Even with a low budget, old computers and no Internet connection, there are ways to make the most of…
Computers in the Classroom
by Panamalai R. Guruprasad
Regular contributor to the Gazette
October 1, 2008
“In the year 5555
Your arms are hanging limp at your side,
Your legs got nothing to do,
Some machine’s doing that for you.”
So sang Denny Zager and Rick Evans in their 1969 hit song “In the Year 2525”.
As one who was born in the middle of the past century, I guess, late ‘60s bring nostalgic memories to people who belong to my generation: I was still a teenager doing my Physics major freshman year at a local college. In the afternoons, we used to have lab projects. Those of us who completed the assigned experiments early, used to return home earlier than other classmates. As soon as I returned home, I would listen to programs such as “Date with the Disc” on BBC World Service or “Studio 1” on VOA. [In the mornings, VOA Breakfast Show was my regular favorite; I never used to miss Saturday morning shows as they were hosted completely by college students]. Whenever I used to go out of town during holidays, I used to carry my short wave radio without fail. Short wave receivers, manual typewriters and bicycles were an integral part of our lives. But, we never allowed these machines to `rule’ our lives.
Well, today the situation is very different. Information and communications technology has changed so rapidly that our lives are increasingly governed by automation. Many of us have become completely dependent on machines such as mobile phones, laptops and so on. [If we don’t keep a mobile phone in our pocket, we feel as if we are `physically’ handicapped].
Today, there is no service industry in which computers are not used. Within the K-12 scenario, an increasing number of schools use computers in different ways. At one end of a continuum, there are low budget schools that use computers only to teach computer science related subjects whereas at the other end, there are affluent schools that use computers by exploiting their full potential (Broadband Internet etc). This article attempts to throw some light on how best computers can be used even in very low budget schools.
I was a physics teacher in a high school in Southern Africa in the late ‘80s. Each department in the school had one or two BBC Microcomputers. (Internet was yet to get functional at a global level). That was a time when there was no animation software such as Flash. Still, we could create simple animations by using BASIC programming. We could use computers to measure physical quantities such as temperature, velocity etc., as we performed science experiments, by interfacing the measuring devices with computers. Present day computers have enabled audiovisual presentations and measurement techniques to be much simpler.
Following are areas in which even low budget schools can make use of computers.
Students’ work can be corrected and feedback given, by using simple word processor packages like Word 2000. (I have used options such as “Track changes” very effectively in my work with students and colleagues). But such programs should be used only when students have already mastered spelling and grammar in the traditional manner. Otherwise, they will depend entirely on PC’s spell check and grammar, which is not as perfect as a very good dictionary.
Presentation software packages such as MS PowerPoint, Open Office Impress or Apple Keynote can be immensely useful in developing lessons. With appropriate add-ons such as Windows Media Player, CVDs and DVDs can be used without any technical problems. It is also possible to download animation sequences from the Net and use them in the classroom, of course without violating any copyright laws. [In fact computers without Internet connection can be used almost as effectively in our classrooms as those with Net].
One main problem that many schools face is the assessment of oral skills of children. In my schools, we have used MS Office “Sound recorder” to sort this problem out. The program enables one not only to edit but also change the speed of flow of the file. This program is particularly useful in closely monitoring speech outputs of children so that remedial action can be taken.
Database packages such as Foxpro can be used to develop admission registers, class lists, student progress cards, standardized tests, inventories etc.
Spreadsheets such as Excel can be immensely useful in Maths, Science and other subjects where students need to interpret graphs. But when it comes to plotting graphs, paper and pencil are the best resources, for obvious reasons.
Although there are many more advantages of using computers in school systems, because they save a lot of time that can be used for other productive activities, no computer (or no machine for that matter) can teach children by itself. Hence, within classrooms, computers must never be used as alternative to activity based methods of teaching learning. There cannot be any classroom in which there is no human teacher, as after all, only he or she can empathize, understand and effectively interact with (human) students.
Let us hope that machines are used to an extent that is sensibly adequate and not to the extent that Denny Zager and Rick Evans had imagined 40 years back.
Panamalai R Guruprasad works as Technical Advisor at the Inspectorate of Education attached to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. His key professional responsibilities include developing and monitoring K-Grade 6 School Self Assessment Programs at the Central level.
He has served as teacher, principal and Education Officer in school systems in India, South Asia and Africa. He has also worked in Macmillan India Limited (an associate company of Macmillan UK), and Chandamama India Limited (the oldest kids magazine in India).
His published works include 41 articles in teacher journals and an ebook entitled “Curiosity, Concepts and the Creative Classroom”.
He holds B.Sc in Physics, B.Ed and MA in Childcare and Education degrees and is currently working toward MS in Education Management (by distance learning).
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.