Cable throws schools a line

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
With plans to connect all Scotland's education community to the Internet by the end of 1997 and politicians vying for the election spotlight, communications are bound to have a higher than ever profile at BETT 97.

The Net@BETT will run again this year. The cable companies will be showing what they can do and, in a year which could well see a change of government, they are keen to have a high profile and be seen to be doing something socially useful. CableTel, for instance, has forced the pace by announcing generous fixed-tariff deals for all the schools in its franchise areas.

This, according to Tim Clark of RM's Internet for Learning (IFL), will be a year of consolidation. RM, though, is making changes. Its popular site, which has been open to the world since it was first created, now has parts limited to IFL subscribers. The Pathways section will be one of the areas that is restricted. One other development at IFL is a stricter censorship. It is not foolproof, but it is much fiercer than it was a few weeks ago. RM has had a tremendous success with the Internet, and it will be interesting to see how the changes will affect developments. Clark believes that access to the Internet through the school network and a faster line (ISDN) will be the way forward for secondary schools, and the deal that RM has struck with Energis will enable cost-effective ISDN access for schools.

BT's CampusWorld has had an interesting first year. An outsider looking at the power of BT might have predicted that it would have been in a pre-eminent position by now instead of being in third or fourth place. That it has more first-class, specifically UK content, aimed at schools has not proved to be the magnet. It looks as though its pricing strategy has proved to be a deterrent. BT can offer so much more to schools than any other telecom provider. There is security, ISDN lines into the school networks, pagers, connections to exam boards and video- conferencing. It is promising ISDN2 access at #163;150 per month, and says that this will offer a bigger pipe (128K) at a lower price than anyone else.

Xemplar claims that the new network computer will revolutionise Internet access. The computers will be cheaper than conventional ones and could be the breakthrough that everyone has been waiting for. The network computer will be shown at BETT working on-line and as an Internet machine.

A new service, Education Online, supported by business sponsors, will be launched. This will be a free, participatory site set up to help teachers to deal with the Internet. It will look at all the digital media. The Apple Internet server, one of the most widely used pieces of Internet technology, will also be on display.

Anglia Multimedia provides some of the educational content for AOL (the UK version of America OnLine). The free accounts to all secondary schools mean that every school can have five screen names. Schools join a network of more than 7 million users worldwide. Not many people seem to have realised that there is educational content in addition to the Anglia material. The US on-line service has always had a strong commitment to education, with an area that answers more than 120,000 homework questions a day. On AOL there is a dedicated schools area and a forum for secondary school teachers.

While AOL is only free to secondary schools, it is hoped that the service will be extended to primary schools. The AOL software is simplicity itself to load on to a machine and will be much appreciated by primary teachers because it is possible to control pupil access.

The National Council for Educational Technology is looking at the way teachers are using the Internet on the portable computer scheme that started last year. All the teachers who were given a portable were also given two Internet accounts, one from RM and one from AOL. Other developmen ts are the management of the Superhighways Initiative. There is also a project looking at the way that four schools are managing Internet access through the school network.

Denford Ltd will be showing video-conferencing running from a conventional PC. The company is particularly keen to emphasise the ease with which students can work collaboratively on documents, even though they might be on opposite sides of the world.

TAG Developments will be displaying the Internet possibilities of HyperStudio, its authoring package that can be used to create Web material.Its American creators have a Web site where existing stacks of material can be downloaded. And Classroom Connect, also an American company, will be offering services to help teachers to integrate the Internet into the classroom.

This year could well be the year that Microsoft dominates the Internet. In recent months 4,000 schools have responded to the offer of free access to the Microsoft Network. Some of the tools that are freely available are first rate: Web Whacker enables you to download sites from the Internet; Front Page is probably the best tool yet for creating Web pages; Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer, is free to everyone; and GIF Animator is a splendid little program.

Now practically all of their other products, Word and Excel included, are being created with the Internet in mind. Microsoft Publisher 97 is not just for creating pages for paper; it will also do Web sites as well. The Microsoft UK Web site, which has just been launched, has sections for all sectors of education, and it is the intention of Microsoft UK to make this a site that all schools will want to bookmark. Jim Vetter of Microsoft sees the site as an informative magazine for everyone in education: parents, teachers, students, IT managers, senior management teams. Free curriculum materials will be posted for teachers to download. There will also be links to Microsoft's partners. Like a magazine, the content will change on a regular basis.

ICL is introducing a machine called the Internet Partner. The main themes of ICL's thinking about the Internet are: access to the Internet; the school as provider of information; the Intranet in school. The Internet Partner will provide filtering software and will come with all software installed in order to remove some of the complicated procedures that can confuse the new user. ICL will also be working with Sun, and will be selling Sun Systems' Netra, which gives Intranet access across multiple platforms. This will be an attraction to schools that have more than one type of computer.

ICL has also worked with BT on the BEON project. This is a group of 14 schools in the Bristol area, all linked in to Exeter University. The project has looked at a number of areas including access to resources, video-enhanced desktop conferencing and professional development.

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