It's amazing how cutting-edge technology soon becomes part of everyday life. Today, few of us wonder how the telephone system allows us to speak to someone halfway around the world. The same thing is beginning to happen with e-mail.
Denbigh school in Milton Keynes, has been using the FirstClass e-mail system developed by SoftArc for three years. FirstClass is used by many schools and colleges for a variety of reasons: it's easy to set up, simple to use, works across Apple and PC systems, doesn't require powerful machines (it will run on a 386 PC) and has a friendly graphical user interface which can be customised. The latest, FirstClass Intranet Server Education Edition, offers links to the Internet, and allows schools to download resources from the Web and distribute them on internal networks.
Denbigh School is a technology college that opened in 1991. There are 1,200 students aged 12-18. It has 160 computers and four computer rooms. Each curriculum area has at least five terminals. Students have open access to the machines, which are heavily used at break, lunchtime and after school. Chris Woods, the deputy head, says demand is so high that they are considering opening the school on Saturdays.
Students can also access the system from home. The FirstClass system is managed by half a dozen students in Years 10, 11 and 12. A glance at the student conference site reveals an eclectic mix of subjects, from the X-Files to clubbing, and a computer jargon-buster to a debate on whether God exists.
Philip Moss, an ex-Denbigh student, was one of the original group of students who helped set-up the system: "Administration is very simple and the user interface is friendly - you just click-and-place with your mouse."
Denbigh has used FirstClass to establish links with schools in Canada, Sweden, The Netherlands and United States. Students working on a project on arming the British police received more than 100 replies from the US. "It just snowballed," says Chris Woods. A storywriting project involves students from Denbigh and a partner school in Las Vegas taking turns to complete a story.
"FirstClass is very reliable - we don't lose files when we're downloading them," says Chris Woods. e-mail has helped improved pupil writing skills, he adds, because they often write to experts who are adults.
"The students really value the e-mail facility and, as a result, we hardly get anyone abusing it," says Chris Woods. "e-mail has become very much part of school life and that's largely down to the fact that FirstClass makes it simple to use."
George Cole FirstClass Intranet Server: prices start at pound;125. Details from Principal Distribution. 01895 456541