Pupil power fuels Net publishing revolution

13th October 2000 at 01:00
With school publishing activities moving on to the Web, Hugh John looks at the software that's available to help develop and make the most of your online presence.

WHEN SMALL communities in Cambridgeshire begin replacing their parish magazines with websites you know the times they are a'changing. The villages of Folksworth, Stilton and Yaxley, circled around Sawtry Community College near Huntingdon, have opted for web pages as an efficient, modern way of disseminating information. Local care groups have also gone online with help from the college's Year 8 students.

With an estimated 6.5 million UK households now online, and Internet connection worldwide having doubled in the past 12 months (www.statistics.gov.uk) the Web is clearly the place to be. Schools too are making the transition from the printed to the electronic medium, and in some style.

If you're intending to buy a desktop publishing package, then it makes sense to go for a program flexible and powerful enough to create both print and web-based pages. Fortunately, it's not only multi-featured, high-end applications such as Microsoft Word that now come with this function. Budget programs, like PrintShop, also allow you to convert pages into HTML (the coding "glue" for Web pages) at the click of a button. For education-based writing tools it's worth looking at Microsoft Publisher and Creative Writer, Write Away from Black Cat and, for Acorn users, either Textease or its companion programs Talking Textease and Multimedia Textease (it also runs on PCs and Macs).

At the top of the desktop publishing tree sit QuarkXPress and Adobe InDesign. Pricey, certainly, but they are comprehensive, cutting-edge professional tools.

Publishing to the Web needn't be expensive. First consider some basic questions: Why does your school want a website? Who do you expect to use it? How large do you want it to be? How will the content be presented? What safety protocols will be necessary and how much effort will be needed to maintain the site?

As ever, decide what you want to do, then buy the appropriate software. You don't even have to buy; sometimes it comes free.

Anyone who has visited Ambleweb, the Ambleside Junior School website, will have been impressed by the exuberance, style and usefulness of pages compiled by teachers and students and organised and arranged by information communications and technology (ICT) co-ordinator Mark Robinson. Interactive learning games, sound clips, webcam pages and well presented multimedia - it's easy to see why Ambleweb won one of the BECTAGuardian school website awards for 1999.

If you thought this was the work of a professional webmeister with unlimited access to expensive applications and untrammelled time and resources, think again. Set up three years ago, the whole site, according to Robinson, was "built and maintained with free software we got from magazines such as .NET and PCPlus. The first few pages only took a few hours one Sunday morning using Publisher."

Since then Ambleweb has benefited from some highly sophisticated software - the extra-terrestrial sequence on the home page was built with Macromedia's Flash (see following pages) - but the whole project has clearly evolved from a cohesiveness that owes less to technology than to homogeneous growth.

FrontPage Express, Netscape Composer and WEB Personal Edition, all free, were used to create pages on the Ambleweb site. Other popular, inexpensive and perfectly adequate web tools used in schools are HotDog, FrontPage and Adobe PageMill.

If, however, you want to include multimedia and interactive elements, as many schools increasingly do, then consider software from two of the most innovative publishers; Adobe and Macromedia.

At Bedford High School, winners of one of The TES Summer Web awards, the ICT team use a range of Adobe products. "We used Adobe PageMill when it first came out but our pupils found it a little undemanding since they had highly developed design and image manipulation skills," says ICT coordinator Kathryn Macaulay. "Then Adobe GoLive came out and it's absolutely wonderful. It is very easy to use and even the younger children can quickly produce coloured pages with images and text. The program enables very high quality teaching and excellent website management."

There is, adds Macaulay, a strong emphasis on "integrating the Internet as much as possible into our teaching". Next term students will be working on animation with Adobe LiveMotion and there are plans to put a pop video - mixed and directed by two 14-year-olds using Apple's iMovie - on the site.

Macromedia's trio of Web applications - DreamWeaver, Fireworks and Flash - remains the first choice of most professional Web designers and, thanks in part to a positive education pricing policy, is rapidly becoming established in schools wanting to add visual and aural sophistication. Dreamweaver, for instance, allows Web designers to build complex sites without ever having to go near HTML and can also import work created in other programs such as FrontPage. Macromedia, says Martin Jones, production editor at 3T, the company that created the Schools Parliament website for RM, "have defined the standard for adding interactivity to the Web".

It's certainly the first choice of Renaldo Lawrence. Making the move from the NBA (National Basketball Association) as a professional basketball player in the US to head of ICT at St John the Baptist comprehensive school in Woking is not exactly a typical career path. Along the way he has set up email collaboration between students in Sweden and his former charges at The Grey Coat Hospital in central London and is now creating a website for St John's which should go live this term. "The Web," he believes, "has great potential for education."

The new generation of Web design tools are enabling sites to move away from the "text with a school photo" format towards a genre that owes more to animation, cartoon and film. "Children," says Mark Robinson, "simply hate static pages of text. Give them an animated button to click on and they're hooked. It is important that teachers are tuned in to the multimedia nature of children's lives."

But is it worth it? After all the hard work, the trawl for content, the structure, the buttons, rollovers, multimedia bells and whistles? Robinson has no doubt. A good website, he believes, "is nothing short of brilliant for a school".

"Parents feel that they can be part of the school community and get an insight into the daily school life of their children. And the main advantage for teachers comes from the vastly increased children's motivation through seeing their work published on the website."


Ambleside School



Bedford High School


Good design tips on building your own website


Visit past winners of Eduweb's school site of the week.


Parliamentary site for students built by 3T for RM


BBC Education


If you want to experience multimedia then you'll need the Flash and Shockwave Players from Macromedia


Tools from Apple to help you create your own website


WebMonkey for the web designer


Free Web buttons, clipart and background images are available from these three




If your site is featured on these pages it's time for praise ...

www.coolhomepages.com -

...but if it's featured on these pages it's time to re-appraise



IDG Books has a complete range of For Dummies books and the title Great Web Architecture


Peachpit Press


Digit Magazine


FREE DTP WP sodtware

Write Away from Black Cat, pound;30


Textease, pound;49

Talking Textease, pound;65

Multimedia Textease, pound;85

All from TAG www.tagdev.co.uk

PrintShop Premier from The Learning Company, pound;25


Microsoft Word, pound;60

Microsoft Creative Writer 2, pound;25

Microsoft Publisher, pound;39

All from RM www.rmplc.co.uk

QuarkXPress, 10-user pack, pound;2,916 (PC) and pound;3,056 (Mac) www.quark.co.uk

Web Tools

HotDog Junior, pound;49

Microsoft Front Page, pound;45

Adobe Photoshop, pound;85

Adobe GoLive, pound;80

Abobe LiveMotion, pound;80

All from RM


Web Design Studio (Including Macromedia's Flash 5, Dreamweaver 3, Fireworks 3 and Freehand 9) is available to education only at pound;199 incVat. Offer lasts until November 30 2000

www.amazon.co.uk; www.microwarehouse.co.uk

(All of the above (except Quark) are single-user education prices and include licence, CD and manual price. Costs come down significantly for multiple-user purchases. All prices exclude VAT).

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