Make sure you switch off the mike when you leave

26th September 2003 at 01:00
I confess I'm not practically minded. If a drawer won't open, do I look to see what's causing the jam? No - my first reaction is to tug harder until the handle comes off.

My husband is the opposite. He's a man who knows how things work. The problem is he will try to explain this to me. A replacement ballcock, for instance. "Look,' he will say, "this is quite ingenious. So simple." My eyes glaze over and suddenly I understand completely how some of my learners feel when I'm trying to explain the use of the apostrophe. "It's boring," I whine ( having learnt this tack from students).

A born teacher, he's not put off. "No it's not," he'll say firmly, "this is really interesting." Not to me, my sweet. I seem to be pretty much alone in my antipathy, however. My girlfriends own their own power drills, for goodness' sake.

How impressive is that? Not as impressive as the fact that my mother-in-law has her own set of screwdrivers for those essential little jobs around the home - like rewiring the attic, I suppose, or stripping down the washing machine to replace the bushes.

Imagine my surprise and pleasure, then, in discovering that the world of IT and I go together like Posh and Becks, and that someone who doesn't know her arm from her float in the ballcock department is regarded as bit of an anorak.

I started early. My first computer was a cute little Radioshack model which had a nasty habit of crashing just when you'd typed around 3,000 words and were beginning to think it was about time you saved to file. In those days, computers were heartless machines. "Please give me back my work," you would beg, but there was no discussion.

Now, of course, they are friendly and helpful. "Are you sure?" they'll prompt whenever you try to make a decision all by yourself. "If you cancel now you will lose any unsaved work," they will caution, and you just know that they are itching to add: "Well don't say I didn't warn you - you wouldn't listen, though, would you?"

My current computer anticipates my every move and even dares makes suggestions as to what I want to type next. Yet word-processing is a minor function. How did I manage without e-mail, virtual learning environments and Powerpoint, without internet, intranet and CD-Rom?

We have come a long way from talk and chalk. And some days, lest we get too cocky, we discover we have still a ways to go.

My colleague came to show me the tiny mike she was wearing for the benefit of a student with hearing difficulties. Should I wear the belt pack this way or that, she wondered, and we discussed whether it spoiled the line of her nice new top. We chatted as we walked the length of the corridor about this and that. Yup, that day we learnt the hard way about rule number one: make sure you switch off your mike when you leave the classroom.

Her student had a good giggle, we scared the wits out of ourselves imagining what we might have said but didn't, and my colleague now has to prove she's not wired for sound before anyone will talk to her. "Are you sure?" we'll prompt, like a friendly computer.

But you can't stop the revolution and the latest phase of IT development in our college has provided us all with laptops. They have got all the latest bells and buttons and now I'm the one who insists on showing a reluctant colleague the potential of a new piece of software.

"No really," I hear myself saying, "this is quite ingenious. So simple."

"It's boring," they whine.

"No it's not," I say firmly, "this is really interesting."

Dr Carol Gow is a lecturer in media at Dundee College.

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