- 15 Jan 09, 16:25 GMT
It was meant to be a day in which I learned about the role technology is now playing in education - but it turned into a painful lesson in how technology can bite you. A visit to BETT, the ICT-in-education show, seemed a great idea.
I've long felt that the story of the ICT revolution in schools has not been properly examined - certainly by me. After all, the government has invested £5bn in giving schools in England everything from broadband connections to electronic whiteboards - but are we clear that there has been an educational dividend from that investment?
So I promised the News Channel a series of live broadcasts and the News At One a taped report from the show. Cue total tech disaster - everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
First of all, our satellite truck just couldn't lock onto a signal outside Olympia - and by the time it found one, we were too busy putting together our One O'Clock package to go live.
We finished editing in a cubby hole, kindly lent us by the organisers, at exactly 1300 GMT - not unusual in a world where we work very close to the wire. The report was due on air at 1320 GMT so we had plenty of time to export it to tape from the laptop where it had been edited with the Avid program and take it outside to the satellite truck. First problem - the laptop simply refused to export the file to tape.
Undaunted, my cameraman/picture editor suggested we should just plug his laptop into the truck via a Firewire cable. Cue frantic search for the right cable - and then by 1310 GMT we were ready to feed. No cause for panic, then - until the laptop crashed. Every time we tried to launch Avid, we got an incomprehensible error message. We crept closer and closer to our slot, with me jumping up and down in despair. Finally, we had to admit failure - and the bulletin had to do without our report. In the circumstances, my bosses were very understanding - though there were the usual jibes about a technology correspondent at a technology show being let down by technology.
Which set me thinking. The problem with advances in the technology we use - whether in journalism or the classroom - is that they can impose huge stress on those who use them. I walked round the BETT show admiring all the tools that are now available to today's teachers - from netbooks, through electronic whiteboards, to the cheap cameras being wielded by an enthusiastic group of students from a London school making their own report about the show.
But then I remembered what one very experienced teacher had told me a few weeks ago. He said the best form of teaching was still all about chalk and talk, and that the technology had been a hindrance not a help. He described student teachers overburdened with work and losing confidence because they now felt that they had to prepare a Powerpoint presentation for every lesson on the electronic whiteboard.
Now, I do think this particular teacher - though he denied it - was from the Luddite tendency. But I think the point about stress was well made. In all my years editing pieces out in the field on tape, I can never remember an occasion when machine failure has stopped us getting on air. But twice in the last couple of years a laptop has refused to spew out my precious report - leaving both me and the editor helpless. With the old machines, you could at least bash them - somehow laptops don't respond to that treatment.
Let me be clear - I do believe that just about all these advances in the technology used by both teachers and journalists are worthwhile. But each time a transition comes along, there is bound to be a lot of stress for the practitioners - and that is sometimes ignored by their manager.
Anyway, eventually we did get the video files out of one laptop and onto another, and our report was finally shown on the News Channel. In case you missed it, you'll find it embedded here - but what it doesn't show is any of the pain involved in making it.
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