Caught in the net

6th September 1996 at 01:00
Welcome to the first Caught in the Net of the autumn term - a column dedicated to finding how the Internet can be useful for education. I suppose that since this is the beginning of a new school year I should begin with a little eve-of-battle rhetoric, banging the drum for the Internet revolution, pointing vaguely towards new frontiers, urging the tired armies of education onwards. The Internet is everywhere, I should be shouting. The Internet is the world's biggest library. The Internet is for you. Chaaarge!

But I have a dreadful confession. I don't love computers. I know that throws my techno-credentials straight into the desktop dustbin, but when I hear people muttering fondly about their machines, it leaves me cold.

I should explain this relationship, or lack of one, and introduce the column.

I use computers every day, they're always around - in large numbers at work, in a rather archaic form at home and I even have a little computer in my pocket. But what I like best is when I forget that they're there. Like at this very moment, as I write this column on my office PC. I'm using a computer but it doesn't feel like it - I'm communicating, using technology to help me do something. I'm interested in what a computer can do, but couldn't care less how it does it, as long as it's quick and easy.

The Internet and on-line culture should have the same ease of use, like transport that takes you somewhere you want to go rather than a fairground ride that takes you in elaborate and expensive circles. For education, the Internet offers every school the chance to have its own massive on-line resource. But if you get the wrong equipment and your phone bill explodes, then it could mean every school getting its own massive pain in the backside.

This column will consider how to get the best out of the Internet and how to keep clear of the worst. There will be ideas about where to find sites for museums and art galleries, and links to material for subjects such as English, history, geography and science. There will be news of developments in getting connected, with examples of how schools are getting to grips with on-line life.

What there won't be is reverence for machines. There will be no room for the kind of techno- philes who would rather talk about the travel agent's booking system than the holiday. What there will be is support for any technology that makes life, on or off the Internet, easier, more productive and more enjoyable.

When I think of the kind of computer that I might take to my heart, it isn't any television-sized processing monster. Instead, the obscure object of my desire would be a piece of equipment that gave me more freedom in my working life - how about a computer that I could use outside on a summer's day, cold drink at my feet, still plugged into the Internet and the outside world, with video-conferencing to allow me to work with colleagues - a piece of equipment that lets me recharge my batteries rather than vice versa. We should all make sure computers are working for us rather than the other way round.

As well as offering a great storehouse of information, the Internet also has the attraction of being interactive, with e-mail providing a quick-to-use link. This column would like to share in this community spirit, and invites you to send in suggestions, advice and inquiries. As schools take their first few tentative steps to connect to the Internet, there will be stories and cautionary tales to share. If you want to send your thoughts on matters on-line, then the e-mail address is

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