Bypass the litterbugs

31st May 1996 at 01:00
Sally McKeown looks at a special needs service on the Internet

Roger Bates is scathing of what he calls the trainspotter approach to the Internet. "Many sites on the Net are obsessed with the number of hits they receive rather than what use they are. There is evidence that information is judged on the basis of where it came from - the more exotic the location the better - rather than its usefulness to a busy teacher."

Roger is manager of Sensor (Special Educational Needs Service with On-Line Resources), a joint project with BT Campus World. Sensor already contains 2,000 pages of factual information such as addresses of software and hardware suppliers. There are also features and articles on the use of equipment and resources with frequent links from the article to the information.

It is growing daily, building an archive as well as providing current information. Sensor also offers to research and provide answers to individual queries. This is to keep the service abreast of the information needs of BT Campus World subscribers.

Theresa Dent, Sensor's administrator, says: "The best feature of Sensor is the way it is structured. There is loads of information with the databases and glossaries but there are routes through. The information contains many links and cross-references which should not only take users to the information they seek but should also introduce them to the ideas and possibilities. Our intention is not only to inform but to encourage teachers to think more widely about their pupils' needs."

This is very important because one group of the main users is likely to be special needs co-ordinators in schools who have to manage the special educational needs assessment procedure and provide information on all types of special need. In some cases they are also full-time classroom teachers.

Cost is a big issue for schools. The information is presented as text with a minimum of graphics. Sensor will also help its subscribers by selecting and directing them to useful Internet sites. This means that it takes less time and keeps the phone bills down.

The service is only available to subscribers on CampusWorld which some may see as a denial of the spirit of the Internet. However, Sensor argues that unlike many other providers, they don't just set up an initial service but also maintain it. This is very important because one of the awful things about the Web is that it is full of litter because no one updates it. Often you will find details of conferences and calls for papers for events which took place over a year ago. A recent search for information on a conference produced calls for papers for the 1994 and 1995 conferences but no mention of the 1996 event.

Roger Bates says that Net users are paying most of the costs and are in effect paying to deliver advertising to themselves. Much of the information currently available there is designed to inform users of the activities of the organisation placing that information rather than aimed at meeting the users' needs.

Sensor is determined not to become one of these sites but wants to develop its service by responding to the needs of its customers for information and advice. In the short term, some of its pages will be placed on the public area of CampusWorld's Web site, and there are plans to launch a CD-Rom of the Sensor pages in the autumn.

Sensor, tel: 0161 627 4003 e-mail: CampusWorld Website:

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