Hang Ups

18th August 1995 at 01:00
What is it about these sultry August evenings that evokes this eerie sense of deja vu? Is it the poignancy of honeysuckle on the warm breeze, perhaps or that first tremble of autumn in the sycamore? No, it's the television schedules which, as usual, are packed with repeats. We may groan about them, but audience research reveals that we actually enjoy reciting Basil Fawlty's lines along with him, or watching re-runs of detective shows when we know exactly whodunnit.

Children, in particular, never tire of seeing the same thing. They'll save up precious pocket money to buy the video of a movie they've already watched in the cinema, or spend Saturday mornings suffering the banalities of children's television in the half-hope that their favourite pop video will be played for the umpteenth time.

Wily teachers, wishing to capitalise on this appetite for repetition, should consider videoing their lessons. There's no need to emulate the big budget spectaculars of Michael Jackson; all it takes is a tripod and a camera. Pupils "live" performance, might well be prepared to run and re-run the video until the "cognitive penny drops".

I borrowed that phrase from Differentiation: Taking IT Forward, the latest publication from the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET). As well as the ingenious idea of videoing lessons, its 40 colourful pages illustrate many other ways in which new technology can help the busy teacher perform that fiendishly difficult trick of catering for the varying levels of ability within a class. Desktop publishing, for instance, makes it relatively easy to produce several permutations of the same worksheet. It needn't involve more than replacing difficult vocabulary with simpler words, or adding a few helpful graphics to make it a bit easier to decipher the text.

But, as the authors explain, computers really prove their worth when pupils use them for themselves. The booklet is packed with examples of how multimedia presentations can be far more memorable than chalk and talk, and how computer simulations can help pupils to grasp difficult concepts in a way that no amount of earnest explanation ever could. Above all, the computer offers pupils golden opportunities to learn from their mistakes. Once they've mastered the Delete key or a program's Undo function, they know they're free to perpetrate the most elementary howlers without being machine-gunned by a teacher's tut-tuts.

Old computing hands will inevitably feel a touch of deja vu as they read a booklet which repeats (albeit very stylishly) the arguments that IT enthusiasts have been propounding since the first BBCs were sneaked into schools. Is there any point, then, in going over the same old ground in yet another glossy publication?

Apparently there is. Sir Ron Dearing, Ofsted inspectors, employers, parents and, of course, pupils might be convinced by the case for IT but, according to NCET, only 56 per cent of primary school teachers and 34 per cent of those in secondary school make regular use of computers in their classrooms. In a concerted effort to persuade the rest that they are missing out, NCET is not only churning out literature, but has also produced a series of nine television programmes on topics such as using IT for Special Needs and for Individualised Learning. Each programme will be broadcast on the first Wednesday of every month, and then repeated on the three subsequent Wednesdays but at the ludicrous time of 4.00am.

Of course, it's the IT enthusiasts in schools who will go to the bother of recording them, in the hope that their reluctant colleagues will replay them often enough for the cognitive penny to drop.

Differentiation: Taking IT Forward, Pounds 7.50. NCET, Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry CV 4 7JJ. Teaching and Learning with IT, BBC2, from October 4

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