Laura Fillmore, an American writer, declared that the Internet was the last hope for literacy. A slight exaggeration, but it is a world of words. More letters, email, are being written than ever before and you don't stand much chance of finding your way around the World Wide web if your reading and information skills are below par. The main function of most computers is to process words and good software can stimulate creativity and invention.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is a now a key term in education. For English teachers the communication element is their direct concern.
So how do you start? Absolute beginners can be deterred by their lack of keyboard skills. Using a typing program for about an hour a day for 10 weeks can sort that out. You might not pass secretarial exams but you will be typing almost as fast as you can write by hand.
You need a computer of your own. Until then, borrow one for holidays and weekends - hopefully, one that will connect to the Internet. You will need help with that: sit down with someone who knows their way around the Internet and see what is there. Look at the National Grid for Learning and the Virtual Teacher Centre.
Most people define ICT as being about computers, but the trainee teachers' national curriculum draws it much wider than that. It is about the full range of communication technologies: computers, the Internet, CD-Rom, software, television, radio, video, still cameras, digital cameras and audio.
One of the processes that digital technology opens is editing - in all its forms. On the computer, texts are malleable. With audio you can, with the latest equipment, show pupils how raw material is transformed by editing. You can use programs to crop and manipulate images.
Then there's the Internet - the richest resource ever put into the hands of English teachers. Wander round and you will find material that is rich and rewarding along with material that is sleazy and subversive. That's the challenge for us all.
The Internet is not going to go away: in 1994, 3 million people were connected to the Internet; by March 1998, more than 119 million were online. World-wide traffic on the Internet doubles every 100 days, so information skills are something we have to develop so that we can pass them on to students. If English teachers don't give students the codes to find their way through, who will?
10 USEFUL RESOURCES
1 You need a scanner with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software that can recognise print 2 A still digital camera is essential. Use it for your own publications and stories in stills 3 Remember that in the real world most writing is collaborative. Encourage pupils to work in pairs 4 A small hand-held computer - either a Psion or a Windows CE - can be very useful 5 Teachers need a good word processor. The market leader is Word and it's improving 6 Pupils need one too. A good word processor for those learning to write is Textease 7 You need a web browser. Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5, like Navigator, its rival, is a free program 8 FrontPage Express is a way of writing pages for the Internet, free with Explorer 4 or 5 9 Writer's Workshop (pound;79 from Granada Learning tel: 01264 342992) www.granadalearning.com 10 With so much information around, summarising is an essential skill. Ask students to summarise a text