Four Good Reasons to Get Caught in the Net
- Cyberschools Column
- First Published in the Herald in January 1997
More than 3,500 schools worldwide are now connected to the Internet.
With 5 - 14 still seeking a role and Higher Still ready
in the wings should schools in Scotland be interested in a world
There are at least four good reasons why schools should go online:
e-mail; the Web; ftp and newsgroups and they're not as bad as
E-mail can be faster and more economic than either fax
or phone. For many people e-mail is reason enough to connect.
E(lectronic)-mail avoids the reams and reams of paper
required - at both ends - by traditional fax machines and users
have found that it leads to shorter messages; user-friendly to
use the jargon but to the point.
A significant advantage is that you1re never put on hold. There's
no telephone rage to the strains of music-box Strauss. Guidance
teachers could actually send all their messages in non-contact
time. Sending information by e-mail is always at local call rates,
regardless of destination, and it takes seconds where the fax
takes minutes. Files won't arrive unprotected in an open plan
office. They'll stay at the mailbox until the relevant person
If e-mail were all that the Internet had to offer, it
would probably be worth the investment. Schools could actually
save money but there's more. There's lots more.
If school AFA's are becoming attracted by the efficiency of e-mail,
teachers are quickly recognising the wealth of resources available
on the World Wide Web. In the right hands the Web
is a very effective teaching tool. No other resource offers access
to such a range of information. A quick search for Jane Austen
information will result in a list of more than 20,000 references;
some relevant, some not. The real problem for teachers is knowing
where to start and how to avoid enjoyable but perhaps ultimately
fruitless hours of surfing potentially significant sites.
Surfing the Web is just like having a conversation with
a Glasgow taxi driver. You pursue a line of thought with each
link taking you deeper and deeper into a subject or off at a
tangent into another one. I realised this recently when I was
forced to abandon the car - no parking spaces - and take a taxi
to a meeting.
Talking to the driver, as you do, I asked if the town was busy.
He said it was but it was full of shoppers who weren't
going very far. Then he told me about another driver who had
taken one shopper back to Stirling, a distance of over forty
miles he said. I asked if he'd read - in the newspapers
- about the London taxi driver who had taken someone to Dundee.
He said he had read it and asked if I1d read the story about
the Glasgow man who'd won a lot of money recently. He'd driven
him to the press conference to receive the cheque. And so we
Each link, you see, led to another. We could have taken a totally
different route. If our minds had clicked on Dundee we
might have ended up discussing primary education via some comments
about the bairn. Stirling could have taken us to Braveheart
and on to Scottish cinema.
And so it is with the World Wide Web; enjoyable but sometimes
aimless wandering. If e-mail reduces phone bills having
access to the Web can easily increase them.
That's why CyberSchools will review Web sites directly
relevant to the curriculum. The column should reduce the surfing
without taking away all the fun. The Web has an enormous
amount of relevant information if only you could find it. Each
Web site does have its own address. You've probably noticed them
Web addresses are less daunting than they look. A typical
address looks something like http://www.scet.org.uk http
- hypertext transfer protocol - is just the system which enables
clicking on links to take you to related information. It's not
important to know how it manages this trick. http is usually
followed by :// which means "address coming up"
and then there's the actual address which usually begins www.
for World Wide Web. The next part gives the name and a description
of the source. If there1s any more after that it1s the files
- Russian doll style - in which the information is stored. The
SCET site, for example, can be reached on the Web. SCET is an
organisation in the UK.
SCET's page is appropriately designed to look like a jotter and
has lots of interesting information and links. It also offers
a free screen saver.
It's possible to "download" the screen saver, in other
words to transfer it from their computer to your own. Downloading
introduces the third reason for connecting to the Internet file
transfer protocol. FTP makes it possible to
transfer software and other files to your computer (or floppy
disk) and all the major computer companies have FTP sites.
Many resources are available free, at least for a trial period.
It's a bit like getting programs without the fancy wrapping.
No cardboard boxes.
Transferring files from a source on the other side of the world
is as easy as copying from a floppy disk. The down side is that
it can take a quite a long time so it will rack up the phone
bill. Even so it could still work out cheaper than requistioning
the same software.
Some way on from the SCET site you could come across a teachers'
forum. Discussion groups or forums are the fourth basic Internet
facility, the so-called newsgroups. These subject noticeboards
exist on just about every topic. This particular teachers newsgroup
is actually called the Mighty Media Teacher Talk Forum.
(Yes, it is based in America.) By registering, which takes seconds
rather than minutes, you can read messages which other teachers
have "posted". More than 800 new participants take
part in this global staffroom discussion every month.
Messages are categorised to make them easier to find. Under "Teaching
Ideas" Dawn Schurman describes how she and her class have
worked with a local college to produce a newspaper. She says
it's not a new idea but it works. There's space for everyone
if you have a burning desire to share a good lesson plan with
One primary school teacher and her class are currently reading
The Gingerbread Man. As you no doubt know he runs away.
The teacher's message asks if people from all over the world
would send the class postcards from the "runaway".
Could this be 5-14 Environmental Studies?
E-mail. The Web. FTP. Newsgroups. The Internet does
have a lot to offer.
There is, I know, a small, almost Luddite subculture in Scottish
education which scoffs at the Internet. Sometimes those involved
seem to mistake cynicism for smartness, Scottish new lads continuing
the kailyard tradition. It would be a shame to encourage such
Education is about encouraging enquiring minds and the Internet
offers resources from all over the world which can make enquiry
rewarding. Scottish pupils deserve the opportunity.
Mighty Media Teacher
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