It's easy to imagine what's going to happen to this little book. Information technology co-ordinators and technophiles will buy it and, disappointed that it didn't tell them much that they didn't already know, they'll push it to the back of the bookcase. Highways for Learning isn't aimed at them, but at their colleagues who should make a positive effort to read this short, simple, jargon-free introduction to both the Internet and its educational implications.
Only teachers with retirement day firmly in their sights can afford to ignore the revolution in telecommunications which is undoubtedly underway. The publication last month of the Government's consultation paper, Superhighways for Education, confirms that a fundamental change in the way children will be taught is no longer a sci-fi dream (or nightmare) but firmly on the political agenda.
The Internet offers access to a vast storehouse of information, archive material, video, sound recordings, museums, libraries and expertise. Increasingly schools are going to rely on it for learning materials. More significantly, parents and employers will expect teachers to ensure that pupils are, in the Government's phrase, "network literate". It's this challenge that the team at the National Council for Educational Technology has addressed in a sensible, matter-of -fact way.
Highways for Learning is only 100 pages long and 40 of those are devoted to a bibliography, information on gateway providers, useful Internet addresses and the inevitable glossary of jargon. The authors explain what the Internet is; give brief case studies on how it might be used by pupils and teachers; and provide a brief subject-by-subject review of the ways in which it could be used in the classroom.
Throughout, the authors distinguish between what will be possible in the very near future when schools have a cable (broadband) link to the Internet, and the far more limited opportunities offered at the moment, using an ordinary telephone line and modem. Using cable, they explain, it would take 45 seconds to download a 45-minute video. Using the out-of-date modems that most schools have, it could take 53 days.
Chapters deal with how to get on to the Internet, and how to make sense of gophers, Archies, FTPs, URLs and other mysteries. Wan-nabe net surfers will have to look elsewhere for a comprehensive guide which they are going to need, but there is certainly enough in the book to demystify what is a complex and confusing subject. It shouldn't be left to gather dust on the the IT co-ordinator's shelves.
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