Lights, camera, pastry!

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Recipe for catering excellence sees lessons recorded so students can watch them on their PCs as many times as they like. Sue Jones reports

It all started 40 years ago with Fanny and Johnny Craddock on black-and-white TV in evening dress, making prawn cocktail at the Albert Hall.

After that, there was no stopping the kitchen exhibitionists: from Delia to Jamie Oliver, couch potatoes have been served an almost nightly diet of super-chefs.

Now it's the turn of the lecturer-cum-chef to step into the limelight, backed by the latest gadgetry.

Lewisham and Redbridge colleges share one of the most advanced kitchens in Europe. And what happens there is relayed via the web nationwide. For students and trainees who do not have a broadband connection, there are CDs and DVDs of the latest gourmet demonstrations.

The same broadband technology allows video-conferences between the colleges and the Hotel and Catering Training Company. Students can watch demonstrations by chefs outside college and ask them questions. Soon, they will be able to pay virtual visitsto see what goes on behind the scenes at some of London's top restaurants.

Last week, the kitchen had its first showbiz moment. The "Get Set, COOK!"

competition for east London students was hosted by Lewisham and broadcast to participating colleges on the internet.

Based on the BBC2 show Ready Steady Cook, students had to make a main course in 30 minutes from a bag of secret ingredients.

The joint industry-college enterprise is the country's first catering centre of vocational excellence.

But there is much more to the e-kitchen than simple web broadcasting, says Robin Ghurbhurun, head of e-learning:

"It's not a new pedagogy, but another way of distributing it," he says.

"It's taking paper handouts to another level. The learners' experiences are being enhanced."

Students can access the recorded teaching sessions at any time. This means they can watch their own tutors in familiar surroundings, reviewing the class as many times as they need.

Extra materials can also be built in to the recording, to reinforce the main learning points. It is also possible to create bite-sized revision materials, from health and safety quizzes to "10 ways to cut carrots".

All this has implications for the way staff work. Teachers have to be aware of camera angles as they teach and improve their presentation style, says Mr Ghurbhurun. He hints that this may come more easily to chefs than to some in other curriculum areas.

Teachers will also need technical back-up to create the new digital learning materials.

Mr Ghurbhurun says:"We need to look at new structures and roles within the institution. There will be a new role for technicians who understand the curriculum area as well as the technology.

"Teachers have to sit down with an editor and decide what learning they want to demonstrate. We can put the bells and whistles on, but the tutor has to have control.

"We analyse the IT needs of staff and give bespoke training. We're running 23 different courses for tutors in using IT this term."

The pound;200,000 to do all this has come from Lewisham's status as a centre of vocational excellence (CoVE) in catering.

"We would have done this but on a much smaller scale without the CoVE," says Nick Edwards, head of vocational learning.

"It meant we could buy really good catering equipment - and it's a testbed for everyone else."

By recording lessons, students can discuss each other's work and so can teachers. They can share good practice and look at each other's teaching styles. Kitchens may be notoriously theatrical places. But at Lewisham the soup and rissoles simmer in an atmosphere of calm attention.

Assisted by two of his NVQ students, lecturer Max Schlaepfer is demonstrating how to divide the rissole mixture and maked it into neat little balls.

Despite motorised cameras, an interactive whiteboard, flat-screen monitors and Max's radio microphone, no one is playing to the camera.

It's plainly not showbiz - it's just better teaching and learning.

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