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Big Brother watches the homework

The online Scholar programme, pioneered by Heriot-Watt University, is developing technology that will allow teachers to track pupils' progress when they work on their home computers.

At the same time, Scholar is expanding the range of subjects it offers for Higher and Advanced Higher pupils.

Roy Leitch, chief executive officer of the Interactive University, which publishes and distributes Scholar, has revealed that new subjects will include Higher information systems and Advanced Higher computing from August.

The Scholar Forum is also interested in developing Higher human biology in response to demand, but is waiting for appropriate funding.

Scholar technology already includes a reporting system which allows pupils to flag problem areas while working online. However, the latest developments would allow teachers to track how pupils are progressing and decide if they need extra support in a specific area.

Created by Heriot-Watt University, the concept of Scholar was developed by Professor Leitch, formerly deputy principal of the university, in pursuit of his conviction that education needs to be more student-centred.

"Technology provides an opportunity to focus on the student in education, not technology for its own sake," he said. "I am very much against that. I believe that technology frees up the educational process."

His mantra of the "three Cs" - content, context and community - should, in theory, mean that the development of the content of the e-learning materials gives staff time in schools (the context) to listen to and talk to students who are part of a class, cohort, or learning community.

If used properly, the programme should free the teacher from having to transmit most of the content of a lesson and allow them to move on to the next stage - problem-solving.

One of the key challenges is to make teachers informed of how to move to this next stage, Professor Leitch said, and Scholar does that through staff development. He uses the analogy of water as a resource, pointing out that we wouldn't pump water up from the bottom of the garden - we buy it from Scottish Water so that it comes clean through the pipes. In the same way, online technology allows teachers to add value to pupils' knowledge.

However, he recognises that there is still a journey to travel in changing teaching methodologies and an expectation on the part of teachers that it is their role to deliver the content rather than the analysis, problem-solving or understanding.

With all of Scotland's 32 local authorities signed up to Scholar, Professor Leitch argues that schools are now making much quicker progress in changing to a student-centred approach to learning compared to further education colleges.

He also believes that Scotland is leading the way in Europe and among developing economies such as India and China, where education provision is still measured in the number of class contact hours delivered.

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