Distance learning

16th September 2005 at 01:00
Schools in the TES Make the Link Awards have discovered how ICT really can make the world a smaller place, Abi Newman reports.

The possibilities for classroom collaboration across borders, countries and cultures, have never been so great. Global podcasting, interactive web stories, digital resource packs, online debates, virtual sports days, inter-continental ICT teaching - these are just some of the innovative projects bringing schools closer to their global partners.

Take Ashcott Primary School in Bridgewater, Somerset, for example. Since 2000 it has developed an active link with Tigoi Primary School in west Kenya. Using a grant from the Department for International Development (see Funding right) the schools have led joint projects which have not only developed technology skills, but also enriched the PSHE curriculum. A story-telling project, involving pupils from reception up to Year 6, brought two different cultures to life on the web.

Year group teachers at both schools also create PowerPoint presentations on topics such as recycling, water and lifestyles, for use in each other's classrooms. Ashcott headteacher Simon Dore, says, "We found common areas of study in each country, so that activities are embedded in the curriculum, achieving a well-resourced, global perspective to teaching and learning."

At Faringdon Community College in Oxfordshire, key stage 4 students have been using email to conduct debates with their peers at Webb School in Knoxville, Tennessee. Each year they select a contemporary ethical issue to explore and jointly compile a website, with information on the religious and ethical viewpoints, the laws in England and America, and the related political issues. After studying the topic, the students conduct polls, collate the results with data-handling software and discuss issues by email. Debates have included the war in Iraq, capital punishment, abortion, and stem cell research.

Dorinda Balchin, head of religious education at Faringdon, says, "Our objectives have been achieved predominantly through the use of ICT. Our RE curriculum has been enhanced by giving a broader understanding of GCSE topics than we would otherwise have been able to deliver. In America, learning has been enhanced by use of excellent resources from England, and by covering topics not studied before."

Kingsmead Community School in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, is about to take e-communication a step further using podcasting technology. Pupils have just returned from Zambia where they made audio recordings with their friends at Helen Kaunda High School for Girls and Mukuba Secondary School for Boys in Kitwe. The material will kickstart a joint radio programme on the web, which will also be transmitted on 10Radio, Wiveliscombe's local radio station. "Global education is no longer an academic exercise, but a very real experience," says Eva Heim-Butler, the school's director of language college. "Our Zambian link has given us first-hand experience of global citizenship." Staff at all three schools have access to teaching resources and share expertise on Kingsmead's learning gateway.

Leaden Hall School, an independent primary in Salisbury, has also discovered the benefits of a web portal. Its two-year learning partnership with state-maintained Peatmoor Primary School in Swindon, and Dihlabeng Christian School in Lesotho, South Africa, has been strengthened by a shared website. Created by ICT co-ordinator Sally Litherland, using take2theweb technology, provided by Intuitive Media, the website lets users at each school log-on, write on to basic templates and edit the website in real time without any need for software or training. "It's terribly easy to use and you don't need to understand html [web authoring protocols]," says Sally.

The pupils like to share their work with the rest of the school in assemblies using an interactive whiteboard. "The website has allowed pupils, teachers and parents to get involved. It has spread knowledge, enhanced ICT skills, and opened up a wider world for children at Dihlabeng," says deputy head Jill Mitchell.

These inspiring e-projects carried out by Make The Link award entrants show the scope of possible curriculum collaboration between schools worldwide. As Jill Mitchell of Leaden Hall says, "It's a tremendous opportunity for children and staff from different countries to work together. In this day and age we need to encourage more understanding of other cultures which, in time, will hopefully breed tolerance."


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