Power to the PC

20th February 2004 at 00:00

Exploring World Religions and Aspects of Religion CD-Roms from Granada Learning, both priced from pound;49. Tel: 0845 6021937. www.granada-learning.com

Modern World Religions series CD-Roms, pound;120 each; ICT Activities for RE (CD-Rom and book), pound;179 (and other RE titles) from Heinemann Tel: 01865 888084. www.heinemann.co.uk

Places of Worship (pound;79.95; pound;99.95 for professional edition with PowerPoint) and Building Blocks for Religious Studies (pound;249.95 starter pack), both from Birchfield Interactive. www.birchfield.co.uk

Better RE Using ICT CD-Rom. Tel: 01865 284885. www.culham.ac.uk (Culham site links to their other sites, including a support site for the CD at www.ictandre.org.uk)

Living Religions series from I-SeekMicrobooks (CD-Roms from pound;34; full set, pound;199). Tel: 01252 668484. www.microbooks.org

Online content from Espresso Education. Tel: 0800 0345200. www.espresso.co.uk

Gerald Haigh helps to plug the ICT gap in a subject crying out for more interactivity

You can see and compare software from various suppliers at an independent software specialist such as Rickitt Educational Media. Tel: 01458 254700. www.r-e-m.co.uk

Religious education is an ideal candidate for the application of ICT. It can take children to places of worship, show them otherwise inaccessible religious art and artefacts, introduce them to people of different faiths, and keep small departments - many with just one teacher - in touch with each other. In most schools, though, it's not actually working out like that. In its subject report on RE, Ofsted says (of secondary schools): "ICT is not used effectively in religious education in two schools in five. The use of ICT remains weaker in religious education than in any other subject."

The detailed comments, and the associated case studies of good practice, are well summarised on The RE Site (www.theresite. org.uk), one of a group of sites run by the Culham Institute, a research organisation formed when Culham C of E Training College closed 20 or so years ago.

Part of the problem is that there's a surfeit of material, particularly on the web. Ofsted is critical of teachers who let children just surf around looking at all sorts of stuff, some of it frankly mad, some intended for a specialised faith audience, some written with more emotional commitment than pedagogic expertise.

The answer lies in the basic teaching skills - clear aims, good preparation, tight focus, familiarity with the resources on offer. For many, this means keeping it simple and under control - web use restricted to specialised educational sites, including online content providers, and continued reliance on CD-Rom material, of which there is lots around, of high quality.

The standard approach for most resources, as it is in the RE classroom, is to visit each of the major faiths - Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism - looking at basic beliefs, visiting places of worship, hearing from members of the faith community. The strong products here include the well-tried CD-Roms from Granada - Exploring World Religions for upper primary and lower secondary, and Aspects of Religion which extends from lower secondary up to age 16. An important feature of this, and other good resources, is the opportunity to hear from members of the faith groups, talking about their values and beliefs. This kind of material provides starting points for the aspect of RE called "learning from" as opposed to just "learning about" religion.

The same concern is addressed in Heinemann's "Modern World Religions" CD-Roms which claim to strive for a balance between "about" and "from".

Heinemann has other RE software, including the interesting ICT Activities for RE pack which has what is described as: "A helpful section to develop ICT skills in researching, processing and presenting information."

Another extensive range of software covering moral issues, major faiths and places of worship, comes from Birchfield Interactive. All of its products are worth looking it, and particularly interesting is Building Blocks for Religious Studies, which packages content and lesson planning to help teachers produce good ICT-supported lessons.

Whether or not "Humanism" counts as a world faith has always been a bone of contention in RE circles. It is included, though, as Living Without God in the "Living Religions" collection of CD-Roms from I-Seek Microbooks. Living Without God is also on I-Seek's new Primary Resource which puts all the faiths, in simplified form, on to one CD-Rom.

Given the huge content and interactivity of today's software, it is difficult to see it as expensive, and yet cost of any sort is always important to RE teachers, who are often at the end of the budgeting queue.

Tony Parfitt, senior project associate at Culham Institute, says, "If I tell primary teachers about software that costs pound;50, they'll say 'that's my total annual budget'."

One answer, as Parfitt suggests, will come with the advent of broadband, "bringing material straight into school, free at the point of delivery".

Already, for example, online content provider Espresso Education is developing a series of primary multimedia resources on the major faiths, based on active places of worship.

"We film with the families at home as well as in their places of worship, and we emphasise talking to children. You get a sense of what's the same about religions and also how they are different," says Lewis Bronze, Espresso's founder, Tony Parfitt believes that, based on hits on The RE Site, use of ICT in RE is increasing. He believes, though, that the base is not broadening. "I haven't got the figures to prove it, but I suspect that we are seeing a hard core of users making increased use of ICT," he says. To address this, Culham has produced a CD Rom - Better RE using ICT - that shares examples of good practice and pays particular attention to assessment.

ICT won't give you everything, of course - the tasty snacks you'll be offered at the Gurdwara, the smell of the incense in a Catholic church, the gentle humour of the urban vicar who's seen everything your kids can throw at him and more. There's no real substitute for any of that - and it is worth taking trouble to find it. Good ICT resources, though, can add whole dimensions of knowledge and understanding, and make a real contribution to children's understanding of what spirituality means in a world of credit cards, cheap flights, celebrities and conflict.

What to look for

* Does the product cover the faiths in your syllabus?

* Do you see places of worship in action - real services and music?

* Do you hear people talking about values and beliefs?

* Do you see people in their homes?

* Are children from the faith community included?

* Is there valid use of ICT, or is the product just an electronic book?

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