Reaching the parts that other media can't

Cyberschools Column

First Published in The Herald November 1997

Recently the Cyberschools column has concentrated on the way the Web can enhance the curriculum and there's still a lot more to consider but the Web's not the only facility that the Internet has to offer.

Increasingly I.T. is being referred to as I.C.T., Information and Communication Technology. The new jargon highlights the interactive nature of the Internet.

E-mail's a great medium. Financially it's a sound investment for schools. Nevertheless its efficiency is not its greatest attraction. Rather, it is the way it leads to direct contact with people, places and ideas which would otherwise have remained out of reach. Glasgow schools are already using e-mail to reach the parts that other methods can't.

Richmond Park Primary School in the Gorbals uses e-mail as a means of addressing the targets of 5 - 14 Environmental Studies.

Pupils are told four swans have flown one kilometre East, West, North and South of the school. The youngsters investigate these areas to find out what the swans would have seen on their travels.

They discover "Greek" Thomson's church building, the Citizen's Theatre, the Mosque and more but in Richmond Park their findings make up more than a wall display, the pupils have also posted them on the school Web site.

For the children the really interesting stories are about a fifth, maverick swan which flew away. Readers of their Web site are asked to send in details of "sightings" of this swan.

The Richmond Park children only hear about the wandered swan when other people e-mail them to tell them what the swan found on "arrival" in their countries.

They have had responses from all over the world including America, Estonia, South Africa and more. It has been an ideal way to consider People and Place.

The correspondent from South Africa has also agreed to help with background details about the children's next reading book, Journey to Jo'burg (where he lives).

When e-mail messages arrive at the school, the older pupils read them to the younger ones and there's great excitement when each instalment arrives. Paired reading was never so interesting!

In the secondary sector e-mail can be used in a similarly innovative fashion. Richard Callanan, a producer at Yorkshire Television, is now a regular contributor to Media Studies lessons at Mearns Castle High School. He1s never been there and has never met any of the staff nor any of the pupils. From his office in Leeds he provides a direct insight into the role of the television producer by e-mailing a production diary to the school.

He is currently explaining the production of a children1s programme, Adam's Family Tree, while it is actually being made.

The link between the television company and the school came about because of one teacher's involvement in a mailing list. Such lists are similar to newsgroups. People who are interested in a particular topic debate the issues by sending their own comments by e-mail for everyone to read. With a mailing list other people's comments are then e-mailed directly to all participants.)

Stuart Mitchell, a Senior Teacher, noticed Richard Callanan's comments at the list about children and television and e-mailed to ask if he would be willing to explain what his job involved to the Media Studies class . It's the kind of request that media specialists receive regularly but in this case the medium made the difference.

Callanan said, "I have in the past had frequent requests from students the gist of which were: 'Please write my essay for me.' I usually refuse.

"E-mail has several advantages. It's immediate and informal. I can write off the top of my head which makes it easier for me and - this is equally important - I believe it will be received by students with a grain of salt as just a personal account.

"To go on-line for two hours in a month, to put forward an argument and then answer questions is so much easier than making even a single school visit."

Stuart Mitchell is also convinced that it is effective learning, "It's important that students talk to media professionals," he said. "In the past our students have benefited from visits by specialists but Richard Callanan is able to describe to us here in Glasgow the day to day work of how he is shaping the television series and the challenges and pressures he1s facing.

"He sent us scripts of the episodes. These and the production diaries are a very rich resource. It's a no-nonsense insider's view of the realities of television production."

OtOther departments in the school are also making use of e-mail. In Technical classes pupils take part in e-mail discussions at the Girltech Web site which encourages the use of technology by girls. Using technology to hold such discussions reinforces the point and pupils can access the facility in their own time at the school's after hours PC Club

E-mail is also being used at Mearns Castle to support staff development. It's not just the pupils who're interacting with others.

Like all Principal Teachers of Technical Education in East Renfrewshire, John Irvine has a laptop and an e-mail address.

For a year the Technical departments in all seven of the authority1s secondary schools have made use of e-mail to pool resources. The portable nature of the equipment means e-mail is sent and received when it suits each teacher.

John Irvine is keen to explain the advantages, "The main benefits are the flexibility of using it when it's convenient without disturbing other teachers while they have classes and being able to swap worksheets and resources online," he says. "It's no problem to send a powerpoint show for use with pupils and parents or to get a copy of 3D shareware for CAD use."

The e-mail link has also enabled rapid discussion of Higher Still proposals and other relevant issues without the need to travel to meetings and contact has been established with teachers in other authorities in order to access their expertise and resources. Departments customise the materials when they arrive so that they1re used effectively in their own schools.

Cyberschools columns are now available on the Web so if you missed the ones about English , Modern Languages , Modern Studies , or Business Studies they can be found at Media Matters and you can e-mail your comments from there.