Interacting with a TV

11th February 2000 at 00:00
Channel 4 Learning is refreshing its educational programming with the launch of a new technique - TV-Rom. Jack Kenny investigates

You can have all the advantages of broadband high-capacity networking in your school today. That is the effect of a new technique from Channel 4 Learning. TV-Rom has been developed from work Channel 4 has pioneered on real broadband school networks in Stoke-on-Trent. Channel 4 has a remit to be innovative but the best innovation is when new life is given to something that most of us own already. The new technique of TV-Rom does just that and it is a remarkable advance.

The implications are enormous. What Channel 4 has done is to produce on a CD-Rom a program that will give 56 minutes of full-screen, full-motion, almost broadcast-quality video. Gone are the postage stamp videos, this is good quality video. Not only that, the disk is also loaded with background text, graphs, maps, links and statistics; and will also work on a standard PC and an Apple Mac. Add to that the fact that it will almost certainly work on your machine; the basic specification is the 133Mhz Pentium with 32Mb of RAM or a PowerPC running MacOS 8. Too good to be true?

The first disk issued is the one that I have used, Rainforest Development: The Amazonian Experience. The material was shot in the forest and originally was a Channel 4 programme. In the TV-Rom format, it is completely interactive, far superior in learning terms than when it was originally transmitted on TV. It is a technique that gives all the benefits of broadband and it can be used immediaely. Also on the disk is a great deal of textual information, backed by a website with additional materials. There are on-screen menus that enable you to play the program through, or to go to sections that have been identified for you. Each section has background material that can be copied and incorporated into a word processor. Each section also contains activities, links and a reminder of the curriculum relevance. There is even an area where you can test your understanding, receive a mark and see where your errors are.

Many argue that TV in schools has been used badly and has contributed little to learning, that teachers and pupils are too inclined to turn it on, rest and let it wash over them, that it is only the minority of teachers who will use it judiciously and well. TV-Rom could well alter all that. Programs packaged in this form are more stimulating, cause more reflection, and are more accessible to individuals than conventional TV. It is easy to locate precise sections and easy to replay.

Davina Lloyd, chief executive of Channel 4 Learning, sees TV-Rom as a way of producing high-quality focused programs that knit together the notes and the websites that they have produced in the past. The plans for the future? She promises new maths and Macbeth disks in the pipeline.

Are there snags? Yes, on the present specifications of most school networks the disk will not run - there is far too much information to be carried. But that should not stop schools and departments who are interested in quality resources from obtaining single copies.

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