Hang ups

12th September 1997 at 01:00
Few people have argued the case for IT in education as persuasively as Professor Stephen Heppell, the director of Ultralab, the learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University. He must be feeling particularly chirpy this term as, in partnership with the Institute of Public Policy Research, he launches an exciting educational experiment. He is gathering together an "eclectic group of individuals" - teachers, lecturers, trainers and suchlike - who want to explore the ways in which IT "can offer radical new ways of delivering learning".

In a series of seminars, debates and tutorials they will "learn from and with each other". What makes this forum unusual is that the participants need never go to the inconvenience of actually meeting: the entire project is being conducted on the Internet.

If nothing else, it offers a wonderful opportunity for teachers to play an active role in developing their educational ideas, without first having to go, cap in hand, to the school management to beg for leave of absence.

If you are interested you should waste no time in contacting Ultralab. If, however, you are profoundly uninterested, you may prefer to join another ecletic group of individuals - education's unrepentent technophobes. They are teachers who, if asked to list the things that they'd most like to have, would have no hesitation in ranking a personal computer several places below mumps.

Their current hero is Kirkpatrick Sale, a New York campaigner who lectures on the evils of new technology. The high point of his show comes at the end, when he wheels a computer on to the stage and whacks it with a sledgehammer. "It's an incredible feeling," he says, "The machine goes up in a delightful 'Poof'!" Like Professor Heppell's enthusiasts, technophobes never feel the need for formal meetings. Nor do they use the Internet - indeed, they take great pride in boasting that, despite the hype and hullabaloo, they still haven't the foggiest notion of what the Internet is.

Instead, they restrict their communications to disapproving mumbles and groans of disbelief. These are usually delivered during in-service training days devoted to new technology, and always loudly enough to cause the IT co-ordinator the maximum discomfort.

The technophobes shouldn't be confused with teachers who have genuine reservations about educational IT. There is plenty to make them irate: the lack of training, under-funding, the absurd demands on teachers' time, and the prevalence of too much "educational" software which fails dismally to meet the demands of the classroom.

But the only teachers who can legitimately criticise the present state of affairs are those who have first taken the trouble to find out what computers have to offer. They know that if they voice their criticisms loudly and for long enough, they might even be able to bring about some improvement.

Technophobes, on the other hand, do not want things to get better. In fact, they look forward to the day when the hardware goes cataclysmically wrong. That's why they are excited by news of the Millennium Bug - the software error that will cause computer clocks to go haywire, making the machines crash irretrievably on December 31, 1999. They will meet and with bated breath wait for the unmistakable roar of the world's computers emitting a collective "poof".

* Ultralab: http:www.ultralab. anglia. ac.uk * Institute of Public Policy Research: ipp@easynet.co.uk u arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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