Virtually perfect

13th October 2000 at 01:00
Researchers Kate Myers, Mike Johnson, Tim Denning and Graeme Easdown on the response to Channel 4's homework site.

"I WISH I'd had something like this at school. My parents weren't very academic and couldn't help me. Something like this would have been great."

The speaker was one of the teachers we questioned last term while evaluating Channel 4's Homework High website.

Young people logging on can scan a library of questions and answers on frequently-raised issues. "Live" teachers are available in the late afternoon and early evenings on weekdays and Sunday evening.

Our evaluation focused on pupils' and teachers' perceptions of the quality of what was on offer and subject-specialists' assessment of the answers.

We attached a questionnaire to the website and received 2,000 responses from children within two weeks. Three-quarters of them were aged 12 to 15 and most used the service from home. We also questioned 38 teachers. The overwhelming response was positive.

Young people liked browsing in the site's library and were pleased to discover "I am not the only person who finds certain subjects hard". They also liked being able to put questions to "real" teachers because their replies were "very personal to the individual".

However, they wanted access to more subjects - such as modern languages and ICT - for more time. At the time of our study, the site only offered support in English, maths, science, history ad geography.

Some of the young people were also disappointed that the site's chat-room had been closed (because some had used it for unintended purposes).

The vast majority of teachers praised the site's "user-friendliness" and the quality of the answers. Teachers felt it enhanced motivation for independent learning, although some felt that slow response times could be a turn-off.

Channel 4 has responded to the evaluation by making French available twice a week with sound files of teachers speaking in French. There are also plans to include more languages and other subjects early next year.

In addition, two moderated chat-rooms are now open in the evenings and on Sundays. One room is reserved for schoolwork discussions while the other is for more social chat - as long as it's within clear rules. There is also an interview room where children can question special guests, such as Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University, a specialist in robots.

Web support for learning is popular with young people. However, the concerns of several teachers about children who cannot surf the web at home are very real. Many libraries are, of course, linked to the web. But more schools could consider opening up their facilities after-hours. Perhaps the 247 school is not so far away...

For full report, ring Betty Coxon, Keele University 01782 583579, e-mail: Channel 4 site is at

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