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5th November 2004 at 00:00
Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

TES forum users are, for the most part, remarkably helpful people. Where else in the world could you go, if you were a student teacher about to be dropped in at the deep end, and had to teach a Year 4 class about odd and even numbers, and hadn't a clue where to start?

At 1.21pm last Thursday, Pugwash posted her plea for help in the TES Maths forum. Pugwash knew what most of us know about odd and even, but had to ask this: "Why is two not an odd number? It's because it's even, but I don't think that answer is what I should be looking for - help!!!"

Two minutes later, LadsNR posts: "When an even number is divided by two there is no remainder. When an odd number is divided by two there is a remainder of one."

This makes Pugwash happy. Then, at 1.55, in comes Nomad with a real mathematician's answer: "Even numbers are in the form 2n. Odd numbers are in the form 2n-1. So, by substituting various integers for n, you get either even or odd numbers depending on which formula you used." And for good measure: "The next question is whether zero is odd or even."

Of course there is such a thing as too much advice, but you take my point.

This is no isolated example: every day, teachers and students, governors and lecturers, administrators and support staff are helping each other out online. But - and it's a big "but" - as soon as they get the slightest hint that they are about to be exploited, these same very helpful people can turn feral.

A year or two ago, an editor working for a government-funded magazine for teachers posted a polite appeal for feedback from TES forum users. It was as if a chunk of bloody steak had been dropped into a piranha tank.

Generally, we have no objections to researchers using our forums, so long as they are upfront and open about their motives. It's certainly an effective way of tapping into the profession, but you have to be thick-skinned. Last week, someone who claimed to be working on ideas for the new new Teachers' TV channel asked whether anyone had any "interesting suggestions".

Again, it was feeding time in the aquarium. But even our hapless researcher might have enjoyed Hall9000's deadpan reply: "Although I don't have any ideas for 'interesting programmes', I was wondering if you could help me.

My problem, as a sociology lecturer, is I don't have any interesting ideas for lessons. I would be very grateful if you could come up with some."

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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