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Online race hots up;Further Education

Labour's online learning strategy now aims to train all FE staff by April, with millions being set aside, reports Chris Johnston

A NATIONAL programme to train all further education staff in using computers in teaching could be up and running by April. The proposal is made in a new report by the Further Education Funding Council's information and learning technology (ILT) committee in a document outlining how its plans to wire up colleges will be implemented.

The committee urges the FEFC to quickly investigate the possibility of using Standards Fund money to allow training to start by April. It says continuing professional development is vital to the success of ILT initiatives.

The report also calls for the training of "ILT champions" in each college to cascade good practice down to others and says full-time staff should have permanent, personal access to an Internet-linked computer.

Outlining the plans at the recent Networking the FE community conference in London, Keith Duckitt, the FEFC's head of information systems, said there was a need for both a skills upgrade and a cultural change among staff.

Additional funds will be available for staff ILT training, but colleges will have to prove the money is used for this purpose. They will also be required to draw up a comprehensive ILT strategy if one does not exist.

A key element of the pound;74 million, three-year strategy is the National Learning Network (FE Focus, October 8). Each of the 433 colleges will get a very fast two megabytes per second connection, allowing multimedia materials to be used by large numbers of learners. All colleges will be linked by March 2001, and 90 will be hooked up by March next year.

Funding will start to flow from next month - pound;12million in 19992000, pound;20m in 20002001 and pound;42m in pound;20012002. An allocation has been set aside to ensure all colleges have an effective internal computer network so they can take advantage of the high-speed national link.

A national college e-mail system, enabling all staff and students to have an e-mail address, will also be investigated. Nine regional support centres will provide technical assistance.

The committee recognises the lack of high-quality digital learning materials, and recommends an audit to help to identify where new materials should be commissioned. It says substantial funding should be set aside for this purpose. It also suggests investigating the idea of a central bank containing free or heavily discounted programs for colleges to use.

John Brown, lifelong learning director for the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, told the conference that the new network would help ILT to become a standard tool for all FE tutors, and see far more online learning.

The plan is part of the Government's broader learning strategy that includes computer learning centres and the University for Industry. Brian Sutton, the UFI's ICT director, said it would work with FE colleges to increase access and widen participation by using technology.

More than 600 colleges have bid to become UFI learning centres and more than 1,000 such facilities will be running by spring 2001. The first centres will be announced on Wednesday along with the UFI's new name - expected to be Learning Direct.

Mr Sutton said about 60 per cent of learners are expected to use the centres when the UFI starts operating in September, but learning from home or work is expected to take the lion's share in only the second year of operation. He added that digital television would play a key role in delivering UFI courses - as many people are expected to have a digital TV as a home computer within five years.

Meanwhile, an e-commerce accreditation scheme to kitemark and promote training has been launched by two national training organisations (NTOs) with Hyperchannel, an e-commerce and Internet security company.

Anne Russell, chief executive of the Information Technology NTO, said it was a response to government and industry concerns about Britain's e-commerce skills shortage.

Links: "National Learning Network: Making it Happen" implementation and summary: http:194.66.249. 219documentsothercouncilpublicationsindex.html Further Education Resources for Learning: http: NTO:

Second-year student Audalus Tawfig, at Leeds College of Art and Design, models clothing beside a website screen showing software that enables the model to be rotated on screen PETER BYRNE\GUZELIAN

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