Plagued by indecision

14th May 2004 at 01:00
In James I's reign, Thomas Hobson esq of Cambridge kept a stable of 40 horses that he hired out to students, dons, teachers and other impoverished souls who couldn't afford one of their own. He laid down one condition: once you paid the fee, you had to agree to take the horse nearest the stable door. If you were lucky you might be assigned one of Red Rum's ancestors. But if you ended up with an old nag fit only for the knacker's yard you had no alternative but to accept it. This arrangement had one great advantage: it freed the punter from the responsibility of having to decide for himself. If "take it or leave it" - Hobson's choice - is all that's on offer, life is so much simpler.

Would-be motorists had it just as easy in the days when the only car ordinary folk could possibly afford was the Model-T. And to make it even easier, as Henry Ford famously said: "People can have it in any colour - as long as it's black."

They had no idea how lucky they were. Today, from a computer to a cup of coffee, the buyer is confronted by a brain-numbing, hair-tearing plethora of impossible choices. There are some fortunate people who aren't fazed by this. When it comes to a major purchase such as a PC, they take the eenie-meenie approach to decision-making, or rely on the I-Ching or just do what their spouse tells them or - the real odd-balls - follow the advice of the sales assistant in Dixons.

I'm not like that. I am one of that pitiful band of neurotics who dare not expose their credit card to daylight until they have read the latest Which? report, checked out every relevant website, visited kelkoo.co.uk to compare prices and returned to eBay so often that they bow to the inevitable and make it their home page.

It wouldn't be so bad if this relentless search for the elusive best buy was confined to the stuff that arrives in too much bubble wrap, with one component missing. But we are in exactly the same quandary when we have to choose a holiday or house insurance or who should sell us our gas.

For example, I want to change my internet service provider. Should I bite the bullet and opt for broadband? If so, should it be wireless? Or should I stick with dial-up for the time being? Pay-as-you-go or unmetered? What's the most important consideration? Cost? Connection speed? Quality of customer support? The checklist of questions I needed to answer would fill the rest of this issue of The TES.

But I did my research - believe me, I could write a PhD thesis on ISPs in the UK - and have I made my choice? Of course not. But there is one thing about which I am horribly sure: from the moment I do come to a decision, I will be haunted by the unshakeable conviction that it was the wrong one.

For those of us who suffer from this debilitating neurosis, the internet, with the infinite range of choices, is our worst nightmare come true. When Google tells us it has found half a million relevant pages, we feel compelled to check out every one of them. If you are a teacher in search of classroom resources, you must find it particularly difficult. So here's my heartfelt advice to you. If you don't want your next passport photo to look like Munch's Scream, the single best decision you can make is to get someone else to make your decisions for you.

There are websites that contain lists of recommended sites for UK teachers.

You could try www.clickteaching.com, www.learnpremium.co.uk, or http:livlib.eduweb.co.uk or www.gridclub.com... no, I won't go on. You've guessed it: there are so many you will find it tricky to decide.

But if you want to hear it from the horse's mouth, you should pay a visit to the web pages of those real teachers who work in real classrooms and have gone to the trouble of listing their favourite sites. Primary teachers, for instance, could do worse than check out the site hosted by Nettlesworth School (www.nettlesworth. durham.sch.uk) or by Hanborough Manor CE, which proudly claims to have the "ultimate set of primary school bookmarks" (http: atschool.eduweb.co.uk manorhfavour.html). English teachers should cut and paste some of Andrew Moore's impressive list of links (www.shunsley.eril.net armoore). The rest of the National Curriculum is covered by the various subject specialists who can be found at www.byteachers.org.uk

If you want to find the websites that will do the most to propel your school up the league table, two academics, Peter Rudd and Louise Dartnall, might be able to save you from hours or surfing and indecision. They have shortlisted 50 Websites for School Improvement. Their compilation, together with a detailed explanation of how each of the selected sites could help in a school's development plans, are published by the National Foundation for Educational Research.

You can order a printed version (call 01753 637002) or download it from the net for a modest pound;3. I tried to order my copy online from www.nfer.ac.uk but either the NFER has a gremlin or - more likely - my plastic is playing up again. I must get round to changing my credit card provider. Should be easy: there are only 300 to choose from.

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