Learning from the web

This month I review a number of web tools for teachers, websites made for teachers and often by teachers to help other teachers. Some offer resources, others templates to help you create lesson plans. Some allow teachers to upload materials and share them more widely.

TeacherTube (www.teachertube.com)
This site is structured similarly to YouTube but its focus is educational videos posted by teachers and their learners. The videos are not developed by professional publishing houses and vary in quality. The range, however, is extensive. Teachers can search for videos appropriate to their courses by looking through organised channels of clustered titles.

A quick glance will identify channels dedicated to fine arts, physical education, social sciences, reading, writing, mathematics, science and health. Although the site has been operating since 2007 there are already more than 3 000 videos in each channel. Registered users can make use of the community features available on the site, forming or joining a group with similar interests.

As a history teacher I was impressed by a group set up for my needs. It has 88 members and has gathered about 61 videos for easy access. This makes searching for a specific video easy. For example, I was looking for Cold War videos and came across material on the Berlin Airlift, the Cuban Missile Crisis and a teacher’s general introduction to the main themes. Some of the materials were old newsreels, others were teacher presentations or video.

A word of warning, though – the site is bandwidth heavy. I was viewing it on a home ADSL line and the videos ran seamlessly, but I would imagine that on a 256k modem or on a heavily used institutional line it would take some time to download. If you intend to teach with these materials, rather start the video and pause it at the beginning of your class (allowing the stream to download in the background), so that you can view it towards the end of the lesson. From a teaching and learning perspective, however, the passive viewing of an educational video is a problem.

As TeacherTube is a Web 2.0 community (a term describing changing trends in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design) it makes more sense to encourage learners to create educational videos and post them on the web. Creating assignments for a world audience often motivates learners to go the extra mile. My experience is that they craft excellent work when they realise the exposure their work will get. So, using digital video cameras, still cameras, PowerPoint and other editing software, encourage learners to research, write and present a segment of your lesson in a visual format.

One of my criticisms of the TeacherTube database of videos is that it is predominantly American or Eurocentric. Our learners should provide the world with a slice of the African perspective.

Teacher Tools (http://jc-schools.net/tutorials/tools/index.html)
This American site is compiled by Jefferson County Schools and is really a list of links to both curriculum and technical tools. The curriculum tools cover reading, science, social studies, physical education, maths, art, music, drama and driver education, among other specialised topics.

The technical section offers tools for creating materials: sounds, clip art, interactive web sites, PowerPoint and so on. Some of the links are disappointing, others are quite stunning. I investigated the visual arts section and was amazed by some of the interactive tutorials available on subjects such as the power of colour, contrast and dimensions and the physiology and theory of colour. I also had a good look around in the PowerPoint segment of the technical section and was impressed with the tools and the tutorials on how to use the presentation package effectively in teaching.

Thutong (www.thutong.org.za)
Don’t forget good old Thutong. Besides all the new communication tools which allow you to express your views, it has a CD-cutting tool that allows you to receive your selection of favourite resources.

This is especially useful to those teachers who struggle with poor bandwidth. Another tool allows access to a list of textbooks approved by the department of education. This makes it possible for you to choose a South African text for your class which has been given the green light by subject experts within the department.

I have only scratched the surface of what is available for teachers on the internet, so, if you have a particular favourite and would like to share your find with other readers, send me an email ([email protected]) and let me know why you think it’s great. I will compile a list of your responses and publish your recommendations.

Andrew Moore is a former teacher. He has a MEd in computer-assisted education. He works for Neil Butcher and Associates, an education technology consulting company

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