A group of IT experts is committed to tailoring the technology to the people, not vice versa.
Mark Sealey samples LIFT's philosophy.
Morale is often low as schools and their communities grapple with information technology. Much of what's going on there can seem like merely coping. But a new, forward-thinking, international organisation with strong education credentials is looking in quite another direction.
Learning for Life with Technology (LIFT) is committed to promoting the principles and values of lifelong learning and demonstrating how technology can enhance it. The founders all have extensive experience of teaching, working with major hardware and software providers and collaborating with support organisations in the UK, Europe and the United States. They recognise that the impact of technology on all aspects of our lives is already enormous; yet they admit that its role in the future is still barely understood. Such an influence can either be an impediment or a liberation.
"Many ordinary people feel disenfranchised by the technology and the ways in which it is presented," says co-founder Jacquie Disney, who has previously worked in schools, with teachers in training and for both the School Examination and Assessment Council and the Technology in Education Resource Unit at Goldsmiths College, London.
Indeed, everyone involved with LIFT has clear ideas about the relationship between technology and its users. It is not good enough to try to hook people by showing them yet another technically exciting but quite inappropriate way in which the technology can be used. Rather, the approach will be to take an aspect of learners', or potential learners', lives where technology can enable or enrich something that they already want to do.
A key aim is to equip everyone to harness technology's potential both those in formal schooling and those more loosely attached to it through community, youth or extended learning projects .
Maggie Holgate, formerly of the successful Parents' Information Network, says: "It is crucial to recognise the potential of everyone as a lifelong learner young people, parents, consumers, or adults without purchasing power who hence lack access. LIFT has a vision, to make something that could be used divisively into a vehicle for opportunity and participation for everyone."
Members of the growing community around LIFT, for example, recognise that courses suitable for such client groups do not always exist. LIFT wants to promote such learning opportunities and advise people of technology access points. The group is also intent on supporting those who are increasingly conscious of the needs in this area women, returners to work or learning, those in rural environments and, internationally, communities in less wealthy countries that are not usually associated with technology.
Jacquie Disney says: "There has been a great deal of preaching to the converted. LIFT is targeting those who have not yet realised the significance or relevance of what should be their technology. We aim to access these people by courses, publications and by working with others always talking from a personal viewpoint, making IT relevant and appropriate."
To ensure that technology benefits all of society is another key aim: LIFT is already disseminating information, promoting good practice and originating, providing and distributing resources in schools and the wider community.
Among LIFT's first activities is the publication of some pioneering support material plus its involvement in events designed to assist schools in understanding and following what constitutes good IT practice. This may be, for instance, to ensure equality of access for all pupils and to promote stronger home-school links. This material is aimed at a wide audience, and should be announced in The TES by the end of this term.
However, LIFT's publishing programme already includes, or is about to include, titles which explore, with examples, people using technology purposefully at home and in schools.
The Multimedia Family, for instance, presents a light, user-friendly view of the many different benefits to be gained by everyone in an extended family. IT in Schools changing people changing learning is aimed at IT co-ordinators and management. It takes approachable examples of good practice with a view to moving people on. Home-School Links covers similar ground, but looks at the involvement of parentscarers in learning and at ways to open up IT provision to the community.
Maggie Holgate says: "Schools are vital. LIFT is very aware of their position and the fact that many teachers feel they struggle. We are trying to encourage and support them.
"Don't forget that schools can be a great resource and learning environment not just for kids, but the community, and parents in particular. The technology, especially the potential of the superhighway, can facilitate this."
LIFT believes strongly in partnerships with like-minded groups and individuals and is already working with many "big names" and also grass-roots and community organisations and service providers education bodies and parent-teacher associations as well as commercial suppliers. Be assured: you will hear more of LIFT.
Mark Sealey is editor ofInteracTive magazine.
* LIFT, Ealing Education Centre, Westlea Road, London W7 2AD. Tel: 0181-248 4666. Fax: 0181-566 3336.