|Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education|
Some Thoughts on the BT Project, Tomorrow's Customers
Telematics is a European term meaning the coming together of telecommunications
and infomatics, or information technology, in developing curriculum
links between primary schools. Initially the link in this project
was a two-way one between Wickham Market Primary School in Suffolk,
England and Cwmaber Junior School, in South Wales. The project
was made possible through the involvement of British Telecom research
Laboratories, at Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, and it forms part
of their larger project called 'Tomorrow's Customers." Established
in June 1994, it is planned to run for at least until the year
2000. At present, August 1996, the project includes five primary
and three secondary schools. With the introduction of the Internet
links in September 1995, the nature of the project has broadened
beyond the initial project schools.
Wickham Market School is a primary school situated in a large
village in Suffolk (eastern England), in a farming community about
8 miles from the sea. We have around 300 children aged from 4-11.
I teach groups of children between the ages of 9 and 11 and am
responsible for coordinating science and IT throughout the school.
Cwmaber Junior School is in an ex coal-mining village in South
Wales. It has 211 children between the ages of 7 and 11. Clive
Jones, the deputy head, who teaches a class of 10-11 year olds,
and Dyffed Davies, the headteacher, are both actively involved
in this project.
The Hardware and Software
How We Operate the Project
Each term the two schools decide on one or two curriculum areas
that we want to share, decide on a manageable joint project within
these curriculum areas, outline the learning objectives for our
pupils, decide upon an attainable jointly authored end-product,
and set a deadline for the production of this end-product.
Over the four terms during which the project has been running, we have had varied success at achieving these ends. Successful curriculum planning between schools situated at a distance and between teachers who may not necessarily share a similar set of pre-conceptions, is not always easy. As teachers, in order to achieve successful joint planning using this new technology, we have learned to:
Impact of the Project on the Pupils' Use of IT
Since October 31, 1994, every single IT usage on the computers has been logged. The base-line of IT usage before the project started has unfortunately not been recorded, but I know that it was considerably below the lowest level attained since the project's initiation. We were very much in the average category for information-technology development within the school.
Throughout the project, the pupils' use of IT throughout the whole curriculum (measured in minutes per school day) has grown steadily. The boys have shown a remarkably regular growth, while for girls it has been far more erratic. The IT skills of almost all the pupils are of a very high order indeed, both in terms of understanding the technology and understanding when and how to apply it appropriately. Allowing the pupils to make their own decisions about the use of information technology is a major feature of its use in our school.
During the first year of the project, year-5 pupils (9-10 year olds) made more use of the IT than year-6 pupils (10-11 year olds)-9.3 minutes a day for the average year-five pupil against 6 minutes a day for the average year-six pupil-a trend reflected in their general motivation across the whole curriculum. Girls have used the IT more than boys-8.2 minutes a day for the average girl against 6.8 minutes for the average boy. These trends have continued during the second year of the project, though total IT usage has increase in all groups with the provision of more computers. Minutes per day were 7.6 for the average pupil in the first year of the project rising to 16 minutes in the second year. Within the group of 70+ pupils, there is a considerable range in their use of IT, from 49 minutes per day down to fewer than 2 minutes per day, during the second year of the project. The opportunity to use IT during the school day is freely available. The computer network is situated in one half of my large classroom, and it is available during the whole school day, including school breaks and sometimes before and after school. Generally the pupils are left to make their own choice whether to use it or not, with the exception of designated IT lessons. As yet, I haven't found an obvious correlation between academic ability and IT usage, though closer analysis of the figures may reveal some trends.
The type of IT usage during the second year of the project was
as follows: 55% essentially text based work, 22% essentially graphics,
7% database and spreadsheets, 9% research using either CD ROMS
or Internet searches, and 7% on-line communication sessions. There
are only small differences between the boys' and the girls' patterns
of usage. With the pupils making increasing usage of multimedia
packages such as power-point and hyperstudio, these distinctions,
(e.g., between graphics and text) are becoming far less clear.
