Gateway to discovery

14th September 2001 at 01:00
The online learning system Pioneer is free to all schools through Learning and Teaching Scotland, but it raises the issue of what pupils can best learn on their own. Jack Kenny reports.

hat do you actually have to teach and what can you leave students to learn on their own? Pioneer, the online learning environment from Learning and Teaching Scotland, may offer schools a number of clues.

First, an explanation. An online learning environment is software tailored to an individual that enables learning materials to be reached anywhere there are computers. This could be in schools, colleges, universities, the home, learning centres or even abroad.

It has enormous advantages but, as far as schools are concerned, the concept is in its embryo stage. Relaunching Pioneer at the SETT show, on September 19 at 12.30pm, could be an imaginative and evolutionary step forward, because it offers collaborative learning, learning on demand, just-in-time learning and anytimeanywhere learning all at the same time.

Moreover, by making the software freely available to schools, LTScotland can ensure that teachers and students have a chance to become acquainted with a new way of learning.

A school that adopts Pioneer will be able to have courses online and available for pupils whenever and wherever they are. These courses can be freely available to the world or restricted to the students in the school.

For instance, why take a class painstakingly through the basics of e-mail? They can learn that at their own speed and in their own way.

They can also collaborate with other schools, as happened with the Versailles project - a re-enactment of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles - and Virtual Oil Spill, which was aimed at primary pupils.

The main disadvantage of online learning is isolation of the pupil, but Pioneer tries to overcome that with e-mail, discussion forums and chat. Students can communicate with each other or the teacher to ask for, or give, advice.

There is a board so that students who are apart can share diagrams or graphics, and a notebook for students to jot down ideas, thoughts or annotations as they go.

LT Scotland is organising courses to teach people how to write learning materials for this format. Teachers who can write web pages will be able to create their own materials. Tutoring online learners is a new skill for teachers.

The LT Scotland website shows how online learning works, and there are taster courses in topics such as how to use Microsoft Office. Animation is used as well as text, and you can send a test e-mail.

LT Scotland plans to put free learning materials on the Internet next year. For those teachers who are forever making class resources, Pioneer will be a revelation because it enables the creation of superworksheets. The more interactivity that can be built into the materials, the greater is the likelihood that they will stimulate learning. Learning materials can be developed using the latest web technologies and then simply uploaded into Pioneer.

Of course, face-to-face teaching will not disappear, but the trick will be to find those areas that can best be tackled online and those that are best approached off line. At the moment teachers are still discovering what works best. Can you teach effectively about aesthetics online or would you be better off tackling punctuation? registered as a user, enrol in the Installing Pioneer class and follow the step-by-step notes.Pioneer will be demonstrated at the SETT show in eLearning in Practice - Be a Pioneer, September 19 and 20 at 10am.The next online event for primary schools will be Saga and Sums, based on the Vikings, November 5-16. Schools wishing to participate should contact LT Scotland, tel 08700 100297

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