Cast the net wide;English;Multimedia

12th June 1998 at 01:00
John Davitt explains the basics of the Internet and shows how English teachers can make best use of it.

Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in the 1450s. Caxton also managed to automate the printing of pages around the same time - but if you were a poor serf wanting to print your own pages you'd have had another 530 years to wait till the arrival of desktop publishing. That's the way it was - a 500-year gap between the technology coming available and the likes of you and I having access to it.

This time it's different. With communication via the Internet, everyone can browse millions of pages, and once you have something to say you can publish it via your own Web page. It's a time of enormous promise for English teachers.

The first thing to realise when learning the basics is that the Internet is about only two things: finding information and communicating. The Internet also splits neatly into two main parts: electronic mail or e-mail, and the World Wide Web - millions of pages of online information which is accessed via a piece of software known as a browser.

E-mail has the most immediate promise for classroom use as it allows letters to be sent instantly to schools and contacts around the globe for the price of a local phone call. Replies to your e-mails sit patiently in a "digital letterbox" till you "call in" and collect them. Writing for an audience takes on a new meaning for schools which can forge links with other like-minded institutions around the globe. Mini sagas (complete stories in 50 words) can begin in Bolton and be finished in Bombay as part of collaborative writing ventures.

Class work written on paper may be typed up before being redrafted and sent as e-mails around the world.

To get your e-mails flowing there is even an Internet site where you can request that a "word a day" be sent to youre-mail address along with definitions and etymology. It's important that students see something tangible, so some schools print out their daily words and put them on a display board with other e-mails.

The World Wide Web is both a storehouse and a publishing zone. At first you may want to trawl the huge corpus of poetry and drama already on the Internet. Sites like the English Server at Carnegie Mellon University contain more than 18,000 works. In Australia, a rich seam of English teaching resources and lesson ideas is available on The English Teachers' Web site.

In the early stages you may want to treat the Internet as a halfway house where Web access is used to gather resources which are then printed and used in class as worksheets. You may pop to the Shakespeare site to pick up some images and quotes, then copy and paste them into a worksheet you are building as a class handout.

Eventually you may want to produce and publish your own Web pages. Some English teachers are already doing this. Harry Dodds, head of English at Gosford Hill School, Kidlington, Oxford, has set up a splendid Web site. He aims to "share the useful and interesting resources I've found - to be a forum for teachers of English to gather and to publish".

Norman Crawford is head of English and drama and IT co-ordinator at Adwick School, Doncaster. He has also built a fine Web site. His English amp; ICT Home Page includes lesson plans and ideas by the bagful. The site also has a selection of English department policies. Students can see curriculum summaries, guidance on assessment and notice of the homework they will be doing throughout the year. This site is a splendid example of how the Internet can be used to share learning outside class time. The National Grid for Learning (NGfL) also contains a number of good links on the "English and IT links in the NGfL" page.

It's still early days. We may think everyone else is connected, but it's not true. Over the next two years English teachers should take time to evaluate and integrate the Internet for teaching and learning. Don't be steamrollered by National Grid hype.

Word A Day: Register on this site and then receive a word each day by e-mail - http:www.wordsmith.orgawadwordlist.html

The English Server: at Carnegie Mellon University is a co-operative which has been publishing humanities texts online since 1990. It offers more than 18,000 works, covering a wide range of interests -

English Teachers' Web Site - Australia: This is a gateway site to a rich seam of English teaching ideas and resources from Down Under -

Shakespeare Site: One of the best Shakespeare sites - works.html

English Teaching In the UK: Harry Dodds' encyclopedic site for teachers - homepagesHarry_Dodds

English amp; ICT Home Page: Norman Crawford's dream set of resources - policies by the hatful - norm-trudi-crawford

English and IT links in the NGfL -

Optional extras: Romeo and Juliet Web site of the film, beautiful design - plenty of teaching ideas -

Jane Austen resources including jokes alongside serious studies -

* John Davitt is a freelance writer and trainer. He provides in-service for English teachers on the emergent role of ICT in the classroom

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