The right use of technology

10th November 2000 at 00:00
There's one thing we do know about the use of computers for learning in the home - we don't know very much. That's why the recent ESRC-funded conference in Cardiff was so welcome (page 4). Researchers have found that there is no homogenous model of home learning. Those homes that do have computers put them to a wide range of uses (page 14). Some families are wasting their money on off-white elephants while others are making serious financial and intellectual investments. There are gaps aplenty.

It's not surprising. In the world of schools and colleges the top-down policies of successive governments are the ways to strive for a relative equilibrium of resources and pedagogy. But as Maggie Holgate, of the Parents Information Network, warns (page 12) "the home is not the world of the professional educator". Homes can be regulated about as easily as the Internet can.

The implications of education's Internet revolution finally struck home in the press last month, sadly for the wrong reason - the Patrick Green paedophile case. There was the usual knee-jerking, but it's far too late to put the email genie back into the bottle. Filtering, common sense and acceptable use policies have proved effective so far. And grass roots school policies look like having far more potential than a top-down approach. As with The King's School, Peterborough (page 10, and Sawtry Community College (right) the exciting developments will probably happen locally rather than nationally.

There's something odd about talking to a PC. But if you've ever sung Tom Jones' Green Green Grass of Home at karaoke (yes, it's true), you'll get over it. Once the embarrassment and set-up procedures are out of the way, it's rather exciting, liberating even. But was my computer's transposition of "Merlin" to "unerring" so wrong?

Online has been looking at voice-recognition systems for a number of months (pages 25-27). This technology is now within reach for most people and is affordable. Many of us can enter text into the computer faster and more accurately by dictation than by typing.

Voice recognition technology will probably not solve any single great problem for education, but it does hold out hope for people who need help using computers and entering text.

More good news is that the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency has already been looking at voice recognition technology and has put its detailed findings on its website - a very useful service indeed. Let's hope we're moving to the point where voice recognition technology becomes so pervasive that, in the words of karaoke inspiration and fellow countryman Tom Jones, It's not unusual.

"Unerring" John, editor of TES Online


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