Online Evidence of Pupils' Abilities

The Herald Cyberschools Column

First Published in The Herald May 1998


Kincorth Academy stands on land which once belonged to the Abbey of Arbroath. A proud description of its history is one of the first pages on offer when you download the school's Web site. The Web site also has a history. It's been available on the Internet for three years, making it one of the earliest examples of a Scottish school Web site. In almost pre-Cyber days for Scottish schools, pupils were invited to an Open Day at Robert Gordon's University. There they learned how to create Web pages and the site's been online ever since.

Rob Grant, Principal Teacher of Computing, explains, "Before the Open Day we decided on suitable content and each pupil was given the task of creating text for a page. We scanned in some images and then the pages were converted into HTML at Robert Gordon's. Back at the school we uploaded them to our Internet Service Provider. The ideas came from the pupils and were designed to provide basic information about the school."

Those original pages can still be found at SCET's index of Scottish school sites and many other school pages can be located through the search facility at the Superhighways Task Force site.

Hundreds of schools now have their own Web presence. Many - such as Kincorth Academy - started with simple information about the school. The aim is often to provide information for parents and to encourage pupils. School Web sites enable pupils to publish online in a way that would be costly and difficult in any other medium.

St Paul's Primary School in East Calder has the usual school history and aims at its site but the real purpose of the site is to feature the work of the pupils.

Their drawings, their stories and their projects feature on nearly every page and while the site is very heavy on graphics, and therefore slow to download, you can feel the enthusiasm and excitement of the pupils with every click of the mouse. Work in English Language, Expressive Arts and Environmental Studies is colourfully displayed.

Kincorth Academy also supports the school curriculum, provides information for parents and enables pupils to publish on the Web. Its site also points them in the right direction for research.

In the Launch Pad area links have been provided for a range of subjects. For teachers and students beginning to consider the use of the Internet this is a good place to start. There are links to museums, education sites and gems such as the "Physics Lovers' Paradise". The Launch Pad also provides a significant number of relevant links for Computer Studies and access to sites from which graphics for school Web pages can be obtained. The pages are clearly laid out and very easy to navigate.

Such curriculum links could also provide a good starting point for parents anxious to use the Internet at home to support learning and in fact, KidZ Zone, has a wide range of links to Web sites chosen for their relevance to school subjects and their appeal to young people.

The St. Paul's site also links which could help with homework or would provide places for parents and children to explore together.

However, sites which are just a series of links - helpful as they might be - soon get by-passed and both schools have recognised the need to provide content as well as to be a directory to other resources.

Computers @ Kincorth is an online version of a newsletter specially produced for parents and it can be read at the school site. It explains computing terminology and has its own help-desk and hints for those buying computers. Produced once a term, a new issue should be available shortly. There's also a Parents' Guide to Computers.

St Paul's E-News is a new venture for the Primary 7 class in creating an online newsletter for parents. The pupils themselves are the journalists and art designers. Sean Kelly reports on £1233 raised for Capability Scotland while Lisa Young explains what happened on a visit to the Museum of Childhood.

School Web sites give parents - and others - an insight into the curriculum and Kincorth and St Paul's have tried to make the view as interesting and informative as possible. While the numbers of parents accessing such Web sites may still be small, the sites do provide a way in which pupils can get actively involved in communication between the school and the home as well as with other schools.

Kincorth provides an interesting area called 5-14 Information Technology which includes details about the relevant strands and levels and ways of addressing them. Although much of this area - including the descriptions - is actually addressed to pupils, the language level is demanding and pupils using the Level A and B material are likely to need support. There are, however, well-designed worksheets for pupils at all levels which will be attractive to other schools and helpful to those who have Internet access at home.

While other departments in the school have still to develop their own pages on the site, Art & Design has been there from the beginning along with the Computing department. Currently the Art pages display designs by pupils for a series of stamps, some detail British birds or flora or even fashion. There's a lot of scope for such pages displaying pupil ideas and designs about "Cool Caledonia".

The St. Paul's site also features young artists at work. All of the images of the teachers have been drawn by the pupils, even those from the Nursery. St. Paul's uses its Web site as a global wall display which features drawings, photographs and news and in a kind of box-within-a-box way even includes a photograph of Primary 6's actual wall display about space.

Kincorth's Web site changes, grows as the interests and skills of staff and students develop. It's an example of what can be done with a lot of enthusiasm and looking back, its history shows that it was worth making the start. St. Paul's, only online this year and with outside help - the site is maintained by Mike Smith, a student at Napier University - shows that the technology is only a means to an end. The media is not the message.

Kincorth's FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) area explains with admirable honesty that the use made of its site - and the Internet - within the school is restricted. There are currently only three Internet access points, two of those are dial-up facilities with 28.8K modems within the Library and the Computing Department. As always, staff training is one of the main reasons for limited use of the facility and there are plans for further staff training and the installation of digital technology. However, the strength of these school sites is the way in which they are developing by using currently available facilities to encourage enthusiasm and enhance learning. The message is effectively using the medium.