Thou shalt Net;Subject of the Week;Religious education

4th December 1998 at 00:00
Roy Jackson takes the superhighway to heaven...and finds there's too much taking and not enough giving

Information technology is now recognised as an integral part of everyday life for most people and a necessary requirement in understanding for pupils in schools. We are encouraged not to treat IT as a separate discipline but to incorporate it across the curriculum.

But what about the teacher? As schools become increasingly networked, and students more IT literate, it is vital for the teacher to keep up. More than that, it should not be seen as a chore but as an exciting challenge and an opportunity to improve the teacher's expertise. A small but growing number of dedicated religious education specialists (mainly, but not exclusively, teachers themselves) have been building their own Web sites, aimed at those RE teachers. Numbers using these sites are increasing, but many teachers are not aware of what is on offer, and what can be gained from these, mainly free, services.

For a start, it is a chance to be interactive. Many RE teachers - especially newly qualified ones - often feel isolated in their work. By connecting to these sites, teachers can share ideas, problems and even meet with others in the field. They can "talk" by e-mail, computer conferencing, Web-chat and, eventually, by video-conferencing.

It is also an instant resource. There is nothing worse than coming to a school that has scant lesson plans, ideas and resources. With access to RE Web sites, this need not be such a problem. At present, resources are not extensive, but if teachers can be persuaded to submit more and more ideas, it could become a growing resource.

Paul Hopkins, founder of the RE User Site (now merged with RE-XS), says: "There must be filing cabinets and RE 'offices' all over the land that have schemes of work, programmes of study and lesson ideas, worksheets, games, puzzles, artefacts, ideas, meditations, plays and songs that we could share via a suitable medium. Now we havean accessible and affordable medium - the Internet.

"Now I can indulge my altruistic desire to share - closely linked to the strong streak of laziness that will enable me to sleep on Sunday afternoons having pinched someone else's ideas rather than having had to think up my own!" The RE User Site went online in January and has had 3,500 visits or "hits" since then. The problem has not been the number of visits, but the lack of those prepared to contribute. Andy Bird, who also runs a Web site, says: "Rarely do I receive work from other teachers. It would seem that they are happy to take ideas but not so happy to share what they have themselves."

This seems to be a common problem of all RE Web sites. Hopkins says: "If every teacher of RE contributed just one good idea, we would have more than 10,000 good ideas - that's got to be enough for a superb PoS."

So visit the sites, and by all means make use of what's there - but try and take a little time out to contribute. Here are some useful sites to begin with: RE-XS (Religious Exchange Service) Site

This is part of the Electronic Media and Religion initiative of the department of religious studies and social ethics at the University College of St Martin in Lancaster. The project was established in 1995 to investigate and improve the use religious groups make of IT. The aim of the site is to link pupils and teachers around the world through e-mail and video-conferencing. One service is the Faith to Faith facility, a noticeboard where teachers and members of faith communities post notices if they need to contact others on specific issues (faced with teaching philosophy of religion for the first time and need help?). There is also an Interactive service, including a question and answer section, a pinboard for requests, vacancies, conferences and announcements, and under development is a Web-chat and discussion groups. The news service provides interesting summaries of religious news stories from a variety of sources, and the ethical and moral issues section has useful links on such matters as abortion and animal rights. Paul Hopkins, initiator of the RE User Site, has taken over the Teacher's Cupboard, which provides support materials, ideas and tips, and lesson plans.

Church Net UK

This offers a virtual pinboard listing events, jobs, calls for help and so on, along with discussion groups, a question and answer section, Web-chat, and a 'prayer net', which allows you to submit a prayer. It also has a good news service.

RE on CampusWorld

This is a service for schools from British Telecom. The free stuff is limited but is good in providing links to providers of RE materials. The "directories" hold details of 150 organisations (professional associations, student and youth organisations, official bodies, and many groups which provide educational resources) which help and support RE teaching. There is a guide to places of worship which cater for school parties, as well as advice on planning and using a visit. In the list of resources for IT in RE and moralsvalues education, you can find reviews of classroom resources and articles about using IT in RE teaching. There is also an extensive list of CD-Roms, videos and discs, listing prices and publishers. For a subscription, you gain access to the "walled garden", which includes extensive source materials for collective worship, a weekly selection of religious and historical anniversaries and celebrations, materials on festivals and other curriculum materials.

Culham Institute

Culham College Institute is a research, information and development organisation founded in 1980 after the closure of an Anglican teacher training college. Its parent body is the Culham Educational Foundation. Culham's work is largely collaborative, and partner agencies include dioceses, other RE specialists and several charitable trusts as well as the BBC. It is linked with RE Campusworld, but maintains its own Web site. Of special interest is its new "What's on" service, which gives comprehensive listings of religious pieces on TV and radio. It also lists forthcoming religious festivals.

RE Net (Religious Education Network)

This is a resource for teachers that has been put together in co-operation with Exeter University and the Farmington Institute for Christian Studies. It relates specifically to teachers interested in "human values education" and is based on the key stage 3 Agreed Syllabus for Somerset. This is also a European venture, with participant schools from Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and Britain. Teachers can tap into modules on such themes as "Experience and Belief", "Human Beings and the Environment", "Where is the Answer?" Andy Bird's Religious Education Resource Centre

Still under development but has much potential. There are software, video and book reviews and a lesson plan warehouse.

RE and Theology on theInternet

A link provider, offering detailed lists of resources for the study and teaching of theology, The site helpfully divides the links into topics such as biblical studies, contemporary theology and pastoral studies.

Roy A Jackson is A-level chiefexaminer for World Religions, WJEC

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