Get the most from your computer knowledge

11th May 2001 at 01:00
You're getting on to the Net and have a host of new computing skills. But how can they be used in the classroom? Laurence Alster sifts through the resources to help teachers take the next step.

You need only go back about 10 years, in some cases a lot less, to recall that information and communications technology (ICT) was regarded by many teachers with deep suspicion at best and, at worst, outright dislike. Those who enthused about ICT were seen almost as dabblers in the black arts.

But things are changing, and with them people's attitudes. Not only is ICT developing at an astonishing rate, but pupils and students are growing up with it. For them, using ICT to filter, find and use all sorts of information is almost second nature. Which makes it doubly inefficient, not to say embarrassing, when teachers cannot even begin to do the same.

Thanks to the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), there are now fewer such teachers. Launched in 1998, the pound;230 million National Lottery-funded scheme offers curriculum ICT training to teachers. Both take-up and results have been encouraging, with many teachers finally realising how easy ICT is to use and how effective it can be.

Not that formal training is the only way of tackling the technology. Bookstores are stacked with tutorial manuals of various price, size and complexity, and the magazine racks hold an abundance of titles with good, step-by-step workshops alongside reviews of both general and educational software.

Always well-written and informative, ECamp;T magazine is aimed particularly at teachers, otherwise there is the consistently excellent ComputerActive, a title that delivers on its front cover promise of "practical advice in plain English". On a more practical note, it's always worth browsing the computer titles for free software: dictionaries, tutorial programs, encyclopedias and entire applications.

By these and sundry other means, teachers are learning how to handle various applications, CD-Roms and the Net. Now, though, they need to know how these can most constructively be used in the classroom. To which there is not one answer, but hundreds.

Some of the best suggestions are to be had from at least one of the training providers, the agencies that deliver ICT training in the classroom and via distance learning. While several such providers are frustratingly chary when it comes to sending out training materials, KITsch (Kent IT in Schools Programme) is entirely the opposite. A look at its twin publications, Talking About Information Communications Technology in Subject Teaching shows why. With exemplary clarity, both books (one for primary, the other for secondary teachers) point to numerous stimulating ways of using ICT with pupils, all of them linked to prescribed outcomes. Equally important is the advice on when and when not to use ICT, a point frequently overlooked.

Good as the books are, they are only an adjunct to the excellent KITsch website at This offers a comprehensive resource bank with some first-rate linked material (for example, primary history teachers might take a look at Niall Shaw's charming and instructive Tudor spelling exercise at, as well as links to online activities and other relevant websites on the national curriculum. The word kitsch usually means something cheap and flashy, but this site is anything but.

There are dozens of other helpful sites, Inclusive Technology ( being one of the best for special needs. Here, teachers can access information on scholarly articles, support organisations and useful products as well as ideas for teaching and learning activities involving ICT. At, there is an excellent glossary of technical terms with copious links to relevant Web pages, but not much in the way of teaching tips.

istory teachers, on the other hand, will get lots of good ideas from History Online's excellent search facility at, while science teachers will find some intriguing suggestions for using ICT with years 7, 8 and 9 in Spotlight Science at You could hardly hope for a less cool-sounding title than Environment and Your Fridge, but the site at belies its label with key stage 3 assignments on topics like global warming, energy efficiency and food preservation that look positively inspirational.

For art teachers, Hispanic Culture at offers tasks on Spanish art coupled with links to other sites dedicated to specific artists. Equally interesting is Web Museum at www.ucf.eduwmpaintauthvinci (for other artists, just substitute the relevant name at the end of the address), a site with comprehensive, well-informed commentaries, complete with copious illustrations, on various artists and their works.

As yet in its infancy, the Net nevertheless holds immense educational potential; so much so, in fact, that its very range can intimidate. Using it properly takes discipline. The temptation to try just one more site is sometimes so irresistible that, before you know it, you've spent hours in front of the screen, doubled your quarterly phone bill and used enough paper to stock a small stationer's.

Which is why some teachers prefer CD-Roms to the Net. They're often quicker, more reliable (no error messages, no unreachable sites), don't have screens cluttered with advertisements and, even if many do incorporate links to external sites, are otherwise blessedly finite. Most important of all, they sometimes make wonderful teaching tools.

This is true for all age groups. For example, intended for three- to seven-year-olds is the 2Simple Video Toolbox, a charming and colourful program that encourages children to develop ICT skills through elementary publishing, painting and even database tasks. An A-level history student who recently borrowed my World War II thought it "brilliant" - a sound verdict on a two-disk product that is as polished as it is absorbing. From the same publisher, A History of Medicine gets good reports from GCSE students. And English literature teachers who haven't yet looked at the superb BBC Shakespeare on CD-Rom series are not only denying themselves a marvellous teaching tool but also much pleasure.

If NOF shows that ICT is not yet another burden imposed on long-suffering teachers, but an opportunity to make teaching and learning more immediate, effective and exciting, then the Lottery cash will have been well spent.

Talking About Communications Technology in Subject Teaching: A Guide for Teachers (Primary)Talking About Communications Technology in Subject Teaching: A Guide for Teachers (Secondary), both from Canterbury Christ Church, University College, North Holmes Road, Canterbury, Kent CT1 1QUPrice: pound;12.99 each2Simple Infant Video Toolbox from 2Simple Software, 10 Nursery Walk Court, Nursery Walk, Sunningfields Road, Hendon, London NW4 4RJPrice: pound;75 for one computer; pound;175 for two to five; pound;275 for six to 10; site licence, pound;350 (all prices plus VAT)TelFax: 020 8203 1781World War II and A History of Medicine from Focus Multimedia, The Studios, Lea Hall, Enterprise Park, Armitage Road, Rugeley Staffs. WS15 1LHPrice: pound;9.99 each.Tel: 01889 570156BBC Shakespeare on CD-Rom from HarperCollins Publishers, Westerhill Road, Bishopbriggs, Glasgow G64 2QTPrice: pound;88.13 each (titles include The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet)Tel: 0141 7723200ComputerActivePrice:pound;1.20 fortnightly from local newsagentsECamp;T magazine from Hobsons PLC, Challenger House, 42 Adler St, London E1 1EEPrice: pound;20 for annual subscription (five issues)Tel: 020 7958 5000

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