ICT Matters

Cyberschools Column

First Published in The Herald, May 2000



ICT isn't the answer to every problem in education. It doesn't even come close but the acronym, once a hard-edged IT, has been softened to include C for Communication and that helps.

To be the servant of every other subject has long been the privilege and the curse of English. (Is it really twenty years since English Across the Curriculum was an "initiative"?) Nowadays, Information and Communication Technology is also being placed at the core. Does it deserve to be there? I think it does, not because I'm a closet "techie" but because ICT can be used to take students to the core of a subject.

In Media Studies, for example, ICT offers production on a scale I could only have dreamed of in the the early 80s when we introduced "modules" to our column X class. Both the subject and the technology have come a long way but not far enough, not every Media Studies teacher - whether in a primary or secondary school - has access to an Apple DVD computer and that's more than a pity. If government and management are serious about ICT in the curriculum, then the curriculum has to come first. The politics of platform preference should give way to the needs of the students.

It's not often that the required technology becomes available at just the right moment but as Media Studies finally becomes a subject in which it is possible to study at Higher Grade, technology which makes production work practicable has also become available. For the moment, it's Apple which offers Media Studies teachers a dream come true. iMovie brings digital editing within reach and within budget and, if ICT is really seen as a core skill, within the classroom.

Videos shot on a DV camcorder can now be played (and rendered) directly on the desktop; the best scenes selected: the rest rejected. Each short selected sequence - and they can be cropped to seconds and even parts of a second - is stored on a shelf until placed in position simply by dragging and dropping it into a particular point in the narrative. Later, if cropping it further, moving it to a different part of the sequence or simply dumping it on the "cutting room floor" seems to be the best option, any one of these choices can be achieved without fuss by clicking and dragging. There's no need to start again and there's no need for an expensive edit suite. All too often and to the detriment of the subject, editing has been the Holy Grail of Media Studies, somewhere out there, out of reach. It doesn't have to be that way.

Having the best shots in the best order is only the beginning. iMovie also allows students to add transitions between shots. Captions and titles can be superimposed on shots and various effects which have proved difficult to achieve in the past are now simple. iMovie could readily be used with a primary five class. It demystifies the media and in that, it serves Media Studies well.

Students can also reduce background sound and add a voice-over, sound effects and/or music. Effectively they're using a sound mixer with slides for volume control and, as always, drag and drop for additions.

Nevertheless, sound control is the weakest feature of the program which doesn't allow the inserting of a shot onto the sound track of an existing sequence. In other words it's difficult to include cutaways and interviews become almost - but not quite - impossible. (Make sure the background sound is similar and fade the sound to the same level.) For me, the inability to include effective cutaways and the restriction to one size of text in titling is extremely frustrating but then I'm not a student in a class with twenty others - surely Media Studies can now only be seen as a "practical" subject - struggling to make a short production in a forty-hour unit. Given those conditions, I wouldn't quibble.

For Advanced Higher students - with two productions to make in that same forty-hour slot - iMovie has the advantage of allowing them to save their edited video as a Quicktime movie. It can then be included on a Web site, a different medium, a second production.

Using technology as a means to the ends of the subject, whichever subject that may be, is the only way in which teachers will welcome ICT to the core and it's only in serving the curriculum that it deserves to be there.

ICT can be used to access sources for analysis in English or history. It can be used to demonstrate virtual experiments in science. It can be used to illustrate catering techniques in home economics. It can bring works of art into the classroom. It can link classrooms around the world.

Nevertheless, ICT isn't the answer to every problem in education. It doesn't even come close but it can help if it serves rather than supplants the core.