World Education Market, Vancouver

More than 450 companies and public organisations from 34 countries exhibited their wares at the first World Education Market in Canada last month. The event covered all types of learning, with online education services a major presence.

Two of these are prefixed by the now inescapable letter "e": eKIDS Internet and epals.com.

ePALS Classroom Exchange, to give it its full title, bills itself as the "world's largest and fastest-growing online classroom community". The Ottawa-based outfit claims that more than 1.8 million teachers and students in 130 countries use the free online service to communicate globally, collaborate on classroom projects, practise foreign languages and learn about other cultures. Teachers can sign up and indicate what sort of contact they seek for their class, and colleagues worldwide can respond viathe site.

For example, Tim Barratt of Brockton C of E primary school in Shropshire says his Year 3-4 class wants to find a class to exchange e-letters with and later use chat programs or video conferencing. In the UK, 850 teachers have registered with ePALS already.

The site, also available in French, German and Spanish, offers monitored e-mail (a big attraction for those concerned about inappropriate content), lesson plans, interactive projects, online resources and translation tools.

In a world where every service claims to be unique, eKIS Internet does seem to offer something new. To overcome the concerns of children accessing inappropriate material on the web, it is creating a "safe and private Internet for kids", using a private network so there is no link with the"real" Net.

Parents register and are sent a disk to load on to the family computer, and children log on using a unique user name. All material is vetted and divided into four age-specific areas. A translation function allows children to chat with others who speak different languages.

There is no advertising on eKIDS, which is free for half a year and then costs around pound;8 a month. A UK operation is likely to be launched, as the San Francisco-based parent company, SilverTech, has attracted interest fromthe likes of the BBC and Channel 4.

For teachers wanting toadd an online element totheir classes, Blackboard.com could be the simple answer. The free service lets you create a course website with learning materials, discussion boards and even online testing.

The company says more than 10,000 teachers worldwide are putting materials on the site,which any of their students with web access and the correct code can use. It isalso possible to market a course through Blackboard.com, although there is no guarantee anyone will sign up.

Chris Johnston

eKIDS: ekidsinternet.comePALS: www.epals.comBlackboard: www.blackboard.com


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