Heaven-sent opportunities

Make the most of the wealth of material available in cyberspace

RE teachers nationally are very active in the use of ICT, often against considerable odds when it comes to balancing computer suite time against the small number of lessons allocated to their subject. There are a number of reasons for this.

For one thing, RE departments are small - often just one specialist teacher. So where there is no community of departmental colleagues within the school, there is a strong incentive for them to reach out and find resources and support through email or the web.

Pupils too are starting to use email in this way. A school with a rich ethnic and religious mix, for example, can find its pupils acting as advisers and experts to children who don't have access to the same experience in their own classrooms. There is no limit to how far this can go - so, for example, the RE department at Penworth Priory High School in Lancashire has run a project on Bar Mitzvah with Year 9 that used an email link with Jewish students in Israel who were preparing for their Bar Mitzvah.

Another attraction for RE teachers and students is that religion is hugely represented on the internet. Use any remotely relevant key word in a search engine and an overwhelming number of links appears, hence the need to make informed choices. but by using advice from the authority adviser, or approaching faith groups through links from one of the specialist RE sites, teachers can find a wealth of support and information.

Then there's the way that the computer can sort out an apparently unmanageable store of information. The sheer size of the Bible, for example, makes this a daunting business. But where texts of sacred books are available on CD-Rom or the web, with commentary, it's very easy to search them by keywords and topics.

Religion also places a lot of emphasis on symbols, places, artefacts and music and there are beautiful images, authentic sounds, and authoritative explanations easily available on CD-Rom and on the web. You can see the Jerusalem Wailing Wall live on a webcam, for example, on www.aish.comwallcam All of this can seem overwhelming to the busy teacher. Fortunately, however, RE teachers have for some years been alive to the importance of ICT, and there are now some excellent sources of help. So the message is not to despair, because there are some key starting points. You can use one of the websites that are listed here - from REfIT, Culham College Institute, St Martin's College, for example - comforted by the knowledge that you are being guided by teachers who have been down the road ahead of you.

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