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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 January, 2004, 17:54 GMT
Does teacher still know best?
By Justin Parkinson
BBC News Online education staff

Teacher using whiteboard
Young teachers are more comfortable with new technology
As with the rest of society, technology divides teachers.

Some see it as a way towards more interactive lessons, improving the classroom experience for staff and pupils.

Others see it as an over-complication, adding unnecessarily to their workload.

The government, it seems, is firmly in the progressive camp.

It has promised to spend 900m on information and communication technology (ICT) in schools by 2006.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke has pledged an extra 25m to providing whiteboards - an interactive computer display which can incorporate graphics, film, sound and internet links - next year.

'How will it help?'

You name it, the whiteboard seems to have it. It focuses the classroom on technology, the way blackboards once did the written word. But will it help learning?

Chris Drage, a teacher from Barnet, north London, thinks technology can be harnessed usefully but that effective training for teachers is crucial.

Mr Drage, involved in ICT since 1983, said: "The key question teachers need to ask before preparing a lesson is 'How can I do this better using ICT?'

"We need to bring the technology to the teacher, not the teacher to the technology."

The rapid advance of computers, difficult for most of us to understand, is, however, allowing ever more user-friendliness.

Mr Drage said: "In the past, technology has been unreliable. This has put many teachers off. It can knock confidence. But this is getting better.

Chris Drage
Some people pull out the plug deliberately. They think of technology as an added level of complexity they don't need
Chris Drage, teacher

"You also need access to enough computers to allow the children to get involved.

"But teachers have to be trained. The newly qualified staff are often more confident.

"Some older staff find every excuse in the world not to use ICT.

"Sometimes they say the computer won't work or the printer's broken. Often it's on purpose.

"Some people pull out the plug deliberately. They think of technology as an added level of complexity they don't need."

For older, less computer-literate teachers, Mr Drage recommends occasional short training periods.

This would allow them to try out their new skills straight away and to gather confidence gradually.

Ball games

Mr Drage said: "There was a trainee teacher who really impressed me recently.

"She ran a PE lesson during the week and a teaching assistant videoed it.

"She played the video on the computer screen to the kids, asking questions like 'Where's the ball going now?'

"She then started to introduce the idea of forces working on the ball.

"So, using her own initiative, she introduced ICT, science and PE to the same lesson. That would not have been possible in the same way, had she only had a conventional blackboard available.

"I was absolutely gobsmacked how effective the whole thing was."

Whiteboards, despite their increasing prominence, are not the only modern technology available.

For the last two years or so, meeting pads - allowing children to input ideas onto whiteboards from their own desks - have been available.


Even with just one shared between a class, they enable greater interactivity. But teachers' classroom contribution is still more important.

Mr Drage said: "The best six weeks' teaching I ever did was in 1984. A class of 10 year olds with just a single BBC computer played a game called Adventure Island.

"It had no graphics, just text. The kids were in groups of four and each had 20 minutes on the island.

"We dedicated the whole classroom to it. It really inspired them.

"They had to write a fictional diary of their time on the island. It brought out the best creative writing I've seen.

"We covered science, maths, technology, history, geography, all on the back of a 20-minute computer game. It was a great example of technology, however basic, enhancing learning.

"If I had just sat the kids in front of the screens and left them, it would have been a flop."

Mr Drage added: "There is no substitute for basic skills. Vicarious existence never becomes more important than real experience.

"It's all about making. It's not watching a video that aids creativity, it's the chance to make one. That's the sort of area technology can free up.

"Teachers must be trained to use it more effectively. Then the technology can truly work for us."

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