Impact of the Project on the Curriculum
Although the project has impinged upon most of the subject areas within the curriculum, including science, history, geography, maths and English, we were particularly looking for pupil improvement within the following skill-areas:
All of the teachers who have been actively involved in the project
are convinced that the children's abilities in these areas have
improved significantly, though these improvements are far harder
to quantify than to recognize. During the third year of the project
we will attempt to develop ways of describing these skills more
accurately, as a pre-requisite to measuring them. In addition,
there have been significant social benefits with levels of motivation
being noticeably increased, especially in those children who were
identified as lacking motivation or who presented behavioral problems
The Introduction of the Internet
Since the start of the second year of the project we have had an internet link, through the British Telecom server Campus World from each of our twelve computers, using ISDN-2 lines. We have increasingly been developing this new telematic tool, initially through allowing the children to explore the new world and discover its potential for themselves. We early on discovered KIDLINK and started to build up a number of (short lived) key-pal exchanges. The existing link between Cwmaber and Wickham schools is being maintained but the learning circle is gradually being broadened, from an existing, secure base.
Using the Internet as a Database
We do draw upon the resources of the Internet for information
to support existing school projects. Groups of children working
on a joint weather project regularly download satellite images,
while a group of 7-8 year olds, who were doing a project on Egypt,
were helped by the older children to find relevant materials,
mainly pictures and maps. At a personal level, I am using the
Internet as a rich source of research material for a doctorate
I am doing, based around the project. Other teachers are beginning
to come to the network to find material, though this is still
a very slow process.
Using the Internet as a Communications Tool
We still believe that the real power of all this "new" technology is its ability to allow people an easy and relatively cheap means of communication. We are increasingly looking for other schools, organizations or individuals with similar interests to share in our link in order to turn our two-way communication process into a true multidimensional-dimensional learning-circle. However we have learned that we need to move slowly and ensure that we don't lose what we have already created on the way.
Our first venture into this larger pool was through Kidlink, an organization based in the United States; instantly we become part of a community of 10-15 year olds spread throughout 80+ countries across the world. During the first month, our school has participated in two international surveys and individual children have developed email key-pals. These key-pal exchanges engendered considerable interest at first, but they all failed after a few months. It appears that children of this age need to be provided with a structure in order to maintain interest over a period of time. In the future, we will concentrate on working within structured projects over the Internet.
Since these early days, I have subscribed to numerous listservers
and am at present (August 1996) becoming actively involved in
several projects posted through the HILITES list on the Global
SchoolNet Foundation, including one of our own making, called
"Our Local River." The initial responses from this posting
have been highly encouraging and supportive.
The Future of the Project
During the early summer of 1996, the British Telecom project began to focus our collaborative efforts into producing a WWW site on the theme "1000 years on the Orwell," the Orwell being one of our local rivers. The considerable technical resources of the BT labs are being placed alongside the schools' educational expertise. One of the project schools is being set up with an Internet-Server and we hope that the pages, which are at present in their early stages of development, will be available on the WWW within the next year, with a major publicity launch for the millennium in the year 2000. I see this development as a positive one, providing for the first time a single focus for the project schools. However, we must be vigilant to ensure that the technical process of producing the 'site' is subservient to the learning objectives of the pupils involved, and not the other way around. In educational projects of this kind, we must not allow a tail, however high-tech, to wag the dog.
As the first step in our involvement in this new phase of the project, the pupils at Wickham Market are basing large areas of next year's curriculum around the theme of rivers. Our geography topic for September will involve the development of a collaborative project on the theme of "rivers around the world" and how local communities use them for leisure and work. I wrote personally to around 50 teachers I have met on the Net over the last six months, suggesting a collaborative project and have also posted a project proposal on the HILITES list of Global SchoolNet Foundation. It will be interesting to compare the response from the two approaches, replies received within a week of the initial posting would indicate that the personal requests have produced the highest level of positive responses.
Developing Our Own Home Pages
The school recognizes that in the near future the use of the internet will be spreading rapidly within both the educational and the home markets. As a school, we feel we need to be visible when this development occurs and have set up a small working group of teachers, parents, and governors in order to design and set up our own WWW Home Pages. It is our intention that children will be heavily involved in the production of this site and will have responsibility for their own special-interest pages. Work on this will begin in September.
In order to get over this stage, the technology needs to be introduced carefully and sympathetically and to prove itself as a useful tool for developing the existing curriculum of the school. The hardware and software that carries it will also need to be simple, transparent, and reliable. I expect that telematics, having proved itself, will begin to change the very nature of how teachers teach and pupils learn; but this stage is in the future and must not be rushed.
Riel, M. (1993). Global education through learning circles. In L. Harasim (Ed.), Global networks-Computers and international communication. Cambridge: MIT Press, USA, pp. 221-236.
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