31st March 2000 at 01:00
ENGLISH IN THE DIGITAL AGE: Information and communications technology and the teaching of English. Edited by Andrew Goodwyn. Cassell. pound;15.99

One of the difficulties in writing (and reviewing) a book about the future benefits of computer technology in the classroom is that the accounts are often as virtual as the subject matter. There is clearly vast potential and much that we now take for granted will undoubtedly change, but as in the accounts of the extravagant floatations of e-commerce on the stock exchange, it is impossible to separate the hollow claims from the significant lessons.

As the title suggests, English in the Digital Age is a series of essays about the use of computers in English teaching. They range from the speculative - what our classrooms will look like in five years' time - to the more concrete - what is currently going on in schoolrooms. These perspectives are taken from around the globe, including the United States, Australia, Northern Ireland and England.

The Americans explore their own encounters with computer games; the Northern Irish and Australians examine actual lessons, while the English speculate. What unites them all is the predominant sense that English is an arts subject. And it is this that makes English in the Digital Age very diffeent from previous volumes of this type, which stress the more generic benefits of the communications and information age.

The tone of this collection is set when Andrew Goodwyn uses the Idylls of the King as an extended metaphor for understanding the current climate of change, though he carefully omits the gloomier mood of another Tennyson poem, Locksley Hall Sixty Years After.

Richard Andrews's essay is a clear plea for English teachers not to neglect the strengths of their subject, as he looks to the potential to be found in creating on screen. ICT, he argues, allows pupils unique opportunities to combine all the arts - written, visual and aural. Stephen Clarke asks us to consider the potential of the Internet for making available the full range of Shakespeare's texts and taking ownership of the plays. Even the computer games are literary in bent.

In a sense, how much any of what is suggested will come to pass is not the point. What is significant is that those who have traditionally been concerned with the power of language as an art form begin to speculate on their unique contribution to the digital age. This volume of essays goes some way to starting that debate.

Bethan Marshall Bethan Marshall is a lecturer ineducation at King's College London

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