To hook up to the Internet you need to enlist with an Internet service provider - known as an ISP. For individuals, dial-up connection is all you need - you just connect your computer to a telephone line via a modem. All ISPs can provide this, so look for special deals from major on-line services - AOL and the Microsoft Network, for example, give free connection for UK secondary schools.
If you want to connect your school's network computers, you need to go to specialists who are in tune with education (Research Machines, BT's CampusWorld, Edex and ICL are the obvious choices), and the cable companies that are currently cabling up the UK's cities and towns have just entered the fray with the cheapest ever high-capacity connections (ISDN) for schools.
To set up your dial-up connection you need to check that your hardware is up to it. Most people now using the Internet are looking at its friendly face, the World Wide Web. On-screen this looks like a series of pages of text and images and, increasingly, sound, animations and video. To exploit these fully, without waiting an age for the machine to load them up, you need a powerful computer and a fast modem. Windows PC users need at least a 486 but preferably a Pentium, Apple aficionados need a Power Mac and Acorn users require at least an A-series machine. Get the fastest possible modem - 28.8k is now the minimum, but 33.6k modems are now becoming affordable (about Pounds 160).
Dial-up connection costs roughly between Pounds 10 and Pounds 20 a month, and a good provider will supply the necessary software to surf the Net and allow unlimited connection at local-call rate.
The most important software is your browser. It does just that, helping you browse through the mass of information on the Net, and the best ones also allow you to send and receive electronic mail. Many browsers are available but the market leaders for Windows and Macs are Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator.
Both of these can be obtained free for education users, and can be downloaded from a variety of Web sites. Acorn users are not so lucky. Their technology can exploit the Internet in impressive ways, but their software suppliers are often not as quick to exploit new developments.
Network connections need a far higher level of technical support and advice, so an education provider is crucial. BT was expected to take the lead in the early days of the Internet, but RM's start-up Internet for Learning ran rings around the networking giants to take a lead that it still holds. These two are not the only network providers, however, so it is important to talk to others and find out what best suits your school before making what is likely to be a major investment.
Before you talk to any provider make sure you have a basic grasp of what Internet provision is all about. There are plenty of magazines available and the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET) can advise on publications tailored for education.
Finally, if you can get access to an Internet connection, if only for an hour, you can search for support materials which you can then copy on to the computer and read at your leisure. And don't forget to visit The TES Internet Service to search through back issues in the library's archive. There you will find a wealth of articles written by leading practitioners.
Once your connection is sorted, just aim your browser at http:www.tes. co.uk, sign on and search to your heart's content. Welcome on board.
AOL 0171 386 4155 Cable Association 0171 222 2900 CampusWorld 0345 573393 Demon 0181 371 1234 Easynet 0171 209 0990 Edex 0181 296 9201 ICL 01179 842012 NCET 01203 416994 RM 01235 826868 Zynet 01392 209500 Email forThe TES Internet editor, Sean Coughlan, should go to: email@example.com