IF THE invitation to take part in a conference hosted by Australians gets you dreaming of Bondi Beach, dream on. The venue for the international forum for school heads is on the Internet.
The Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council (APAPDC) will host the four-week conference in association with on-line education publishers CyberText between May 15 and June 12. Heads, school managers and academics worldwide are invited to contribute to a series of educational debates including health in schools, raising standards and local management.
The technologically-tentative may be encouraged by the organisers' decision to devote the first week of the conference to a series of familiarisation exercises and graduated "web orienteering" activities, designed to put participants at their ease with the technology before the real business of educational debate begins.
Founder of CyberText and on-line conference manager, Debra Brydon, is determined that the conference should be concerned above all with the exchange of educational expertise and that would-be participants should not be alienated from the debates on account of their lack of confidence with technology.
"Too often in the past, events of this kind have been dominated by a small vanguard of nerds and tech-heads and I think this can be very off-putting to the vast majority of interested people - especially in education, where so many principals are just starting out with the Internet.
"We want people taking part to see the Internet as a tool that will expand their professional horizons and allow them to move from the pond to the ocean. The conference is free and there are no obstacles - not even to those with the most basic knowledge," she said.
Contributors are being invited to send ther discussion papers (1,500-2,000 words), which will be published on the conference website and made available to everyone who logs on. When the conference proper begins in May, contributions to ongoing discussions will be possible via e-mail messages that will be published automatically, with screens being refreshed every few minutes to reveal the most recent discussion points.
Organisers have already received papers from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada - and a handful from Europe. They expect many more in the run-up to the conference launch. "We'd be delighted if more headteachers in the UK wanted to take part and I'm sure there'll be a lot of shared interests - especially on the issue of local school management, which has been a major issue in both the UK and Australia," said Ms Brydon.
Professor Phillip Hughes of UNESCO in Paris and the Australian National University in Canberra is planning to submit a paper on curriculum and evaluation after one or two previous trials of on-line conferences.
"I felt quite sceptical on my first trial of this approach, feeling that it would lack the personal touch necessary for a proper exchange of views but I have had to change my tune. I find that real contacts are made and views have a chance to be modified or even changed drastically," he said.
Helen Cant, principal at Giralang primary school, Canberra, is also a relative newcomer to web-conferencing and is rapidly being converted. She plans to offer a discussion paper on healthy school communities. "I think this is an exciting and efficient way of enhancing one's knowledge with colleagues around the world," she said. "You can never tell where such discussions will lead - it's very exciting."
APAPDC Online Conference 2000 will be at www.apapdc.edu.au. To register, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. To submit a paper, e-mail: email@example.com (deadline May 8)