Hitch yourfree ride on to the Grid
When The TES launched its online service only 15 months ago, we were still prefacing mentions of the Internet with an explanation for those unfamiliar with the term. Now, the Internet is lodged in the language and soon, if Government initiatives succeed, it will be just as firmly lodged in every school and college in the country.
The National Grid for Learning, the government-supported project designed to harness the Internet for use in education, has the ambitious aim of getting all schools online by 2002. It also aims to provide schools with a range of quality materials available on the Internet, using the gateway of a National Grid for Learning website.
Such an investment should change the landscape of Internet use in education, bringing it out of the enthusiasts' corner and into the mainstream of school life, providing a channel for teaching resources, professional development materials, curriculum support and, we believe, online publications such as The TES.
In keeping with these bold moves to get as many schools as possible using the Internet, The TES is making changes to its own website. Instead of offering a specialist subscription service, The TES online is now entirely free, offering a website that reflects the breadth and depth of the newspaper's coverage of the education scene.
As well as removing charges, we'll also be offering much more, including all the teaching job adverts published in the newspaper, a service which will become available in the summer term. So if you want to check on vacancies, you'll be able to search a database of jobs advertised, available on the website until the application deadline passes.
Along with more schools using the Internet, it's likely that schools will demand much more from their time online, with expectations of educational websites rising much higher than lists of links or thinly-disguised advertising.
So in looking for how next to develop The TES site, the emphasis will be on providing more original content, material you won't find provided by anyone else. In terms of news, to keep readers in touch with stories breaking between weekly editions of The TES, there is an online Hot News service, giving a briefing on the current education headlines.
For a deeper look at issues in the news, The TES archive, which holds everything published in the paper since 1994, continues to grow, with literally tens of thousands of articles held on a searchable database. Whatever a teacher's specialism, it's likely that there will be something in this database that is of practical use.
We will also be using The TES Internet site to bring together articles published over a period of time. For instance, definitive articles for primary teachers about literacy and numeracy will be brought together for future reference, with links from our site to the official government advice on the same subjects. It also makes sense to use the Internet to bring together advice columns such as Joan Sallis's help for school governors or columns by the scourge of bogusness, Ted Wragg.
As well as drawing on material from the paper, we also want to supplement the Supplement, with new items that make use of the new medium. As the year turns inexorably towards the school visits season, we'll be providing an online guide book to museums and places of interest likely to feature on curriculum-based visits. As the database also has Internet links to the websites of the places mentioned, the information about admissions and prices should always be up to date, in a way that printed guide books can't replicate.
Although we will still carry a selection of stories from each edition, it's important to use the strengths of this new way of communicating, rather than to simply use new ways to imitate the old. For example, the Internet and e-mail lend themselves to sharing ideas, and for teachers wanting to seek or give advice to colleagues, the website includes The TES Staffroom. This discussion area is used by readers globally and allows space for the kind of exchanges that couldn't fit into the confines of a newspaper.
This element of interaction is also present in the termly selection of Cool Schools - where we show some of the best websites currently being produced by schools around the country.
In the four years that the Government has allowed for all schools to plug into the Grid for Learning, it's likely that attitudes towards websites for education will become more critical. As a few, well-resourced sites begin to invest in offering original, quality content, it's likely that schools will tune out from the larger number of badly-maintained and promotion-led sites that still crowd the Internet, a winnowing process that the Grid for Learning is likely to accelerate.
As ever, whatever plans are laid will be subject to the icy draughts of real life. But, the Internet is an immensely flexible medium, and online services such as The TES should be able to respond to what schools and colleges say they need.
If you have any ideas for The TES's website that you'd like to see explored, then please let us know. If you visit the website, there are places on almost every page where you can send us an e-mail, otherwise send it to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.