Imagine what a real broadband (high-speed) connection could do for your classroom: instant Net access, rich content, video as good as television, fast interactivity, multimedia. However, the plain fact is that, for many, broadband will not be particularly broad and few will know what to do with it when they get it.
Tim Clark, of RM (Stands D50, E50, TC9 and TC10), who has developed Internet for Learning, says that he is optimistic that all secondary schools will have broadband by 2002. "We have to have realistic expectations about broadband. The only thing that I am confident about is that we will get fast Internet access."
There is a debate about content; the materials that students and teachers will use. How will all this change teaching? Will we assess in the same way? Will teachers want multimedia packages, carefully knitted together by a software house, that can be downloaded or used when needed? Will broadband increase activity or passivity? Whatever happens, broadband into schools is going to take us into new areas of learning, teaching and software development.
Back to the present: the Virtual Teacher Centre will unveil its annual make-over at BETT 2001. Dave Hassell, of Becta, claims that this one will be radical. One of the aims is to take out much of the content, relocate that on the Becta site and make the VTC into a sign-posting and support service. Mr Hassell hopes that people will register so that the site can be more sensitive to the needs of individuals.
BT will also be taking a different approach this year - for once it could be getting its educational strategy together. BT (stand D40) will display examples of the solutions it can provide, and demonstrate its benefits. Among the Community is Learning Services, the Learning Infrastructure service for regional use; the high-profile virtual service for headteachers (National College for School Leadership), and the video-rich broadband service for the Sussex Virtual College. BT's focus is moving away from simply offering customers a range of products, to consulting them on what services they actually want.
The other major telecoms provider at BETT is NTL (stand W60), and learning environments will be the theme of its work. Its Community Intranet is a "protected learning" zone, which will mean that work done at school will be accessible at home as well. The learning platform will contain tools and content. Access will be through a PC or through set-top boxes. NTL already has 5,200 schools signed up, plus large projects in Nottingham and Hertfordshire.
BETT is not just for the big players. Geoff Dellow, a teacher, has been doing some interesting work with Flash software and the results appear on the Internet. Dellow is so convinced of the value of this work that he has taken a stand (SW63) to demonstrate it. He points to the site (www.tygh.co.ukglasbury), as the first presentation by a school done in this way (in Flash). Thirty-five files, created by 75 10-year-old students, are co-ordinated into one presentation of the school's residential visit to Wales. It includes animations on the water cycle, how mountains came about and how caves and waterfalls are formed. Dellow believes that the potential for extending this work is enormous.
One feature of the Internet has been the development of subscription services. They are an additional expense to schools, but they can save time. Taking out a subscription service is a little like starting a photocopier agreement - someone ends up with their hand in your pocket. Approach them all with caution and a calculator. You need to be sure that these services are doingmore than you can get free on the Internet and, as most of them have free trials, you can look before you subscribe.
RM pioneered the way with Living Library, which is a general resource containing a wide range of materials to suit all areas of the curriculum. Recent additions include video clips, supplied by British Pathe and BBC Worldwide, of some of the most ground-breaking news events of the 20th century (primary: single user pound;99, unlimited users pound;799; Secondary: single user pound;299, unlimited users pound;1,299).
New material for secondary and primary are part of the offerings from Espresso (stands M85 and M87), the satellite service. Espresso sends a weekly bundle of information via satellite into schools. Set-up costs include the price of a dish (pound;1,750) and an Espresso box. The subscription is pound;4.50 per pupil, per annum for primary schools.
Spark Island is a new service that will be launched at BETT. Aimed at primary age children, it has a number of imaginative resources and potential users can receive an introduction by going to the website. The activities have been designed to be accessible, stimulating and engaging. It is not just a site, but more of an environment, with its own currency and characters (schools, pound;200 per annum).
Rivalling Spark Island will be Granada Learning's Primary Zone (stands F40 and SN14) for children at school and at home, aged between four and eleven. Teachers and parents can use the site to help children learn by providing access to almost 100 online educational activities. The main areas are maths, English and science (school pound;59; parents pound;9.99 per annum).
AngliaCampus has been around for some time and is now part of the Granada group. The range of resources has always been wide and closely curriculum focused (primary schools pound;120, secondary pound;450).
Actis (stand H44) will launch its English Online resource, which will contain materials for English teachers, offering them help in the classroom work. Set books are covered at all levels. Language units contain student questionnaires, worksheets, activities teaching notes, online lecture notes and linked website resources (access during school day, pound;100).
Learnall.net, from Dialnet (stand B82), is designed to help teachers find resources quickly and easily. There are lesson plans, classroom materials, homework exercises and revision guides from many publishers. Email, conferencing, publishing, news and chat facilities are also available. Prices will be announced at BETT.
Internet filtering can lead to some bizarre censorship. Modern language departments can get very irritated when filtering software eliminates anything to do with "French" - yes, it happens. RM will launch a new Internet filtering service, RM SafetyNet Plus. This will allow schools to customise their own filtering.
Finally, AOL has a sponsored account program for primary schools that do not yet have Internet access. The account has to include the name of the school and must be used for school purposes. Details can be obtained by email from RachelSchools@aol.com. The AOL service has ways of ensuring that young users are protected. The main service now gives unmetered access - you pay pound;14.99 for all you can use - is very useful for teachers who need hours of access in their own time.
Virtual Teacher Centre
BT Education Services www.bteducation.comnewsindex.htm