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Welcome to the blackboard of the future;Resources

Computers once seemed to isolate the pupil, now they've found a role in whole-class teaching. Sue Palmer moves from big books to even bigger screens

What's your vision of the educational future? Desks fitted with computer consoles,Jsolitary children plugged into individualised learning programmes or silently browsing the World Wide Web? And where's the teacher in all this? Hovering round the edges, a mere technician? Indeed, does the future have a place for teachers or classrooms at all?

Until recently, this antisocial vision of education seemed terrifyingly possible. Computers are surely the learning tool of the next generation, their keyboards and monitors designed for individual use. For decades our educational system - at least, primary education - has placed the emphasis on individual learners, rather than on the role of the teacher. The social aspect of learning has seemed increasingly redundant.

But this year everything's changed. In primary schools the literacy hour has returned class teaching to the fore - and judging by the enthusiasm with which teachers and children have embraced the "shared" sector of the hour, it is both popular and effective.

One key factor is the teaching materials - the enlarged texts known as Big Books and (particularly in junior classes) the use ofJoverheadJprojectorsJfor whole-class reading. These provide a shared focus for the teaching objective of the day - much more effective than individual textbooks or copymasters, because all children look in the same direction, eyes front, facing the teacher.

With shared materials, interactive teaching and learning can flourish. Teachers use pointers or markers to draw everyone's attention to salient features of the text; questions are more focused and discussion more informed; poorer children are often pulled along by the high-fliers. Shared writing - a particular success story of the literacy hour - involves the teacher scribing children's words on a flip chart or board, as they discuss how to organise and express ideas for a particular audience or purpose.

The interaction is both social and intellectual. When children return to their desks for individual follow-up, it is informed by the ideas and direction of their teacher and classmates. We seem to have rediscovered the meaning of "school".

Now imagine an educational future in which information technology is harnessed to this teaching method. As well as Big Books, the teacher would have a Big Screen, providing shared access to educational television and video, multimedia CD-Roms, databases and, of course, the Internet.

Subject teaching would be enriched by video footage and animated diagrams; children's questions could be researched on the Web. Shared writing would be word-processed - the teacher keying in the text, deleting and editing, cutting and pasting as children's ideas develop. When pupils return to their consoles for individual work, it would be informed by teaching and learning shared via the Big Screen - the blackboard of the future.

In fact, the technology to provide Big Screen teaching already exists. Debs Ayerst, primary literacy officer at the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), has collected information, now available on the Becta web site, about the various ways schools can acquire Big Screens.

Since most options are at present expensive, schools would have to think carefully about investment. Becta's web site (see panel above) also outlines the considerations involved. But, in the meantime, any enthusiast wanting to try it out can rig up a cheap and cheerful version for about pound;100, using the school television and a bottom-of-the-range PC-to-TV converter (such as the AverKey Pro from AverMedia, tel: 01908 218 800).


Large-screen television

Method: computer connects to TV, using a converter cable.

Result: whatever is on the PC appears on the TV screen.

Advantages: flexible and reasonably portable.

Disadvantages: the larger the TV screen, the poorer the resolution.

Price range: pound;100 - pound;500.

Liquid crystal display panel

Method: panel sits on top of overhead projector (OHP), and connects it to computer.

Result: the computer display can be projected on to the much larger OHP screen.

Advantages: as portable as an OHP.

Disadvantages: for good resolution, you need good quality equipment and a darkened room.

Price range: pound;850 - pound;1,500.


Method: purpose-built equipment.

Result: varies in size and capacity.

Advantages: can relay images up to the size of a classroom wall.

Disadvantages: for good resolution, you need good quality equipment and a darkened room.

Prince range: pound;1,200 - pound;8,000.

Large monitor

Method:JconnectsJdirectlyJto computer.

Result: can show multimedia images on a big screen.

Advantages: you can also hook them up to a VCR.

Disadvantages:JlikeJtheJlarge screen television, the images are not that sharp; it doesn't function as a TV.

Price range: pound;1,200 (29" screen) - pound;2,850 (38" screen).

Plasma display

Method: large screen (free-standing or wall-mounted) connected directly to a computer.

Result: the same as large monitor, but bigger and better.

Advantages: resolution is good.

Disadvantages: it is not very portable.

Price range: pound;4,500 (40" screen) - pound;9,000 (50" screen).

Interactive whiteboard

Method: computer connected to a projector.

Result: images from PC are projectedJonJtoJaJtouch-sensitive screen. Teacher or pupils can then control the display by touching the screen with a pointer.

Advantages:JtheseJcomeJfree-standing or wall-mounted, and the images are sharp.

Disadvantages: like the plasma display, not easily portable.

Price range: pound;7,000 - pound;13,000.

Becta has complied a list of suppliers, with contact details, which is available on its website: Alternatively, you can contact Becta at Milburn Hill Road, Science Park, Coventry CV4 7JJ. Tel: 01203 416994

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