IN THE BEGINNING
As with other teachers of my vintage, I can remember little of my classes in pre-teacher training back in the 70s. A few particular lectures stand out, such as the one on the importance of voice modulation in the classroom. This was delivered in such a droning monotone, that many eyes glazed over. OK, I may have nodded off a few times myself. To this day, I wonder if this was a practical demonstration of the point (and thus a very effective pedagogy) or quite simply a boring lesson incompetently delivered.
Rather than invoking serendipodous wonder, the strand on Educational Technology is recalled with fond memories of excitement, awe and purple hands. The foul-tempered spirit duplicator, with its methylated spirits and purple ink was State of the Art in its day.
I can still recall the installation of the original photocopier at my first teaching appointment. The machine lived in the front office, and was never to be touched by a classroom teacher in case it was damaged. The glossy copies that it produced were difficult to read, and faded more quickly than a cash register-generated tax receipt. But this was a major advance, technologically speaking.
A few years later, a second machine was purchased and now we even have photocopiers in staffrooms. Action research has proven that the average teacher is capable of loading the paper trays and changing toner cartridges. (Well, most of them. There are always exceptions - but Im sure these people have skills and talents in other areas.)
Today, most high school (and many primary) libraries have photocopiers, with a choice of library staff-operated (like we dont have anything better to do than run a photocopier), card-accessed, or coin-drop. A few very innovative schools have networked printer/photocopiers so that staff can knock out a work sheet and send it straight to a printer/photocopier, and have any associated costs deducted from their faculty account in one easy button click. Very efficient, cost and time-wise. Innovative schools have even discovered the benefits of colour copying.
Operating a 16mm projector was a major, assessable task way back in my teacher training. Somehow I doubt that student teachers are now required to demonstrate their skill in inserting a tape cartridge into a VCR. There are no fond memories of my early teaching days that involve lugging 20 kg of projector to the classroom, and fighting with 5 km of film that refused to wind through the right feeders. Not to mention globes that burnt out halfway through a carefully planned audio-visual experience, with personally generated work sheets and everything. Or the low flashpoint of the acetate film itself that caught fire if the reels stopped turning for any reason like if you blew your nose or someone in the building shut a door.
At least the old reel-to-reel audio tape machines (then called tape players video tapes and tape cassettes not having yet been invented) were a lesser fire hazard. Although also weighing in at around 20 kg, they were comparatively simple to use. Their sizeable price tag meant that very few were available in a school, and booking was at a premium. A really technologically advanced lesson was one where you attempted to synchronise an audiotape with a filmstrip or slide projector. Ah . . . the early visual technology, cleverly designed so that no matter how careful you were with setting it up, the images were always reversed or inverted.
When a VCR cost over $2000, and a blank tape cost $20, it seemed rational to install systems such as a Commander - generally located in the library. This was a return to the previous photocopier situation, where it was hands-off for teachers due to the perceived potential for damage. A few selected lucky classrooms were cabled for the system and once again, demand exceeded time and space. Many schools have now, or are in the process of, disabling their old video systems. Not only are teachers allowed to use video players in their classrooms, but tapes may also be housed at faculty/staffroom level for ease of access. This enables a learning environment where the educational facilitator is able to show selected extracts of multiple tapes when, and as, the situation requires it. This is responsive teaching an application of student-centred learning. Strangely, there are still schools who are installing or upgrading their centralised video system a teacher-centred paradigm. Imagine the lesson plan (if anyone apart from student teachers still construct these): You will watch this video. You will fill out this worksheet. You will memorize these facts.
The concept of dismantling centralized video plays cabled to classrooms will most probably send shudders down the spine of many an Audio Visual Librarian wont this affect their employment security? Yes, to the same extent that library automation has put cataloguers on the Endangered Species List. The type of work will change, not the amount.
Sometime in the 80s, my staffroom was graced with an Apple computer. The year of introduction and the model number escape me at the moment, but the green screen with white writing and the command-line interface are quite vivid in my memory. The first programs I used were CrossWordMagic and Motorized Markbook. The former was fun, the latter saved countless hours and errors. Computer laboratories are now a standard facility in most secondary schools, and are becoming increasingly more common in the primary sector. Once again, attempts to make a computer room reservation are often thwarted by quantitative deficiencies (demand exceeding supply). But is the placement of computers, external to the classroom, effective in achieving integration?
