Becta streamlining sees Grid close

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Becta plans to make online educational services easier to use, writes George Cole

One of the best-known names in ICT and education disappeared during last month when the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) portal and brand was subsumed into a new online education portal called Content Search. NGfL badges and links have been removed from websites. The new portal is managed by Becta, the government's educational technology agency.

Dave Hassell, Becta's director of educational content, explains that the demise of NGfL is part of a process to streamline online educational services and make them easier to use. "We're trying to rationalise all our services so they will work more coherently together," he says. "We've already started with the Curriculum Online (COL) portal, by providing software tools that allow an LEA or RBC (Regional Broadband Consortium) to pull data from COL and use it on their own portal." Under the reorganisation, COL will remain, but Hassell hopes that it becomes integrated with other educational portals and websites, rather than seen as a standalone service that users have to visit.

Hassell gives the example of Worcestershire LEA, which was involved in a pilot project designed to make online searches for educational content and resources much simpler for users. A teacher looking on the Worcestershire Grid for Learning portal can see what software licences the authority holds and look for further resources stored on the COL website - without leaving the Worcestershire portal. "We're trying to get away from teachers having to go from website to website in order to find different things. We want to bring piles of resources together," says Hassell, "and we're encouraging LEAs and RBCs to plug into COL." Hassell adds that many education organisations have information stored on their databases that could be shared rather than having to be replicated and stored at several online locations. "What we'd like to do eventually is have a situation like the system used to book an air ticket online, which is achieved by different parties sharing their data. We think the same thing could happen in education."

Dave Hassell says that both Becta and the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) have been pruning ther online offerings: "I think at one stage Becta had about 30 different brands..."

The Becta website has been re-designed and simplified, with a new schools section. "With the NGfL, there was a lot of overlap with other areas such as post-16, but now these two areas have been divided, with the post-16 sector having its own portal," says Hassell. Visitors to the new Content Search portal can search for a number of things, including content and advice as well as links to museums and galleries, so shouldn't it really be called Resources Search? "The portal is still under development," explains Hassell, "and over the months, you'll see certain parts hived off, so the focus will be purely on content."

Although there might be some sadness over the passing of the NGfL, Ray Barker, director of Besa (British Educational Suppliers Association), believes it's a sound move. "I think many teachers thought the NGfL was just about funding and it's also been subsumed by other developments like Curriculum Online. However, I wonder how Becta and DfES are going to get the message across to teachers about these changes? It was a long time before many teachers knew that Curriculum Online existed."

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