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Caught in the Net

Whenever I hear the word "interactive", I always think of marketing. It's the kind of word that spreads itself smoothly across press releases for technology projects or pads out adverts for big-buck computers that always seem to show the same happy family in the same large white room looking at the same glowing screen. Interactive sounds as if it must be a good thing; modern but approachable, hi-tech but homely. Put it into a sentence alongside words such as "multimedia" and "Pentium processor" and you're part of the future.

But despite the catch-all use of the term (hitting someone on the head with this newspaper could be a fairly interactive experience), much of the educational potential of the Internet rests in the ability to make your humble desktop computer interact with other machines around the world.

On the most direct level, the Internet allows you to see a document or an image held in a computer in another location. But what might prove more useful in the longer term is the ability not only to access Internet pages, but also to exchange ideas - to make the Internet deliver as well as receive information.

If, like charity, interactivity begins at home, take a look at The TES's own interactive zone on its web site, launched last week. The Internet Staffroom is a forum in which readers can ask each other questions, share experiences or seek advice.

The idea behind this is that, as well as using the Internet to view stories from the newspaper, readers might also want to make contributions of their own, without the formality of sending a letter to the editor or needing to write a piece that's the length of a fully-formed article. These contributions might take the form of discussions, with readers responding to issues raised in the week's news. Or the Internet Staffroom might feature a question-and-answer session.

Questions could be from teachers wrestling with incomprehensible instructions for a new computer. Or there could be requests for ideas for lessons for a particular age group or curriculum area. For teachers who have few or no colleagues teaching the same subject in their school (such as specialist language staff), the Internet Staffroom could be a way of establishing a network of similarly-placed teachers to discuss specific aspects of their subject. How the service is used will be shaped by the readers who choose to participate.

The foundation of any such system is the ease of use of e-mail. Although it isn't particularly difficult to pick up a pen and send off a letter on paper, the spontaneity of e-mail seems to make it much more likely that people will share their thoughts. The TES's fledgling Internet service has received far more e-mails already than you would expect if the messages had to be sent on paper.

As well as the Internet Staffroom, The TES Internet service is peppered with e-mail buttons, so that if you have any thoughts on any of the articles which you read, or want to highlight stories that deserve reporting, then click away on an e-mail button and let us know.

The TES Internet service is at e-mail to

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