I remember as a small child (and yes, I was once one of these I have the photographs and witnesses to prove it), going with my mother down the street to make a phone call from the PMG red phone box. Only rich people had phones back in those days. Not that we were poor or remotely located the technology was expensive and inefficiently administered. Although it wasnt exactly new technology, generally home application was thought laughable. Not only do we now have phones in our homes, cell phones are no longer novel. Annoyingly, various ring tones erupt during cinema sessions and at restaurants not to mention in the middle of our classes at school. We can send text messages and make Internet phone calls if that is our desire. And we dont even think about the cabling costs when we put in a second phone line (or broadband access) for our home computers.
Seamless integration, where the machinery is no longer the focus, and learning outcomes are achieved, can only occur when hardware is readily accessible. The placement of computers in the classroom allows immediate (and responsive) access. The most frequent objections to these approaches seem to be cabling costs and security.
When we had our backs turned, someone thought of the brilliant idea of dedicating a significant amount of library floor space to the installation of a computer laboratory. Yeah! Lets put computers in the library so that students can access digital information. The theory was sound, but the practice has frequently been corrupted.
Countless school libraries are now experiencing a loss of shelving room for their print resources, with an accompanying loss of student access due to class bookings for computers. Not to access information but to run routine tasks such as word processing, which could be physically completed anywhere in the school. Oh, and to access the Internet for research. As if. Sweeping generalisations, I know but I believe you should always go with your strengths (mine is sweeping generalisations its the only housework at which I excel).
The fact remains, the placement of large numbers of computers in school libraries has, in many cases, reduced library services. Be honest how much time does an average teacher librarian spend on student-related computer use? And what tasks have lost their time and attention for this? Time and staffing are not infinitely expandable, in the same way that library walls arent elastic. Id recommend that everyone puts in a budget submission for the supply of a rubber room, which will assist in coping with these technology advances. Remember to make up a booking sheet for it though demand is sure to exceed capacity.
VCRs & DVDs
A few years ago, a well-known Australian educational video manufacturer started putting their tape-based audio visual material onto CD-ROMs. This enabled active engagement with the learning resource no longer were students restricted passively watching a TV monitor. Through the magic of a networked server, they are able to view animations, clip sections of text for later revision, disengage from a linear approach, and jump forwards or backwards as their immediate needs required. To say this is a far cry from purple hands and flaming film would be an understatement of the greatest possible proportions. And all within not only my lifetime, but my teaching career (to date). So whats next?
Now we grapple with the introduction of DVD players into schools. A number of schools using commander-type systems have attached a DVD and found that older monitors will only display in black and white, the existing remotes are inadequate and have to be replaced, new network cards are often needed. And sometimes new cabling. Schools are facing the question of whether this latest technology should be centralised, or stand-alone in classrooms. Or networked to classrooms. Not to mention the existing variety of formats currently available. Oh, bother! I wasnt going to mention that . . .
A recent email from a colleague in another state referred to the possibility of linking up a Commander-attached DVD player to a digital projector (through a networked computer in a classroom), for group instruction purposes. Letting ones imagination (if not mind) roam here, it would be physically possible to set up a web cam and broadcast the whole lesson live, or capture it with a digital video camera then compress it and make it available from the school website for download. After obtaining the necessary written consent from student families, of course. Static images could be captured and printed out, then photocopied 64 times. (Like some student word processing, where nothing appears to be happening because the printer is in another room so they keep clicking the print button). But why stop there? Lets burn it onto a CD or DVD, and make it available on the school network. It would be somewhat difficult to replicate this with a spirit duplicator and a 16mm film projector.
THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE COMBINED
What of my original technology skills so diligently acquired so many decades ago? At the start of this year, I started cleaning out what was originally designated as the Teachers Resource Room in the library. It had been used for storing stuff for which no-one had any use, but could not be discarded (due to the possibility of a nuclear war, or one of those email viruses that deletes your brain and uses all your toilet paper).
Amongst the dross was a 16mm projector (complete with 6 cartons of films) and a reel-to-reel tape player. So, currently Im setting up an Educational Technology Museum in a newly created space. One of the students who was helping (we removed the flip-top wooden desks and shelving that came out of the original Great Library of Alexandria) asked me who would want to look at this outdated technology. He said that he had seen old tape players before. Yes, I replied, but what about your children one day they might come to this school, and want to see these things working. Hes a great kid but given to incessant talking this was the first time Id seen (or heard?) him lost for words.
Now, does anyone have an old spirit duplicating machine? Ive already got the methylated spirits and 20 cartons of glossy paper.