If the technology fits... even a novice could wear IT

27th September 1996 at 01:00
She's awoken, not by an alarm clock, but by palmtop - one of those ingenious electronic organisers that a growing number of teachers are finding indispensable. It can be set to bleep, ring, chime or nag her with her own recorded voice.

On the days when she feels she can face it, she flips open the LCD screen and scrolls through the To Do List before getting out of bed. On the gloomier mornings, she toggles to the year planner and counts how many days are left until the end of term. She also glances at the other big dates: examinations, course work deadlines, Inset days . . . and, in January, the Bett Show at Olympia - the showcase for educational IT.

The only people who will have a day off from school to attend the show will be the IT co-ordinator and Gruesome Gavin, the mad techie in the geography department. But Bett is open on Saturday so she will go in her own time, and (surprise, surprise) at her own expense. At least that way, she won't have to report back, cascade, input to the technology committee or share the journey to London with Gruesome Gavin rabbiting on about megahertz and megabytes. As she insists, she's not really interested in computers - she just uses them when it's manifestly the sensible thing to do. So her organiser, as well as containing addresses and diary, has a spreadsheet which holds her complete mark book.

Being one of those poor souls doomed to get her brightest ideas when she should be dropping off to sleep, having the organiser on the bedside table is handy. Last night she dashed off a witty - if rather scathing - memo to the deputy head. "Dash off" is perhaps an exaggeration; she's a strictly one-finger typist (no great disadvantage when using such a tiny keyboard). Inevitably, there are a few typos, but as she waits for the kettle to boil, the organiser's spell-checker sorts them out. And to her chagrin points out that she can't spell "idiosyncratic". Now, in the cold light of morning, she reflects that even spelt correctly it wasn't the most tactful word she could have chosen to describe the deputy head's management style. She deletes it and substitutes "unusual". That's the great thing about a word processor - your first thoughts don't have to be your last.

When she has lengthy documents to write, she uses a PC - but rarely any of the ones in school. She has found to her cost that the computer network is as idiosyncratic as the deputy - and anyway, there is never any time during the school day or the peace and quiet. That's why she bought her own PC - the cheapest, and from a company that offers generous educational discounts.

Occasionally, she grizzles about the unpaid time she spends typing her own teaching materials. But then she remembers what a pain in the neck it was having to write everything neatly in long-hand for the school typist who took forever to process it - and, even then, managed to cram it with mistakes.

Like learning to drive, word-processing is one of those almost essential modern skills which, quite simply, make life easier. With her worksheets and suchlike safely on disc, she can modify and update them in a matter of minutes.

What's more, once Gruesome Gavin had taught her how to use the digitiser - it's as easy as photocopying - she was able to scan in all her materials created in the years BC (Before Computers). Optical Character Recognition software reads the text and automatically converts it into an ordinary word-processed file which she can alter as she pleases. She has been able to do the same with colleagues' worksheets, and material she downloaded from the Internet during an evening's stint at the teachers' centre.

She doesn't have a printer at home, so her first job on arriving at school is to commandeer the laser in the Learning Resource Centre. One of her A-level class is already there, busy at a flexible learning package and not sure whether to be dead chuffed or dead embarrassed that Miss has caught him doing the extra work she had suggested.

The Learning Resource Centre isn't nearly as impressive as its name - really it's the old library with a couple of multimedia kits and a laughably inadequate collection of CD-Roms. But there are enough to give her pupils an occasional taste of what it's like to search out information using the new (well, newish) technology. In an under-resourced school, she can't offer them much more. She books her classes in for sessions in the computer room whenever she can - which isn't often - and reluctantly includes the solitary, and woefully old, classroom PC in a "circus" of activities - but that's not really her style. If the computer doesn't make her teaching better or easier to accomplish, she simply can't muster the enthusiasm.

She mentions this to the deputy head who tries to waylay her as she races to arrive at registration before her class.

"You're scared of the technology," he says. "Quite understandable at your age. Why not let Gavin take you under his wing?" She opens her organiser. Deletes "unusual". And replaces it with a word she learnt while on break duty.

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