Jack Kenny applauds a drama class where technology is making a radical difference to the way students learn
It is an unusual drama studio. The black walls and the lighting equipment are normal enough but the large interactive whiteboard on one wall is not standard drama equipment, nor is the projector in the centre of the room or the laptop at the side. Instead of sitting round and discussing the work they had done during their lesson, the students can watch and review it on the screen. The teacher pauses the digital video so that they are all clear about the point she is making. She uses the whiteboard pen to draw on the screen as she makes her points. Is this the best way to stand? Is the facial expression right? What about the way all the participants are grouped together? The image plus the annotation can be saved and made available to students on the school network.
Drama is not the first subject most people think of when they consider how ICT can support and enhance schoolwork. Yet Kate Fanshawe, in her first year of teaching at Queensbridge, a specialist arts college in inner-city Birmingham with 600 multicultural students, has already discovered the motivation and richness that technology can provide.
Kate soon saw the importance of digital video. "The digital technology enables students to become the audience of their own work," she says. "We have always talked about the importance of working to an audience, and this technology emphasises that. I started off with still images, just bringing the camera into the lesson. I had a digital video camera that will take stills and introduced it slowly into the lesson so that they got used to the camera being there." Kate would simply walk round the drama studio and capture images of what was happening as the children worked. "I wasn't after anything in particular, I just wanted to accustom them to the presence of the camera. It took some time before the students ceased to be self-conscious."
It all started with a project designed to deepen the understanding of the different types of bullying. Kate believes that the ability to see themselves on the screen means they are more self-critical. One of her theories is that as far as drama is concerned "it is never best first time". That belief leads her into inciting the students to reflect on their work, to evaluate it and to suggest improvements. She feels that to see their work on the screen gives a depth and richness to their understanding and helps them improve their subsequent work. "A lot of the time I tape the mistakes when they first start. Then they can look at the images, analyse them, go away, work on the idea, come back and work again."
Kate likes the ICT to be almost hidden, a tool that is used to reach the dramatic objective. With the bullying project they looked at the effectiveness of the still images they took. Did the images capture the right facial expressions? Was the body language in harmony with the facial expressions? Can you tell from the image what kind of bullying it was? "We captured the stills, analysed them, looked at them on the whiteboard, printed them out and discussed them. The drama room was lined with the images that have been captured during the sessions." For once drama was not ephemeral.
Another project was "The Adventure". The idea was that the students were going to a foreign island to do some research that was going to help the world. Kate then introduced the dilemma - there is a tornado coming. No one would be going home for Christmas and it might even be difficult to survive. The camera was set up in the middle of the room simulating a live satellite link-up to people at home giving the castaways a last chance to talk before the holiday. The output of the camera was shown on the large whiteboard.
"The ICT generates just so much enthusiasm in the children," Kate says. "In my first months here I was really struggling with one class and we had to produce this piece to share. I was terrified. They didn't want to perform in front of their friends so we videoed the whole thing. They didn't see videoing as a threat. That video was put into PowerPoint. The group decided on stills and text and the eventual order. They became really engaged with that."
The "Scary Movie" project was built around the theme of tension. The students' understanding of this genre was impressive. They could use lighting, and suggest horror rather than show it. "Kids who don't normally shine worked well on this, deciding angles, lighting. The effect of projecting back on to the whiteboard for evaluation sessions is electric," Kate explains.
"The evaluations after watching back on the interactive board are more effective and in depth than when people have just been sitting and watching the drama. You can rewind to drive a point home. It brings more of a sense of performance to it. There is a sense of 'this is our best, this is our performance'. It makes it special."
Kate continues: "I am not really worried by technology; I came into drama through lighting so I do have an interest in getting things right. There was a real sense of community when we were learning the technology."
The teacher is not besotted with the technology and does not lose sight of her main purpose. "The objective of the lessons is always to do with drama," Kate insists. "If we are going to reach that objective most successfully by using this technology and it is going to help us reach a stunning live performance, then it is justified. It is a tool, a means to an end. When you have the most stunning piece of drama live it would never be the same on video. Video does not capture the atmosphere."
Equipment: interactive whiteboard with sound; digital video camera that can also take stills; laptop computer; ceiling mounted projector. For objective advice see:www.becta.org.ukteachingpedagogytechnologieswhiteboards.html