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ICT - Learning the e-way

Joining online communities can transform the face of education, says Gareth Mills

Joining online communities can transform the face of education, says Gareth Mills

Ben is part of an online community. He's become fascinated by Japanese manga animations and downloads the most recent instalment from the website of his favourite author.

He is an eager consumer, perhaps feeling like those in the past who eagerly queued for the next episode of a story by Dickens. However, Ben is also a producer. He is part of a community of "flash" animators who post their own mini-animations onto a community website.

The community uses the software to create, animate and mix images and sound together. They use many cinematic conventions to create moods and effects. On the site, participants present their work. They critique and rate others' contributions, offering advice, sharing bits of code and pointing each other to examples of what they regard as high-quality work from authors they've never met. Ben is 13.

In this aspect of his life he is an independent learner, sharing his work with a real audience, reflecting on his own competency and working with others to update and improve his technical and storytelling skills. In fact, he's demonstrating many of the skills that education is trying to cultivate. I'm told his school knows nothing about what he does.

How many other young people have a secret life of learning? How do we narrow the gap between the way they use technology outside school and what they enjoy in school?

The good news is that an increasing number of schools are using the flexibility provided by the new curriculum to do exactly this sort of thing. They are exploring new ways of organising learning using technology, often blurring the boundaries between formal and informal learning.

I recently attended a celebration event held for the Northern Grid for Learning. In Abbey Infant School, Smethwick, West Midlands, pupils have been collaborating and sharing work with parents online, making productive links between home and school.

Pupils at Eastbourne Church of England Academy in Darlington are e-twinned with schools in Poland and the Czech Republic. Using lesson and club time along with home learning, they collaborate to set and solve maths challenges. In Leasowes School in Dudley, West Midlands, pupils collaborate with local businesses so there is real purpose and application in their work.

The real world contexts are exceptionally motivating for pupils. Those in Grange Primary in Nottingham make and broadcast their own programmes on a school radio station.

Schools are using ICT to extend opportunities and horizons. It is much more than another subject on the timetable. It is unlocking possibilities to enhance learning across the curriculum and it is changing when and where learning is taking place.

Gareth Mills is head of curriculum development and implementation at the QCA.

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