CM . . .
. Volume X Number 11 . . . . January 30, 2004
In the age of hypertext and home computers with spelling and grammar checkers, the importance of punctuation has not disappeared. So the promise of learning how to correctly use punctuation marks is the appeal of this multimedia course. Retired teacher Marie Rackham claims to offer a comprehensive and easy to follow course for an audience as wide as grade six to adults, and from ESL and adult literacy to corporate training. Yet anything that claims such a wide range of application is suspect from the start, and this package is deserving of that suspicion.
To begin, despite being presented on a DVD, it should be pointed out that this is not an interactive, multimedia experience. This is a collection of video lectures with an accompanying set of print exercises. In the video, Marie is seen walking throughout the beautiful Campbell River district of Vancouver Island, talking about punctuation. The beautiful scenery (in crystal clear digital video) certainly eliminates the formality of traditional lectures, but the start to finish monologue makes these every second a lecture. In addition, the image quality is diminished with busy screens as Marie's monologue usually appears in sub title style text text that suddenly and without explanation turns pink and yellow and gets underlined. Furthermore, Marie's speech is cumbersome and inauthentic as she uses an over enunciated and over emphasized delivery that is best categorized by what ESL teachers would call "special English."
Often, Marie's monologue is disconnected from the scenery that she is surrounded by and the actions in which she is engaged. For example, she uses the sentence "Billy Bob is here" to discuss use of the comma, but does so while walking around the house, drinking coffee, and gathering gear to go fishing. This contrasts with effective ESL video units, for example, in which the text on screen is directly connected to the context of the image. This enhances potential learning by relating the visual and print information. However, in this video, the text and actions are often completely different, offering no connection between the text and context. This raises the possibility for confusion imagine a beginning ESL learner viewing this, wondering if a fishing rod is actually a “Billy Bob.” After all, Marie talks about "Billy Bob," and supporting text reads "Billy Bob" at the very same time that she is opening a closet to locate her fishing rod! And to further illustrate just how cumbersome the presentation is, Marie advises the viewer to consult the glossary at the end of the binder if they don't understand something. A savvy consumer of materials might ask, "If I need to consult the print material in order to make sense out of the video, of what value is this very expensive video?"
The DVD does not provide for interactive exercises, and so if you buy it expecting to do exercises on your computer, you will have wasted your money. Instead, you'll need to make space on your desk to go through the very limited print materials (only 24 one line sentences for the chapter on common confusions). As a result, you just sit back and watch the video lesson, then, when it is over, go to the print exercises and complete them. Then start the next lesson. There is no interaction with the DVD, no automated correction, no graded exercises, no games, no bells, no whistles, nothing but Marie speaking special English in her special places on Vancouver Island.
The print exercises are essentially basic worksheets. Furthermore, they are not graded and do not provide any opportunity to make adaptations for age or grade level. Marie does not explain the printed exercises in the video, and there is no connection between the content of the exercise sentences and the images or examples in the video. In this sense, Marie and the producers have failed to contextualize the exercises within the scenes or actions of the video. As a result, the package functions like two distinct and for the most part, disconnected elements.
To be sure, I do not recommend this package. For the price, I would expect to obtain far more flexibility and usage than the package offers. In practice, this is a single use video with single use exercises. After a single use, its utility will have been exhausted. And for half the price, I can buy activity books and exercises that will have far more class appeal, far more contextual support, and offer far more flexibility and adaptability. Additionally, I had my kids watch this video to get a sense of which ages it would work with: my seven year old was initially intrigued but got totally lost in Marie's complex explanations and vocabulary (terms like “assertive” and “imperative” tend to do this to most viewers), and my 13-year-old scoffed in disbelief very early on in her viewing and asked me if this was supposed to be serious.
Honestly, it was difficult to take much of this package seriously. At times, it was difficult not to laugh as it felt like a parody of teaching, mocking its own claim to usefulness. I know that teachers and other purchasers of such material have expectations of quality and substance that are far more rigorous than what is offered in this package. For example, an entire lesson is devoted to the interrobang. If you don't know what that is, it's a question mark and an exclamation mark combined. And if you do know what it is, tell me, how useful is it? I'm afraid the light hearted tone that Marie attempts to establish simply undermines any opportunity to take her seriously.
Ironically, the last line of Marie's biography in the print materials is missing the period!
Tim MacKay, a full time doctoral student in language and literacy education at the University of Manitoba, is also the coordinator of a certificate program in ESL teacher training at the same institution.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.