Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

7th January 2000 at 00:00
Teaching is not just about content, you know - good presentation is essential for getting your message across. John Davitt takes a look at presentation aids

Has everybody got that? For years this innocent interrogative has been the most unanswered question in classrooms. And even if pupils had not "got it" the choice of suffering in silence was usually more attractive than going live about your ignorance in front of your peers.

Poor classroom design, inherently noisy environments, a paucity of audio-visual aids and hearing and visual difficulties all contribute to a workplace where the student fails to receive what the teacher transmits. As always technology is part of the problem and part of the solution. The computer, once banished to cupboards, is galloping towards the front of the classroom to appear on large colour screens. Speech amplification is also helping students hear their teacher more clearly. So as more effective methods of presentation open up for teachers, the key now is to consider the design of the whole learning environment, and not just to focus on one component part.

Research shows there is an 80 per cent improvement in recollection of images displayed above a student's eye level - Ja finding that confirms the value of the overhead projector. Some schools are breathing fresh life into this resource by producing colour acetates. Accelerated learning techniques are pointing to the importance of colour as a highlighting and classifying tool, but up until now it has been too expensive. Now colour lasers like the Lexmark Optra 1275 produce stunning colour overhead projections in seconds. Even small primaries can take an image from the Internet to the classroom in seconds via the overhead projector.

The quality of sound and the teacher's voice has also been overlooked in many schools and research here tells a worrying tale of comprehension rates dropping from 89 per cent at the front to 36 per cent for children at the back of the class.

A research project at London's City University recently proved that slight amplification of the teacher's voice can make an enormous difference for students. The technique known as "sound-field amplification" (SFA) is now being used in many UK schools. BioAcoustics is working with academic researchers to build and install sound systems suited for classroom use. Typically, they involve a small radio microphone for the teacher and four speakers. Schools with large computer suites must consider how Miss can be heard above the clamour of the laser printer and 20 cooling fans. VideoLogic has launched a surround-sound system for computers, the Sirocco Crossfire. This system generates a clear sound from any 3D or stereo source capable of filling larger classroom.

Data projection facts Data projectors can now be used to share a computer display with a whole class or year group. As the price drops and brightness increases these devices are becoming a standard feature in many schools.

Proxima's new C1 projector (see Boxlight stand at BETT) combines excellent brightness with easy portability. Similarly the Phillips Hopper range combines bright projection with whisper-quiet operation. A brightness of 600 lumens is he minimum requirement for those buying a projector - Jthis will work well even in fairly bright locations and you should expect to pay a little over pound;2,000 for such a machine. For whole-school use, projectors of 2,000 lumens output are now on the market. These machines, like the impressive Mitsubishi LVP-X300, are capable of turning the school hall into a film theatre. Just Projectors specialises in classroom projection systems and it has seen a dramatic increase in sales in the past year.

Tales from the chalkface Interactive whiteboards take classroom presentations even further by combining a projector with a large interactive screen teachers can write on; they allow teachers and students to display and annotate any computer image by touching their pen to the screen. Several companies offer robust and time-proven packages for school - Promethean and RM have a range of products in this area.

There has also been much praise from the chalkface for the new Hitachi Whiteboard, as it comes with excellent control software which allows handwriting to be turned into computer text - Jteachers' whiteboard notes can now be saved to the school intranet at the end of a lesson. The Interactive Whiteboard Company develops a range of uses for such boards. Generally a 70-inch board with control software will cost around pound;2,000 to which you have to add the cost of a projector and installation giving a total of around pound;5,000.

At Shirelands High School, Smethwick, headteacher Mark Grundy is convinced of the value of interactive whiteboards: "Since having the Hitachi whiteboard we have become more creative in lessons," he says. "One student, Khaled, recently won an award for his rendition of the weather forecast in French.

"He used the whiteboard and his own PowerPoint presentation to create a superb, interactive programme with graphics, charts and moving images plus a written and spoken French language commentary."

Looking to the future A glimpse of the future will be provided by RM at BETT 2000 when it previews the next generation of plasma screens. These 50-inch screens, so beloved of the TV news studio, will have touch-screens so they become fully interactive video walls.

A low-cost, interactive option is the "mimio", a device which fits to the side of standard classroom whiteboard. Using special pens and an invisible grid it connects to the computer and projector to create an interactive whiteboard environment. You can see it at BETT on the Mayflower stand.

Finally, a device to free presenters from the keyboard is the TrackMan, from Logitech, an elongated mouse that lets you travel as far as you like around the classroom. Click the buttons and signals are sent to the computer by radio wave. PowerPoint at 40 yards is now a reality.

BioAcoustics Stand: Q47 Tel: 01582 431 000Boxlight Stand:C132 www.boxlight.comThe Interactive Whiteboard Company Stand: Q40 www.iwb.co.ukJust Projectors Stand: G90www.projectors.co.ukMayflower Stand: E160 Tel: 0800 9802880 www.mimio.co.ukPromethean Stand: A70 Tel: 01254676921RM Stand: D50E50 www.rm.comOther contactsLexmark www.lexmark.co.ukLogitech www.logitech.comMitsubishi Tel: 01707 276100Videologic www.videologic.com

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