Learning platforms for school computer networks, which allow pupils, teachers and parents to access curriculum resources, discuss, submit and assess work, and even chat online at any time, are coming. Labour is spending pound;40 million on them and, properly used, they offer enormous potential for learning that is driven by children's individual needs.
Some schools, though, are going to feel daunted by the prospect of grappling with a full learning platform straight away. What's needed, for primary schools in particular, is a first step: a product that opens up some of the learning platform's possibilities yet can be up and running across a school quickly. It's that niche that Prime, which was launched at the BETT educational technology show in London earlier this month by Ramesys, the learning platform supplier, is designed to fill.
This web-based tool presents teachers with a series of virtual classrooms into which they can put lesson plans and resources, whether developed in school or bought in from a licensed supplier of curriculum materials.
Teachers - and, crucially, their pupils and their pupils' families - can visit the virtual classrooms and lessons at any time.
A teacher will start up Prime in the morning, look at the classes and subjects for that day - set out as "classrooms" on the screen - and then proceed to individual lessons. Each one will show lesson planning with further links to supporting material. There may be a presentation that the teacher or a colleague has prepared, or links to appropriate websites or other information on the school network. That evening, a child tackling maths homework might go to the family computer and revisit the maths lesson that gave rise to it, and parents can join in.
That's the bare bones. But although Prime is designed as a simple tool, free from many of the complications of a learning platform (it's not populated with pupil data and assessments, for example), it still invites teachers and children to make it do what they want.
It's another of those pieces of software that creatively-minded children and their teachers will seize and take into areas that the suppliers have not yet thought of. That creative possibility, much more than any considerations of its content, is what makes Prime look like a true introduction to the world of learning platforms.
A school running Prime will probably move eventually to a full learning platform. In that case, its staff will need the option of either retaining Prime for their own reasons, or assimilating its content into their new learning platform. Ramesys assures us that is no problem, but it's clearly something to ask questions about before writing the cheque
Prime: web-based "virtual classroom" tool
Price depends on school size: full site licence average cost for primary Pounds 499 until February 28, then pound;999, secondary pound;999 until February 28, then pound;1,799, including access by pupils and parents www.ramesys.comprime