Coming soon to a whiteboard in a primary classroom somewhere near you will be KnowledgeBox, a media-rich broadband service for - initially - literacy and numeracy from media giant Pearson.
Although it will work perfectly well on a networked PC, the ideal home for KnowledgeBox is a primary learning centre with whiteboard and PCs. It is part of an emerging trend of what has been termed "blended" software - the digital offerings from publishers who are already known for their printed works. For example, KnowledgeBox users can call up a "talking book" by author Michael Rosen, whose work is published by Pearson. Children just click on the words to hear them spoken. You can also call up a video clip in which Michael Rosen is interviewed by two pupils (courtesy of Pearson TV).
Pearson is now busy previewing KnowledgeBox and testing it in primary schools before its launch at the BETT educational technology show at Olympia, London, in January 2003. Literacy and numeracy for primary schools are the first offerings; more subjects will follow.
Customers simply buy a "box" (a Sun Cobalt server with all materials pre-loaded) and connect it to their network and to the internet. Pearson will deliver upgrades via the net.
Pearson's own huge publishing stable, many of whose products are already well known to teachers, is not the only source of material. For example, Channel Four's education arm, 4Learning, is providing the maths content with Number Crew and Maths Mansion.
Much thought has gone into the way children and teachers work. Access to the materials is through a bright and clear interface. The welcome screen gives access to information by subject, to curriculum and QCA information, to themes, lesson guides and class administration along with a keyword search. However, the approach is not prescriptive - they can also find individual units to support their own lessons (what the publishers call "granularity"). Pearson's intention is to support all teachers, whatever their teaching styles.