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Freedom of the super highway

Putting your lessons straight into web format is becoming easier all the time. One firm now offers a flexible solution to schools. Debbie Davies reports.

When the Secretary of State, Estelle Morris, unveiled her vision for the classroom of the future at BETT earlier this year, many teachers were sceptical.

Now they can visit Digitalbrain to check out her claim that everything in her computer-rich classroom is already happening, somewhere. Digitalbrain plc was set up to capitalise on the emerging market for electronic learning. The Bank of Scotland is a major shareholder and Valerie Bragg, a director of 3Es, is one of its non-executive directors. Paul Hammond, managing director, believes that a handful of companies will dominate e-learning. He also believes that Digitalbrain will be one of them.

The company's core products include software that you can access online, rather than via disk or hard drive. And its programs fall into three types. The first level is content-free software that gives you standard templates, guides and tools. You can use these to create your own electronic lessons, using your own subject material. All these materials are stored online.

Next there are content-specific- programs: ready-made courses for each subject and key stage, which include a range of 3Es' online courses. Finally there is software that can be used for automatic assessment of students' progress. Alongside this software, Digitalbrain throws in online forums and electronic calendars and even takes over your e-mail.

Whether or not schools want one company to shape everything they do online is another matter. Independent suppliers say it becomes harder for schools to use their products once a company like Digitalbrain has moved in. But the company claims that real efficiencies stem from using digital lessons. Access to materials is far easier, and available at any time. This allows more time for teachers to be in the classroom and cuts down on paperwork.

Digitalbrain also sells hardware. The firm owns Bulletpoint Presentations, the interactive whiteboard reseller, which is launching new pricing structures at the Education Show under the brand name Renaissance. These new structures include a leasing package with Bank of Scotland that will equip schools with interactive whiteboards, projectors and software.

Paul Hammond recognises the importance of whiteboards: "Whatever software schools choose, they all need to address how they will access it in the classroom," he says. "The interactive whiteboard is one solution." The cost of the full package is about pound;4,200, but leasing packages are flexible.

A school of 250 pupils wishing to lease 10 whiteboards with projectors, and to access Digitalbrains' software can expect to pay approximately pound;4.20 per student per year on a five-year lease. The company has low-price entry-level offers for schools that want to buy the minimum, but these may turn out to be the same as Ryanair's pound;10 fares to the continent. Check out its website for the Renaissance packages.


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