Eight ideas for dotcom teachers

27th October 2000 at 01:00
ICT is changing the look of teaching. Lessons are destined to have more audio, more video and more pictures illuminating text and appealing to today's comic strip audio learners. Here are some practical suggestions to help dotcom teachers get started.

1 Add sound Your voice no longer need be the only sound in class. The invention (by students) of MP3, a digital music file format, means sound files are not the unwieldy megabite monsters they used to be. The Web has a vast store of MP3 files (it is the second most searched-for term on the Web, after sex), many of which are copyright-free and easy to download.

MP3 files are mainly music but increasingly everything from foreign language clips to sounds of nature to poetry readings, radio clips and personal reminiscences. You will need to download a free MP3 player such as Music Match (www.musicmatch.com). Instead of using paper, you can record instructions verbally, convert your file to MP3 and email it to your students working at their networked machine. Lessons can be based on readings of literature extracts, interviews or a spoken assignment.

To find sound files, type words like "audio archive" and "MP3" into a few search engines. Many broadcasters, including the BBC, have a wealth of superb, archived sound files, much of it in a format called streaming audio which requires you to download a free plug-in such as Real Audio's Real Player (www.real.com).

And don't forget music - there is no longer any excuse for a limited range of tape recorded songs in schools. Many artists have tracks from CDs on the Web, some with the promotional video, and usually lyrics highlighted on screen as you listen to the track.

2 Add graphics Few schools have access to expensive whiteboards, but overhead projectors are standard fare in most classrooms. Use a computer and an inkjet printer to make interesting, high quality overhead slides with big, landscape format text and colour pictures. Most inkjets will print well in colour on to an A4 transparency designed for the purpose.

The Web is a fantastic store of copyright-free graphics - everything from anatomical diagrams to maps, paintings and photographs. Unlike textbooks, the Web can include photographs taken only few seconds earlier. Publisher Dorling Kindersley has its collection of 40,000 pictures and text from its Eyewitness Guides on its website (www.dk.com): teachers are free to download both and use them in their own material. Search engines are a good way of finding pictures - look for files in jpeg or bmp format.

3 Make a database Before you start downloading sound files and pictures, decide how you are going to store and organise your resources. Steve Lepper, education services manager at AngliaCampus, which publishes online interactive curriculum materials for subscribing schools, suggests setting up a database as a way of indexing all your materials. Determine how you are going to classify your resources - by subject, author, medium - then use your database to retrieve just the resources you want. With a good database and everything stored in one place on the computer, you need never miss outon using your best material simply because you can't find it.

4 Make templates Lepper also suggests setting up templates for repeat tasks. Any word processor lets you make your own templates, the simplest of which could be a sheet with the school's header for letter writing. Some websites, including Microsoft's, have templates ready made for downloading. A good template will make it quicker and easier to create documents like lesson plans in a standard format or sheets that use a table layout.

5view documents on screen The DfEE, QCA and Ofsted all publish documents on their websites in a format called pdf, so you have no need to weigh yourself down with printed copies. You will need a free plug-in downloaded from www.adobe.com to view documents. The pdf format displays documents in their original form, retaining page breaks and tables exactly as they are in the print version. Viewing QCA documents on screen makes it easy to refer to learning objectives and outcomes as you plan lessons and write your own teaching materials.

6 Join a discussion list New teachers who join a discussion list will find a ready-made network of teachers swapping ideas and ready to help with suggested resources and answers to queries. Lists that use email are the easiest to manage. All the list members receive a copy of a message sent by a member in their email inbox. To respond, members can either reply to the list, in which case everyone receives a copy, or to the sender alone. Lists exist for all sort of specialist groups in teaching. There is one for ICT teachers, one for Sencos, one for teachers interested in inclusive education, and most can be found by searching the large database of lists managed at www.mailbase.ac.uk.

7 ICT protocol ICT rooms require a different set of techniques to the classroom in order to manage lessons. You will need an effective way of instructing students; writing what you want students to do on the board will probably fail as their attention stays on the monitor. A step-by-step handout, discussed or demonstrated before students go to their monitors, may work better. Look at computer magazines that instruct readers in how to do things: most combine detailed instructions with pictures of what should be on the screen as you complete the task.

8 Surf the Internet There is no substitute for spending time getting to know the Web. The National Grid for Learning (www.ngfl.gov.uk) is designed as a central resource for teachers but falls well short.

Whether any single guide to such a diverse and rapidly changing resource as the Web can ever be useful is doubtful.

Look out for site reviews, ask other teachers for their recommendations and choose your favourite search engines. Caching useful sites on to the school's intranet is a more reliable method for using websites with students than everyone trying to access them online. More and more teachers around the world have their own Web pages where they share years of experience and pass on their most effective teaching techniques to colleagues. For teachers just starting out, this may be the most useful thing of all about ICT.

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