Media review: Electronic classroom The Discourse Group Ware Classroom (DISCOURSE)

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  • Eur J Dent Educ 2001; 5: 177178 Copyright C Munksgaard 2001Printed in Denmark. All rights reserved

    ISSN 1396-5883

    Media review: Electronic classroomThe Discourse Group Ware Classroom (DISCOURSE)

    DISCOURSE is the name given to an innovative com-munication system of interest to teachers particu-larly in higher education. Essentially, it is an electronicinterface which enables the teacher to interact simul-taneously with each member of a class.

    The system comprises a student component and ateacher workstation. Each student is equipped with astudycom. This is a low-profile full-sized keyboardwith an LCD panel capable of displaying four rows ofscrolling text. The teachers workstation is a standard PCable to receive simultaneous input via an infra-red linkfrom up to 64 studycoms. Students names are tabulatedon the teachers screen and, when the teacher asks aquestion, each students typed response appears in realtime adjacent to their name. The teacher scans the in-coming responses and selects one or more for discussion.The selected responses can be displayed to students (withor without their authors names) on a tv or projectorscreen. Alternatively, response frequencies can be calcu-lated automatically and displayed graphically.

    As well as the studycom version a browser versionis available for use with a cluster of workstations.

    DISCOURSE succeeds in its principal aim to enable allstudents to participate fully in lectures and other teachingand learning sessions. It does this by providing instantmonitoring by, and feedback to, the teacher. For theteacher, there is the possibility to assess student learningas the lesson progresses and to provide instant responses.Thus, the teacher can continually check throughout his/her presentation whether the arguments and conceptsbeing developed have been grasped by the student audi-ence, allowing, where necessary, immediate adjustmentand representation of the material being taught. The sys-tem also allows students to respond or ask the teacher aquestion without fear of public humiliation or embarrass-ment. The other side of the coin is that all students arerequired to make an attempt at answering every ques-tion there is no hiding.

    DISCOURSE can also automate chores such as regis-tering, testing and marking. Further, since every key-


    stroke made by every student is stored, each studentscontribution to each lesson can be retrieved, opening uppossibilities for audit, research and profiling. This ca-pacity to generate large amounts of data on individualstudents naturally has security and confidentiality impli-cations and where DISCOURSE is installed, protocols forits use will be necessary.

    DISCOURSE is flexible: it can be used for didacticquestioning but also for probing attitudes to ethical di-lemmas, assessing approaches to investigation and treat-ment, brainstorming, voting and other uses deter-mined by the teachers creativity. It can also be used toobtain student-evaluation of lessons. Being essentially adelivery platform, it is compatible with a range of teach-ing methods. A teacher may choose to build an entirelecture around the use of DISCOURSE; alternatively, itmay be used to add variety to a chalk and talk or OHP-based lecture. Structured questions may be prepared inadvance (for which a wizard is available) or the systemmay be used to complement the teachers ad hoc ques-tions for which no preparation is required. A teacher maystart using DISCOURSE quickly and easily, learning touse more advanced features later if desired.

    The studycoms are robust and wireless but uncomfort-able to use without a desk to rest them on. The need totype responses may be off-putting to some students butthe system can cope with spelling and grammatical ir-regularities. Whilst the technology can cope with up to64 inputs, teachers using it report that it is more manage-able with 4550 and ideal with no more than 30.

    The approximate cost of the studycom version of DIS-COURSE for 20 students is 21,000 (sterling) (exclusiveof VAT). There will also be continuing costs to considerin respect of maintenance, technical and user-group sup-port.

    Whilst DISCOURSE itself will not improve the qualityof teaching, it appears to be well liked by students andvalued by teachers as an effective means of enhancingstudent participation in, and enjoyment of, their lectures.A note of caution is that the studycom version currently

  • Woodman & Pee

    available, which is essentially a stand-alone system, issoon to be superseded by a palmtop version with inter-net capability. This version also has a high resolutionscreen and, since it utilises radio rather than infra-redlinks, will not be restricted to rooms in which the ceilingblack boxes, required by the present version, are in-stalled.


    DISCOURSE is produced by Discourse Technologies(UK) Ltd (

    T. Woodman and B. PeeDental Auxiliary School

    Queen MaryUniversity of London


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