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What a load about rubbish;FE Focus

Simon Midgely reports on two initiatives which aim to make the best educational use of the Internet.

An imaginative partnership between industry and an educational charity has led to the creation of the largest waste disposal Web site on the Internet.

Some 3,000 individuals, including many schools, colleges, students and teachers, access the site each week to download teaching resources and educational material about the waste disposal industry in the United Kingdom.

The site is a joint initiative between Heads, Teachers and Industry (HTI), a charity dedicated to raising standards of management in schools, and Biffa Waste Services, the largest British-owned waste disposal company in the UK.

Anne Evans, HTI's chief executive, had the idea of creating an on-line waste disposal Web site while pondering the problem of how to provide people with an educational resource which enabled them to look strategically at environmental issues, especially waste management.

Ms Evans was aware of a new pound;7 per ton tax levied on companies disposing of biogradeable waste in landfill sites. Part of the revenue generated by this was to be used to for reclamation projects and environmental education about waste disposal. Her idea was that HTI should apply for recognition as an approved environmental body and set up an Environment Trust Fund to pay for an educational Web site on the waste disposal industry and environmental issues.

Biffa supported the idea and Phillip Goodchild, the deputy head of Nether Hall School in Leicestershire was seconded to the trust for a year to help create the Web site.

After spending several months shadowing Biffa employees and learning about disposal practices, he and a Web-site consultant put waste disposal and sustainability teaching resources on a Web site for schools and colleges.

With a team of eight seconded teachers Biffa had already developed a series of learning modules or packs to help the teaching of waste disposal issues at all four key stages of the national curriculum.

Mr Goodchild reshaped this material to put it on the site, making it as accessible as possible for teachers. Its wider potential for A-level and GNVQ work in colleges was realised.

The site went on to the Internet in July 1997 and now consists of some 200 pages of information. It is linked to a separate site exploring issues about water, set up by Biffa's parent company Severn Trent Water Plc.

The Web-site creation was funded by money from Biffa and by pound;54,000 from the landfill tax.

Ms Evans says the site is sequenced so that any teacher anywhere in the world can download materials and use them as classroom hand-outs or as resource materials.

Peter Jones, Biffa's director responsible for business development and external affairs, said: "It's not a lot of material saying how wonderful we are. It's genuinely designed by teachers to be a supportive tool.

"The schools can access material relating to things like recycling, landfill, waste collection and transportation, the composition of waste flows, the geography of waste disposal, hazardous wastes and the chemistry of liquid waste treatment.

"Although you might think that waste management is a pretty dull area, it touches on science, biology, geology, geography, sociology, engineering, physics and chemistry.

"We and our parent, Severn Trent Water Plc, want to create sites that are not seen to be just commercial vehicles in the educational area. We want to make sure that schools have environmental sites that address the problems and needs of educationists first and foremost.

"We hope that it has given those who have visited the site a much clearer, rational and objective view of the difficulties in going from where we are as a society to where we may want to be.

"Because if it was that easy we would be doing it. Clearly if things are not happening as quickly as people want, then its vitally important that they are educated as early as possible as to the blockages in the system, whether they are commercial, technical, social or political.

"This is what we are trying to do in as an objective way as possible through an independent intermediary that has absolute control over the editorial content of the Web site" Rob Walker, head of science at Huddersfield New College, a sixth-form college, said: "I think the site is very useful. The language and the format is clear and there are good diagrams. Its pitched at a good level for students who are undertaking A-level work and advanced GNVQ work, but it could also be used by the more able students studying GCSEs and perhaps intermediate GNVQS.

"One of the problems with quite a lot of material of this type is that its either written for a primary audience or its written for university students. I think this is a very good 16 to 19 resource. Its certainly the most up-to-date and clearest material that I have found" The Web site project is poised to enter a new phase now with a new deputy head being appointed to make the site more interactive with spread sheets, e-mail and the facility to answer questions about the environment.

Ms Evans said: "Learning in future is going to be different from the way we learned in the past. Information and communication technology is central to this. I hope that the site will develop with interactive materials enhancing and adding value to teaching in the classroom."

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