Local learning networks have much to offer, but need co-ordination, says Jack Kenny.
Pulling together the creativity of thousands of teachers to put splendid resources online for all to use - that was the dream. The reality is that the time saved by using Internet resources is increasingly swallowed up by the time needed to find them.
It was hoped that the National Grid for Learning would make things easier. It was a good idea, but grids for learning have sprung up all over the country, and small ones are duplicating much of its work. No one seems to be co-ordinating the information - you may find the same resource over and over again, while the one you want isn't there at all.
When you look at the websites you can hear the grinding of wheels being reinvented. Few seem to have thought: what will make this grid unique? What is appropriate nationally? What is appropriate locally? What is the point of having international links - surely the national grid is the place for that?
For the primary teacher who just wants to find material to use in class, it looks as though we are already creating the difficulties found on the wider Internet. If a teacher in Bishop's Auckland has created a great resource for junior maths, how will you find it if you don't go into the NGFL? If you work in Cornwall, why would you go into the Northern Grid for Learning to seek resources?
The only real way to get around this problem is to explore. Some sites have spent a great deal on making their grid look pretty. Others won't let you in at all - the Cornwall grid is presumably limited to teachers in Cornwall.
A good example of a local grid is Cumbria Lancashire Education Online. Steve Moss, Cumbria's ICT adviser, says teachers in Cumbria and Lancashire are asked to present ideas that they would like to develop - and they are paid to do it. If the CLEO team thinks that the idea has merit, they will commission the teacher to work on it and pay half the fee. When the idea is fully developed and submitted, the team will review it again. If it is put on the site, the rest of the fee is paid. Steve Moss says that the idea is to encourage content with a regional focus that no one else would prouce, but which would compare well with the best produced elsewhere. The issues the team raises are: "Is anyone else going to do this? If they are, why are we bothering? If we do it, how do we do it really well?" A good example is the work on Silloth, a small town on the coast overlooking the Solway Firth. The online resource has both local and national appeal. The material looks at the growth of the town in Victorian times. This is of interest to schools across Britain as well as to those based nearby.
Also on CLEO is My Town-My Village, an interactive atlas being built up by local schools. The material can help with comparative studies and has a strong regional focus, but at the same time schools across the UK can use the material to compare their area with Lancashire and Cumbria.
One of the largest grids is the Birmingham Grid for Learning. It has some good local content for juniors, a good example of which is the poetry from Topcliffe school. The pupils, who wrote about things that made them sad, must be pleased to see their work presented in this way. A sub-grid, the Birmingham Grid for Numbers, has fine materials that are relevant to teachers across the UK. The question is, will they find them?
GET TO GRIPS WITH THE GRID
* Find out if there is a grid for your area and see if it is useful.
lSend suggestions for additional features to the grid's keepers.
* Do they get a balance between local and national resources?
* What materials can they share?
* Tell them if you have any resources to share.
* Explore grids in other areas, for example: London www.lgfl.net
Northwest Learning Grid
Cumbria Lancashire Education Online: http:cleo.ucsm.ac.uk