A CANADIAN Internet company has created the world's largest online classroom, enabling 1.8 million teachers and students in 136 countries to collaborate on curriculum work and cultural activities.
Unlike regular e-mail and open access chat groups, ePALS' website (www.epals.com) is a secured virtual classroom.
Teachers create monitored accounts for their students and filters scan incoming and outgoing e-mail for profanity or attachments. Questionable e-mails are routed to the teacher who can than approve or reject it.
"The ePALS system provides teachers or parents with an increased sense of security when it comes to allowing the students or children to use e-mail," says John Irving, the chief operating officer and co-founder of ePALS.
Most of the young people correspond or work on collaborative projects with students with whom they share a first or second language.
However, the website's instant translation service allows students who speak only English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and Portuguese to communicate and work with peers who speak a differnt language. Chinese and Japanese are also to be added soon.
The site has included project models for different age groups. One on money, for instance, asks nine-year-olds to discuss the history depicted on currency while 16-year-olds are asked to consider the mining industries that supply the raw materials for money.
According to Ottawa teacher, Charlotte Wilson-Millar, the programme improves both students' writing and their understanding of other cultures.
"It helps to motivate them and to sharpen their writing to know that they are writing something real to another real person instead of pretending through a workbook," she said. "They can also make use of the spell-check and other editing programs."
But Alison Armstrong, co-
author of The Child and the Machine: Why Computers May Put our Children's Education at Risk, warned that using e-mail could reduce standards of pupils' work.
"In a similar programme I saw in Winnipeg, students from Australia were misinforming Canadian students about which animals are on the endangered species list," she said.