creative processes take place and they need to be up to the job (see panel, left).

So, you've finally put together the classroom suite of your dreams? What then? Well, you certainly won't be short of advice on how to use it. In addition to helpful guidance from technology agency Becta, you'll find excellent online resources from hardware and software manufacturers such as Apple (E34, F34), Adobe (W70) and Macromedia (B104) that offer both a general overview and specific examples of how to make the most of your resources. And if you're at BETT, you'll be able to see these resources in action.

Any teacher who has ever worked in a digital classroom suite will tell you that it's fun, it's enjoyable and, for today's generation of kids, it's where they feel most at home. Giving that "wow factor" and that enjoyment a creative and curricular relevance should be a doddle.

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Hugh John

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