Web feats

3rd January 2003 at 00:00
Special Needs And The Internet: Issues For The Inclusive Classroom. Ed. Chris Abbott. Routledge Falmer, pound;16.99.

Just occasionally you find a book which covers old ground but which makes you rethink key classroom issues. This is one of them and the review copy is now covered with my scrawls because it contains so many points I want to follow up.

Lucid yet rigorous, the editor, Dr Chris Abbott of Kings College, London, has brought together ideas and experiences from classroom practitioners, head teachers and national educational organisations to provide a broad vision about internet and email within special schools.

The first section provides case studies about using the web to gather and publish information, the second part focuses on email, looking at themes and case studies, and the final part takes a strategic look at the needs of schools and LEAs.

The book covers access technology such as switches, screen readers and using overlay keyboards to track sites, but its main thrust is how and why we should use the web in the classroom. The case studies highlight it as an advertising medium, as a means of recording achievement, a way of drawing together resources for theme weeks, as a networked radio station, as a television, a tape recorder and as a way of bringing museums to the classroom.

But future problems and possible solutions are also tackled. For example, who is web publicity aimed at? So many sites are a catch-all and fail to meet the needs of their varied audiences such as parents, the LEA or local businesses. Different paths for different audiences provide an answer.

The book also suggests site designers could include a simplified version of a site plus a voice that could read text so those with poor reading skills are not disadvantaged. And all teachers and special needs co-ordinators would benefit from a central database of links to sites with age-appropriate material for each subject area.

Abbott also tackles the implications of going completely digital. He points out that large secondary schools were developed for the industrial age and are seen by some as obsolete.

Specialist schools may mark a new phase in "the transformation of the secondary sector from a generalist schooling model to specialist subject-based learning centres which will be subsidiary to online distance education". The questions special education is facing today will be faced by many policymakers tomorrow and this book sheds some welcome light on the issues.

Sally McKeown

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