In that room three types of teaching take place: lectures, seminars, and presentations. In a lecture, he does most of the talking, and his objective is to present material that he knows and the students don't in such a way that at the end of the seminar they all know it. In this relatively small room lectures are usually quite interactive. In a presentation it is the job of a sub-group of students to present to the other students, and to him, and to organize discussion of the presented material. And in a seminar the aim is discussion only, directed and shaped by the teacher but coming mostly from the students. All of these are perfectly possible with the equipment at hand; but, with the addition of some relatively cheap technology, all have been more or less transformed.
The technology is very simple. Perched on the filing cabinet is an elderly but very serviceable 18-inch TV set. This is hooked up (via an adaptor) to a laptop computer that sits on the small table to his right. The laptop is linked to the Internet, and to a printer. And that's it. There are two add-ons, which are not essential but greatly extend the power of the computer. One is a small digitizer pad, which enables him to draw and paint on the TV screen. The other, rather more important, is a digital camera. These are now mass-market consumer devices, and get cheaper and more powerful on a monthly basis. His enables him to capture any image and display it in seconds. It also functions as a basic but serviceable photocopier. Software? He use a simple drawing program, a word processor with an outline module, and an image editor for tidying up photographs, a simple web-page creation program, and a Web browser. All of these, like the camera, are mass-market devices, which means they are cheap, highly available, and designed to be easy for anyone to use with minimal training.
The addition of this technology has changed the feel of the room very little: this is important. Discussion does not take place freely in an excessively wired environment. But everyone is a very sophisticated
TV user now, which means that the TV set is invisible when it is not being used; it also means that when he switch it on (in seconds, with a remote) all eyes swivel to it automatically. He can restore the focus on him as speaker or on the center of the room in discussion equally easily. In fact the TV is completely unobtrusive (being silent) even if it is left switched on. The laptop is equally unobtrusive and equally silent, which is why it is important to use a laptop rather than a desktop computer: the slight but penetrating hum of the fan is distracting, but much worse is the fact that if the teacher's attention shifts to a VDU, it is as if he has started a private conversation: rapport with the room is instantly lost. This doesn't seem to happen with a laptop screen. And, finally, it is essential to have a permanently hooked-up TV. His Department possesses a large communal monitor balanced precariously on a tower with wheels. This can be trundled down the corridor, teetering dangerously, installed in the room, and hooked up: neither a graceful nor a speedy procedure.
So: what can all this does? Well, to begin with, lectures are transformed. The TV is a slide show: it shows diagrams, outlines, quotations, booklists, digital photographs, images filched from the Web, anything at all. He prepares all of this in advance as a series of Web pages, and upload them after the lecture so that students can use them for revision or the basis for further work: they are constantly available to anyone with access to a Web browser. The Web is now very information-rich, and has pictures of nearly anything one can ask for; the digital camera can capture images from books or magazines (all of this with due attention to potential copyright problems, of course) and from real life, and anything digital can quickly be put on the Web, displayed, and preserved. It is like having an infinite window, ready to power up and point at any part of the world he wishes.
Seminars? The TV is a whiteboard. He can draw diagrams or sketch pictures. He can also type names or references or unspellable words in neat 24-point serif letters in a typeface of his choosing, for all to see. He can use an outliner to summarize discussion as it progresses. He can make an image or images the object of discussion: a painting, say, downloaded from the Web. There is a feeling of limitless possibility. And all of it can be uploaded after the seminar as a permanent (or impermanent) record for revisiting and revision.
Presentations? In the real world, the way to make a presentation is (increasingly) to display a set of computer screens, via a monitor or a projector or a set of printed OHP transparencies. Students are nervous of this, but when they find out how easy it is, they take to it with increasing eagerness; they are well aware of the value of the experience for CV purposes. It also encourages them, by externalizing the content of their presentation, to lift their eyes from the prepared script and interact with the TV and the audience. They like it.
The results of all of this can be seen on his Web site, http:// www.bham.ac.uk/english/bibliography/. However, this is not, like the Web itself, a finished product. In fact, like the Web itself, it is a bit of a mess. And if you look at it when he is in the middle of a teaching term you will find it even more messy: web pages created on the fly, amateur student efforts, archaeological layers of pages dating from previous courses, and so on. It is very good to have educational sites on the Web that present finished products, like published books; but more and more, he suggests, as teachers become familiar with the possibilities of the medium, this sort of site will pop up: like a snapshot of a whiteboard after a busy teaching day, and equally easy to use, but infinitely more powerful.
Computers in education have been disparaged as: Answers in search of a problem. And certainly many computer activities of dubious pedagogical value have been devised in the past simply to justify the existence of an expensive computer in the classroom. Nowadays, however, I think it is much more clearly understood that the computer can play a useful part in the language class only if the teacher first asks: What is it that I want my students to learn today, and what is the best way for them to learn it? In most cases, the answer will probably not involve the computer, but there will be occasions when the computer is the most suitable and, for the students, most enjoyable way to get the job done.
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