THE ground-breaking Scholar programme should be extended to cover a fuller range of the curriculum, but technology in schools will have to be improved if students are to have the full benefits.
These are among the conclusions of an evaluation of the programme, presented to the annual Scholar conference today (Friday). Heriot-Watt University, which developed the online learning initiative, has so far enrolled more than 45,000 learners and 3,000 teachers in schools and colleges - the largest interactive online learning programme in the world, it claims.
Scholar is currently confined to six subjects at Higher, Advanced Higher and Higher National levels - biology, chemistry, computing, maths, physics and French. Some 85 per cent of co-ordinators and 69 per cent of teachers said they would like other subjects included.
The evaluation team, Rae Condie and Kay Livingston of Strathclyde University, interviewed 52 Scholar co-ordinators, 234 teachers and 875 students. All 32 education authorities have signed up to the programme which means that all pupils can access it.
In early findings before the full report is published later in the year, more than half the teachers who took part said that students showed a higher level of independence when working on Scholar materials and 66 per cent said they coped well when working online.
The ability to access Scholar materials from home was cited by 81 per cent of students as the single most attractive feature. Assessment materials "to find out how I am doing" were welcomed by 71 per cent, while 79 per cent agreed that the simulations and animations "help me to grasp the ideas".
One significant difference between students and teachers emerged in the online use from home. Almost half of the teachers (45 per cent) never accessed the website from home, compared with just 4 per cent of students.
The study found that 43 per cent of students logged on to the site from home three to four times a week and 25 per cent logged on every day.
Peter Peacock, Education Minister, welcomed the early indications of success as "promising". It chimes with the Scottish Executive's commitment to "more innovative, creative and flexible approaches to learning and teaching", Mr Peacock said.
One disappointment for Heriot-Watt may be the finding that only 18 per cent of staff involved thought the initiative had made students more aware of the possibility of going on to university. And 54 per cent of students said it had given them little idea of what it might be like to study at university.