Religious education is the fastest growing GCSE option - in fact there's a serious shortage of specialist RE teachers. It's even a matter of concern in the latest annual Ofsted report. The problem is being addressed by a group of colleges that are offering PGCE courses in RE to interested graduates in other subjects. Clearly, though, there's a place for ICT here, supporting teachers, motivating pupils, and providing expertly-made and authentic resources.
What holds many schools back is not so much a shortage of ICT as its availability - where departments share a computer suite the RE department often misses out. But there's no doubt that with broadband in classrooms and the spread of whiteboards and projectors - and laptops for pupils (see Web Extras www.tes.co.ukonline) - this problem can fade away.
At Barlby High School in North Yorkshire there's no classroom broadband, yet careful timetabling helps make ICT a major resource. Head of department Fiona Jessup uses it extensively to support her RE GCSE course, and her search for resources has led her first to the CD that supports the popular philosophy book Sophie's World, then to a lesser known, but in her opinion excellent, website of Socratic ideas, which also supplies CD resources including Dialogues Concerning the Existence of God and the Problem of Evil at pound;45.
The best source for schools looking for virtual tours on the web - and for a list of RE software - is www.reonline.org.uk (successor to The RE Site).
Run by the prestigious Culham Institute, this is the starting point for resources, news and links to other sites: it's safe, educationally sound and up to date. One new feature of the site is the facility to email young volunteer members of the main faiths with questions.
For virtual tours of places of worship on CD-Rom, there are the excellent Places of Worship titles from Birchfield Interactive: one CD for each of all the major faiths and for primary and secondary sectors. Primary titles are pound;59.95, secondary pound;129.95.
Birchfield has a wide range of resources, all living up to their "interactive" tag. The Interactive Moral Issues Pack, for example, for 14 to 16-year-olds, costs pound;129.95. All titles come as two CDs, one with content and one to make a multimedia presentation.
Another flexible resource is a CD called Cut Paste and Surf, from Nelson Thornes. It's used by Fiona Jessup to teach Sikhism, but it covers most RE topics. Used in conjunction with a textbook, it's actually a means of integrating ICT skills into RE at key stage 3-4 (about pound;90 depending on size of school).
When it comes to flexible multimedia presentations, the must-see products are those from Immersive Education. Their Kar2ouche titles are original and challenging. There are two for RE - Learning from Religion and Understanding Religion. Essentially, Kar2ouche is a multimedia authoring tool, providing children with the means and resources to put together presentations, lectures, shows or storyboards.
Everything is easy to use and intuitive - within minutes you can see a story building on the screen - in response to discussion and decision.
Learning from Religion, for example, is subtitled Media, Environment and Forgiveness - and one suggestion is to look at TV soaps, examining them for religious content and attitudes to religion. This can lead to children putting together soap-style stories with religious themes.
Suggestions like this, although necessary, risk shutting down the huge range of options and possibilities that children will find in this resource, which actually demands a good deal of imagination and courage from the teacher if it's really going to fly.
Also excellent and established are the CD titles from Granada Learning (Pounds 49 each) - Exploring World Religions (for upper primary and early KS3) and Aspects of Religion (for upper secondary). These look at major world faiths, with superb, painstakingly researched images and the words of people in faith communities from across the world.
Kar2ouche Immersive Education Stand D70 Tel: 01865 811000 www.immersiveducation.com
Birchfield Interactive See the REM Stand B40 Tel: 0845 676222 www.birchfieldinteractive.com
Cut Paste and Surf Nelson Thornes Stand C70 Tel: 01242 267279 www.nelsonthornes.com
Granada Learning Stand E40F40 Tel: 0845 602 1937 www.granada-learning.com
Socratic Ideas Tel: 07956 321209 www.socraticideas.com