Flesh on the bones

Teachers' centres once lent out things like skeletons. Now they offer staff a chance to discuss ideas and problems, writes Douglas Blane

magine if each of us had a squad of helpful colleagues in the classroom cupboard, who could be wheeled out when we wanted to discuss teaching methods, new ideas or modern technologies.

These colleagues would tell us about useful resources and materials; they would constantly and uncomplainingly give us the benefit of their vast experience. Even better, they could be shoved back into the cupboard again whenever we got tired of listening to them.

It will soon be a reality. The Scottish Virtual Teachers' Centre (SVTC) will be launched officially next month, but a test version is available on the Internet connection.

SVTC is part of the National Grid for Learning and is aimed at primary, secondary and further education teachers and librarians throughout Scotland. Responsibility for providing the computer and communications expertise and for setting up the system lies with the Scottish Council for Educational Technology (SCET), in Glasgow's West End.

The manager, Nick Morgan, and his team are working among the stained-glass windows, oak beams and medieval lines of an old school chapel, using modern technology to fashion the teaching resources of the future.

"Not so long ago, teachers could drop in to teachers' centres," he says, "where they could get classroom materials, videos, maybe a skeleton for the biology class. But the regions broke up into units that were often too small to sustain that kind of resource and, as a result, a lot of the centres have gone.

"They are missed, so part of our aim is that SVTC should deliver a similar resource using computer technology," Morgan says.

The centre will include information on teaching tools, video conferencing and what works in the classroom, links to good subject materials, such as the Louvre for Art and Design, and carefully selected portions of the huge NASA website for science.

"There will be materials and resources contributed by practitioners - worksheets, assignments, handouts, software, resource lists, search options to help people trace resources relevant to their own interests, and links to sites with information about the curriculum," Morgan continues.

"A particular strength will be discussion areas and resources for special needs teachers, many of whom are professionally quite isolated. Most sites will have been recommended by teachers and librarians themselves," he says.

SCET is working with the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, which is providing the essential knowledge of the Scottish curriculum and its teaching in schools. The project began last January with Pounds 100,000 of funding for the first year. "There is more to SVTC than resources," Morgan explains.

"We might not be able to supply real skeletons, but we can provide something the old teachers' centres didn't - discussion areas and chat rooms where teachers can get together and talk about all aspects of their work.

"Enhancing communication among teachers might well turn out to be SVTC's most important benefit. It will reduce professional isolation enormously and that can only be a good thing."

The prototype version of the Scottish Virtual Teachers' Centre, which features information on a limited number of subject areas, is at www.svtc.org.uk For more information, contact Nick Morgan,4 Victoria Crescent Road, Glasgow G12 9JN, 0141 337 5086, email: n.morgan@scet.com He will explore the role of the Scottish Virtual Teachers' Centre on November 4 at 12.05pm at the Tactics and Trends exhibition in Glasgow.

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