Boxing clever 2;Cover feature;National Grid for Learning

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Brookwood primary school is part of an NTLTV net access trial. Chris Johnston went to see it.

Until recently, the only way to access the Internet was with a personal computer. However, many people do not want or need all the other capabilities that a PC offers, nor do they want to fork out the best part of pound;1,000 to get on the information superhighway.

Now there is an alternative - surfing on your television. NTL has offered Net access through a television set since March, when it launched the UK's first interactive TV service. It allows users to shop from their armchair, even while watching a programme, but it is the information the service makes available that is of most interest to learners.

As well as using the TV Internet service at home, it has potential for schools, particularly primaries that do not have a large number of computers connected to the Net.

Earlier this year, The TES arranged for a set-up box that is used to access the service to be installed at Brookwood primary school in Surrey to evaluate its usefulness.

Anita Smith, the ICT co-ordinator, says the box's arrival sparked much interest among pupils, as the school did not have any computers linked to the Net previously.

However, she says they had to wait until the SAT tests were held before using it.

When they did get their chance, their reaction was positive. About one-quarter of the Years five and six class, where the box was located, had used the Internet before, but using the wireless keyboard for navigation did not seem to be an obstacle.

As the box uses a phone line to download web pages, it is not rocket-fast and as it was linked to a small television the text size could have been slightly larger.

Caroline Beynon, the classroom teacher, says she has used the box for whole-class teaching, but admits a larger screen would make doing so much easier.

She has encouraged pupils to keep a diary of the sites they visit to encourage them to visit worthwhile Net use. They are required to follow a code of conduct, and not type in rude words for example, but Smith says they have all been "very sensible".

Staff have also benefited from the TV Internet service. Brookwood is no different from other primary schools in having many teachers who are not experienced Internet users and feel uneasy about technology.

Smith says ICT is very new to the school - it now has a handful of computers - and there has been resistance to change, but the box's simplicity and user-friendliness has helped to break down barriers.

The TV Internet service costs pound;5 a month and Internet calls are 1p a minute. NTL is also launching an interactive Knowledge Channel later this year, with content from Dorling Kindersley and AngliaCampus. The company hopes it will be an educational resource for the whole family, especially those without home computers.

As well as being available through the set-top box, the channel will be on NTL's forthcoming digital cable and terrestrial TV services. Internet access is also possible on digital satellite television.

TV Internet is not about to replace computers, but it could be a useful alternative and cost-effective method of accessing the Web in some circumstances.

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