September 13, 2006

Wow them with technology

I'm on a committee in my university which oversees the information and computer science education. "Information education" (jouhou kyouiku) in Japanese. Halfway through one recent meeting we all moved downstairs to see a demonstration of a video linkup between two classrooms on the two campuses our university has. The two classrooms are just a few kilometres apart as the crow flies, and linked to the same computer network.

Each classroom had two cameras: one at the back of the lecture hall to show the instructor and the screens at the front of the room, and a camera at the front to one side facing the rows of seats. All the cameras can be swiveled and zoomed by remote from the control panel in each room (i.e. the instructor can manipulate the two cameras in the room where she/he is as well as the "remote" ones in the other classroom on the other campus). At the front of the room were two screens: on one was the video image of the other classroom, with a smaller insert showing the image from one of the two cameras in the local classroom. On the other screen was projected the image from the overhead projector, then the image from a laptop plugged into the console. As the demonstrator showed the image of the overhead projector, we could see, on the other screen, the same image shown on the screen of the other classroom. Same with the image from the laptop. There was a slight lag, and any movement was also rather jerky, but it was manageable (video would have been problematic, tho).

I was impressed by the technology. Not so much that it exists (it's not that new, after all), but the fact that we had it installed. It must cost a lot.

There was absolutely no discussion of the pedagogical implications. It all seemed to be organized on the assumption that the instructor is the source of knowledge and that knowledge is essentially information to be transmitted, altho of course the 2-way video suggests that students in the two classrooms could interact, either with the remote instructor or with each other (altho I wasn't able to find out how to plug extra, say, radio mikes into the sound system). To be fair, those demonstrating the system were technicians, not teachers, but then again, why weren't teachers involved in the demonstration? It all seemed so unproblematic except for the technical issues ("what does this button do? How do you do such-and-such?").

So it was with some bemusement that I read this article today on trying to woo young learners to Latin by means of technology.

Why try to woo them? According to the article, the aim is one of
making the classical world accessible for as many students as possible, whatever their type of school, age or social backgrounds.

I like that: as if the egalitarianism of the purpose justifies the whole venture. So the purpose is .... ?
It hopes that the approach will rewaken an interest in Latin in the hundreds of schools where it is no longer taught on the syllabus.
And this is desirable because...?
A decline in the popularity of Latin and Greek has led to a slump in the number of specialist teachers.

So this is just to keep present classics teachers employed, then? Is that really the best they can come up with? The cynicism of this implication seems to have been lost on the author of the article. Perhaps a little Latin would have helped her/him. (There's probably a great Latin quote from Horace or some other wit that encapsulate my point here, but.... I didn't get my Latin O-level).

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