Upgrade your insanity level

11th February 2005 at 00:00
So interactive whiteboards will make you blind. So what? As a long suffering fan of anything post chalk, I think the risk is small compared to the likelihood of going completely loopy with some of the other wizardry on the market. Blind or batty, take your pick.

If these expensive toys are going to cut up rough, write on your whiteboard with an indelible felt-tipped pen, just for spite. Want to know the best present to buy teachers on their birthday? A sledgehammer. Preferably one that can flatten a laptop or a data projector with a single well-aimed blow.

The other week I prepared to show a DVD Rom to a group of teachers. It has some brilliant video clips and usually works perfectly. None of the visuals ap-peared at all. We tried another laptop. Zilch. A nice empty video window.

Er, this is a black square ...

The video part of the DVD I wanted to show was about how flying a kite was a great illustration of vectors. I was not prepared to mime it. "Let's pretend I'm the kite. Right? Now you all be the wind and blow as hard as you can." No thanks. Where's the chalk?

The first time I did a satellite conference lecture I thought the audience, hundreds of miles away, must have gone home. Joke number one was greeted in silence. When I was half way through a rather serious point, there was a sudden explosion of raucous guffaws. No one had told me there was a delay, so the audience was always a few seconds behind.

Then it came to question time. A grainy, distorted figure called Malcolm, as far as I could gather, appeared on my monitor. In the dim light he looked like something that had arrived from planet Gruesome in a low-budget horror movie.

"Groo you think ooducation is grenging berrsssssser?" Malcolm asked.

Aaaargh! Aliens have landed. Run for your life.

If whiteboards can send you blind, then PowerPoint presentations can surely make you demented. Most fun is to be had when there is supposed to be an internet link. Sid Cyberspace, the evil little gremlin who spends his life bogging up such events, has probably severed a few wires, because everything worked perfectly in rehearsal.

Come the real thing, slides race way ahead of the speaker, who gets into a spiralling panic, tries to go backwards, only to end up on Alpha Centauri, no chance of finding the original thread. Sid Cyberspace, meanwhile, is doubled up with mirth, planning the most embarrassing moment to send up the "no signal" message on screen.

All of which amuses me greatly when I see the more extravagant claims being made for e-learning. Almost every new development nowadays seems to regard e-learning as the philosopher's stone, turning all to gold.

I came across an American e-learning course on surgery. It is probably wonderful, but I had the hysterical image of some hapless patient approached by a rookie surgeon carting a laptop, frantically trying to call up PowerPoint slides and blank clips of video.

"Just a minute. I've got to wind it back. Nearly there. Hold on a tick - oops, too far. 'Incision'. Nope. The cursor's frozen. It won't shift off 'Ice cream'."

Meanwhile, Sid Cyberspace is busy turning his scalpel into a biro.

Perhaps we could use these technological nightmares to solve a few problems in schools. It is said that sex education is being badly taught and that this could lead to more pregnancies. Easy. Teach it via e-learning that doesn't work.

Pupils will become so brassed off, it will be the most efficient form of birth control ever devised. The human race will be extinct before the century is out, buried clutching their laptops, like ancient warriors.

Self evaluation causing difficulty? No problem. When Office for Standards in Education inspectors call, get Sid Cyberspace to turn up the whiteboard to full intensity so no one can read a thing. Then put up a copy of Humpty Dumpty and nip down to the pub. They will never know.

I find that the most irritating people of all are the techie smartypants who lord it over us ordinary mortals. No picture? Ah yes, you should have called up Autosludge and reset the cyberpodules to manual. Of course, if only you'd had an extra 250 gigaballs, your data projector would have reprogrammed itself. No it wouldn't. The bloody thing would probably have blinded and deafened the audience, or broken wind.

Meanwhile, we all spend an-other few thousand pounds buying upgrades of things that would not have needed upgrading if they had worked properly in the first place. The solution to whiteboard dazzle is no doubt available for a couple of grand per board. It is probably a big blanket to throw over it.

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