Turn on, tune in, hook up;Watershed;Interview;Carole Fletcher;Bob Hart

11th June 1999 at 01:00
So say two former teachers who now run their own IT consultancy. If only all teachers could wake up to the power of computers and the Internet, they tell Dorothy Walker.

Bob Hart and Carole Fletcher are firmly in agreement: "If you are working on what you feel passionate about and feel you are really contributing then the sky is the limit."

Entrepreneurs Hart and Fletcher are passionate about the power of technology. Look at the results of their latest venture and it is hard not to be caught up in their enthusiasm. As the creative partners behind the Tesco SchoolNet 2000 website, they have encouraged 60,000 children from half of Britain's schools to put their work on the Web, making the project the largest of its kind in the world.

Their consultancy, Intuitive Media, has designed a range of educational technology - clients include the Prince of Wales and the US Coastguard - and works at the forefront of every new medium, from the Internet to digital video. Yet the couple's belief in the power of information and communications technology dates back almost 20 years to their first project.

They met in 1981, when both were teaching. Hart, then headteacher at The Pines, Hertfordshire, had already realised the power of computers through an education seminar. He says: "I saw them used for maths and realised their potential was amazing. With a computer you can do a little bit, then change it to make it better and better. I thought they would be wonderful for art, music, science, drama - the creative side of the curriculum.

"We believed in giving every child a personal rather than national curriculum," Hart recalls. "I thought if you could give them this sort of power with technology, what would it do and how would it expand their minds?" Determined to follow up the idea, but unable to find the software, he created it himself. His first product, Polytechnix, drew geometric shapes on the screen and drew amazed gasps from pupils. "It was such good fun and so colourful that they just went wild," Hart says. "They kept asking for more features and we ended up creating a really inspirational art and maths package."

When Fletcher took up a teaching post at The Pines, Hart found a soulmate. She says: "Technology wasn't very advanced at the time, but I could just see how it could work. We could design a curriculum that was completely individual and involve children in the process."

They paired up to work on their task - inspired by Hart's childhood. He says: "As a child I was a poor reader. I read a book and got the story, then I would read it again and because I read different bits, the story would be different. So I believed every time you opened a book you got a different story. When my reading improved and I realised it wasn't true I was so disappointed. When Fletcher and I started to work with computers, we thought: suppose it was a different story every time you went in? And that's how we began to invent adventure games."

In 1984 they developed Tombs of Arkenstone, which was snapped up and marketed by a software publisher. It began as an adventure game for children, but the duo developed it so children could also invent their own adventures. "That's when it really took off," Hart says. "And it is the key to everything we have done since - people using technology to make their own special contribution."

Today the pair, now married, live and work in a village in the Peak District. They set up their consultancy business in 1991 to "promote the creative uses of ICT in education at all levels". And over the years Hart and Fletcher have transformed it into a virtual company, reliant on high-tech communications to unite a creative team that is scattered from Canada to Australia. "Everyone works autonomously and in a focused way," Fletcher says. "I am interested in how you use technology to run an efficient business. Today, 95 per cent of our time is spent on productive, creative activity."

The Tesco SchoolNet 2000 project illustrates the point. Hart chairs the curriculum advisory panel, which works with 200 teachers and advisers to dream up learning opportunities for children. "Around 80 per cent of the work is done via email," he says. "The educational community designs that curriculum and we can only achieve because of technology."

And Hart believes Intuitive Media's corporate experience holds a lesson for schools. "Teachers do so much administration, often by hand. Even 10 years ago, education had better computers than business. Now that's reversed and teachers are not empowered. Every teacher needs their own laptop connected to the Internet - they need what we've got. The cost of equipping these professionals is so tiny, it's crazy it hasn't been done."

Fletcher adds: "In schools, the real breakthrough will only come when teachers believe technology is going to make a difference to their lives. While they don't, children are not going to have it.

"We are living our dream - running a virtual business in the Peak District, connected to the world. I want that for everyone in education. The only way to achieve it is to say forget researching, we know technology is useful. Forget having to justify the spending, we know it's worth it. Just go out and do it!" www.intuitivemedia.com

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