Shy pupils to use 'game show' buzzers in class

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The Independent Online
SHY CHILDREN could be spared the embarrassment of speaking up in class with a new device which is used by contestants on television game shows.

Cries of "Please, sir!" and the flurry of raised hands could soon be replaced with electronic bleeps as pupils answer questions by pressing a special keypad, which has already featured on The Krypton Factor and Stars in their Eyes.

The keypad would enable pupils to spell out words or answer multiple- choice questions.

Educationalists believe it can help shy pupils to overcome their fear of answering in class and save teachers valuable time in marking work. The Department for Education is considering a pilot study of the electronic answering system, which has been developed by Xtol, a Middlesex-based company.

Pupils can use the keypads to record their responses, which are then transmitted as radio signals to a laptop computer on the teacher's desk. In this way teachers can assess how many and which pupils are responding in class while protecting their identities. The system can also be used to carry out multiple-choice tests, which the computer then marks before the lesson has finished.

Teachers at the Cardinal Wiseman Roman Catholic High School in Greenford, Middlesex, have estimated that the device, originally developed for conferences, will save them 150 marking hours each term.

Xtol invented the system for pharmaceutical firms which needed a method of counting votes at conferences of several thousand delegates. A pupil at Cardinal Wiseman introduced it to the school after doing work experience at Xtol.

David Lawrie, who teaches personal, social and health education at the school, says that shy pupils have already benefited, especially when answering questions on personal issues. "Every teacher has the problem that they are not sure if they have engaged the attention of everyone in class," he said. "You can ask them to put their hand up but not everyone does. This way, the children do not have to show their knowledge or views in front of everyone.

"We can get more open discussions on sensitive topics such as sex. The device also reduces the time it takes to mark tests."

The school which has 1,700 pupils, is hoping to expand the use of the computer system, which costs pounds 8,000 for a set of 30 keypads, to subjects such as maths and languages.

David Tuttle, the managing director of Xtol, said that he had already had inquiries from further-education colleges, as well as from drug agencies which believed the device would be useful for youth groups where teenagers had to respond to sensitive questions.

He stressed that the device was not a replacement for teachers but could make their lives easier.

"This shows that schools are now more aware of the benefits of computer technology," he added. "Of course it will never replace pen and paper but this is a useful tool because it gives teachers more time. It is expensive at the moment but so were overhead projectors when they came out. We are already looking at a version which has been specifically designed for the classroom."