Value judgement;Software

16th April 1999 at 01:00
Multimedia in teaching presents problems as well as big benefits. Jerry Wellington reports

Simply assuming that training teachers to use information and comunications technology (ICT) will be enough to bring it into subject teaching is totally naive and misunderstands the complicated nature of schools.

Multimedia Chemistry School is a joint NuffieldNew Media initiative which began as a project to enhance the teaching and learning of chemistry for sixth-formers by developing resources and a support service. This was based on a multimedia CD-Rom with an integrated site on the World Wide Web.

For 18 months the project has been working with teachers to develop, trial and describe effective ways of integrating multimedia technology into the science curriculum. The main feature, singling it out from other ICT initiatives, is that it targets the practical issues of using ICT for everyday, curriculum-focused activities in class.

The evaluation looked at the project in action in a range of schools and explored both the "added value" of using multimedia in teaching and the key factors needed to make it happen in schools. This produced a huge amount of data from a range of sources: subject teachers, ICT staff, pupilsstudents and lesson observations (a full report is now available from the Nuffield Foundation).

So what exactly is the added value of learning with multimedia?

ICTmultimedia can: motivate both pupils and teachers; aid their learning, largely in visualising abstract concepts, but also in enhancing more general understanding; enable differentiation, by allowing learners to work at their own pace and to control their own learning; provide another valuable teaching tool for the teacher's repertoire; and improve the role of the teacher, enabling him or her to make better contact with individuals and explore their difficulties.

A number of factors need to be tackled for successful integratation of multimedia in subject teaching. The difficulty of blending ICT into an institution with large numbers of people, arranged in hierarchies, in different territories, with rules and working practices to follow and relationships to maintain, should never be underestimated. Schools are complex institutions where attitudes, management systems, past practices and micro-politics play a vital part.

A centrally imposed programme of teacher training, however well funded, will not be enough to make ICT happen - nor will simply dropping plentiful hardware on to school doorsteps, like manna from heaven, lead to success.

Chemical reactions do not take place unless the right ingredients with the correct catalysts are present. When the relevant factors (be they ingredients or catalysts) are combined in the complex institution that we know as "the school", then success may well follow. If more than one factor is absent, the equation is incomplete and little will occur.

The current assumption behind the massive Lottery-funded training initiative is that teachers are to blame. Simply training them in how to use ICT will solve the problem - the "teacher deficit" model yet again. This project has shown that the situation is far more complex than outsiders assume. Fail to recognise this complexity and the Lottery millions, to mix a few biblical metaphors, will be like manna from heaven falling on stony ground.

The Nuffield Foundation report is available free from Nuffield Curriculum Projects, 28 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3EG. It can also be accessed from the Chemistry School Website Jerry Wellington, is a reader at Sheffield University, and was the external evaluator for Multimedia Chemistry Set

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