The Web and the Classroom

from Educators' eZine

"What will be taught and learned; how it will be taught and learned; who will make the use of schooling; and the position of the school in society – all of this will change greatly during ensuing decades. Indeed, no other institution faces changes as radical as those that will transform the school"

- Drucker P in "Post – Capitalist Society" published by Harper Business, New York (1993).

In ancient times, knowledge was transferred orally from generation to generation. Then came the palm leaves, rock paintings and so on. In the past century, our classrooms underwent rapid changes with the introduction of chalkboard, overhead projectors, film projectors, audiotapes, videotapes and now, multimedia, including a spectrum of information and communication gadgets. The change continues. But still, there are classrooms in which information technology is yet to make its way, particularly in the developing world. This article addresses this very problem by suggesting a viable solution to a somewhat global problem at the K-12 level.

Most schools in the developing world use material published by traditional textbook publishers, some of whom also produce audiovisual content, as their effective curriculum. Hence it is of paramount importance that important issues such as:

  • technical quality of presentation [richness in audio visual content with a lot of animations],
  • academic quality of presentation [relevance of lesson concepts explained],
  • synchronization with specific syllabus requirements,
  • transferability of skills in problem solving and attitudes, and
  • scope of follow-up of the content in assessment [interactivity , class work quizzes, unit tests or terminal exams]

are considered by the senior management in schools, before deciding on the material. How best to go about it?

Commercially produced multimedia material can fall anywhere between two extremities of a continuum as shown below:

Static lesson content vs. Content-rich visuals with intense sound effects
Minimum animation effects vs. Highly interactive lesson contents
Electronic replica of printed textbook
Boring and strenuous

With a few exceptions, the reality in countries like India, as far as I have observed, is that ready-made K-12 multimedia lesson packages do not satisfy the cognitive requirements of children to the fullest extent. It is probably because much of the K-12 e-publishing industry is still new and doesn't look into educational research evidences before getting into material production and development.

Very often, school managements think, "With so many computer staff on our rolls, instead of buying multimedia packages, why don't we develop and possibly market them on our own?" I have seen school management working on this issue for two reasons: educating their own children and making money by marketing the product. But, is multimedia material production and development that easy? Let me share my experience.

I have been using multimedia-based teaching and educational administration for the past 20 years. A few years ago, in one of the schools where I worked as academic officer, I had to lead a multimedia team that comprised of a team of subject teachers, "Flash" animators, action scriptwriters and instructional designers. The problem was that every one in the team was involved in some classroom teaching. This reduced the time available for them to concentrate on product development. This is a problem, which many schools in India share. Is there a solution?

Yes. The solution comes in the form of the Web. There are numerous Websites developed by schools and universities all over the world, particularly, the US and Canada. Content from them can be downloaded and used in the classroom, provided they are not used for any commercial purpose. But, hold on! All Websites are not authentic. Once I came across a beautifully animated version of Rutherford's "Alpha particle scattering" experiment [Senior Secondary Physics]. The sequence was highly captivating; but the alpha particles were "negatively" charged. What a blunder!

However, if we are cautious in our choice of material, Web-based content is the most feasible and cost effective, with all the broadband connection facilities today. But then, to choose appropriate Web content, teachers should be specifically trained so that time can be saved.

Once a start is made in Web based teaching learning, it can captivate children, teachers and parents, as I have seen during the past decade in my Web based teacher training and Web based classroom teaching.

Although research studies prove that Web based teaching learning is very effective, Web-based materials developed in one country cannot sometimes be used in another country, directly, for reasons such as the language used, culture etc. Here, the subject teacher's role is paramount. He or she has to preview the material, edit it, possibly by dubbing his or her own voice when the material is used in the classroom. For instance, an animation with an African voice-over may not be understood in Asia, and vice-versa. Preview, editing and voice-over can be done offline.

Once a few important nuts and bolts are fixed, the Web is immensely useful, if, schools don't violate the "road" rules, while leading their kids on the Global Information Super High Way!

"Technology and a constructivist approach need not be at odds with each other. If we change our view of computers from merely a means to deliver instruction to one of a tool to solve problems, then the reform movement can influence the use of technology, and technology can influence the reform of education".

- Morrison, G. L., Lowther, D. L., & DeMeulle, L. "Integrating computer technology into the classroom" (1st ed.).: Merrill, Prentice Hall, NJ (1999).

Email:Panamalai R Guruprasad