Traps for the unwary mouse

12th July 1996 at 01:00
It's important to be selective in using the Internet, says Diana Lazenby.

What makes a new resource useable in schools? This question has dogged multi-media since prehistory or at least for the last eight years since CD technology started to have widespread popular applications.

More recently the spotlight has fallen on the Internet. Like the sorcerer's apprentice (and any other lively key stage 3 student), we are fascinated by the range of wizardry and the promise of access to all knowledge that the Internet represents. Unlike the apprentice, we are also aware of what can happen in an unregulated environment.

For some, anxiety about misuse centres on the possibility of unsuitable and potentially dangerous material falling into the hands of the innocent browser or the school's most notorious wide boy. This has led to the walled garden approach adopted by BT's CampusWorld and the filtering mechanisms used by other specialist providers such as America on Line and Research Machines's Internet for Learning.

There is though a more pressing issue about Internet use in schools than this specific question of protection. It revolves around effective use. It asks how the Internet can be used appropriately in terms of the things teachers really need: stimulating materials, time effectiveness, and relation to educational principles such as differentiation.

So if there are exciting and interesting ideas to be gathered, and horizons to be broadened, the question remains of how this can be done. Factors militating against widespread use in the classroom include distraction (there's always another fascinating site just waiting for the click of your mouse), the problems of evaluating the quality of material, and the difficulty of targeting relevant sites. Successful mediation by teachers and effective pupil use may involve significant time on-line preparing material, and a steep learning curve.

There has been a growing trend towards more carefully constructed, subject-specific resources for use of the Internet in education. The latest subject introduced to BT's CampusWorld is music. This started from a series of indicators: that music should take its place alongside other curriculum areas, that it suffered from limited time and resources, that there were some useful music sites (not necessarily educational) already in existence and that the subject itself provides plenty of relevant material.

Music is of course a social activity which could benefit from networking. And music had been one of the earliest areas to profit from the Pavlovian response in multi-media - press a button for a noisy reward - hence the popularity of interactive guides to instruments.

What has emerged is a resource that provides easy access to the most useful music sites on the World Wide Web: composer and conductor Ronald Corp writing for secondary students, Andy Pierson introducing younger pupils to composing music, features on instruments, styles, organisations and music technology. Resources like these are not and could never claim to be exhaustive but they can and should be relevant.

Memory is necessarily selective and people, especially young people, relate to quite specific images and experiences. This is where focus, quality and distinctiveness are significant in educational publishing of any kind; material produced on the Internet cannot be substantially different in its values if it is to work in the classroom.

Diana Lazenby is a freelance designer of mixedmulti-media products and is currently involved in the development of the CampusWorld Music section

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