Information technology has not only become an important enabler for educational institutions, but is becoming a critical element in the general education of students themselves. Manchester Institute for Information Delivery (MiiD) has responded to this with the development of an Internet training programme, Getting Online, that is aimed at individuals who wish to gain Internet skills to improve employment prospects or simply keep pace with current technology skills.
MiiD offers a series of courses delivered via the Web. They are designed to take students through fundamental practical skills such as the building and designing of Web sites. One of the advantages of the online facility is that students can learn at their own pace and from remote locations.
A short self-assessment option provides advice and guidance about training modules on offer. These help match a student's needs and existing skills to the course. Other features include the Learner Centre, a personalised Web site for students to track progress and identify next steps. The Learner Centre also provides links for students to participate in other online activities such as Web sites and newsletters. Tutors can review work in progress by uploading the students Project Folder to the MiiD FTP server. Support is provided by e-mail or phone, and peer support is encouraged by e-mail and FAQs sites.
In addition to the general IT learning facilities, Spanish Online is a language course for students wishing to improve their reading and writing abilities. MiiD attracts 10,000 registrations a year with up to 800 students studying at any one time.
We applaud any online development that adds a new dimension to an existing field. MiiD is a leader in the online training field and as such has done more than many to develop this exciting area. The service is free to learners and we have been impressed by the number of registered trainees the programme is helping.
The National Grid for Learning initiative is the project that will apply the principles of 'joined-up' government to education. At its heart is the sharing of information. The use of computer networks is therefore key.
NETLinc is Lincolnshire Country Council's response to the challenge. It is a private IP network that currently provides monitored access and online learning resources to 50,000 students based in over 215 schools within the Lincolnshire area. This represents 98% of the county's educational institutions, or more than 2,200 PCs all supported from one location.
The network is essentially a secure intranet which as well as publishing educational content and providing remote systems for monitoring, support and training, also offers students the facilities of the open Internet, including e-mail, filtered Web site access, and discussion groups.
Several principles have steered the design of the network. Easy-to-use content submission tools opens it up to contributions from many participants, not just techno-literates; an active learning policy makes for a dynamic 'smart' exchange of information between parties rather than a passive transmission/reception model; quality control is ensured at all times through simple but effective content management tools.
The system has been fully online since November 1999. Over a four-year period that represents the time for the start-up phase of the project, the total costs of which are estimated to be £6.5m. Future plans for NETLinc includes the opening of a public Web site (www.netlinc.org.uk) at the end of this year. At this stage, more than 80,000 users will be connected.
The NETLinc system is an impressive one. It is an excellent example of community-benefit driven excellence. The effectiveness and quality of the system is particularly remarkable when the short development time is taken into consideration. The NETLinc implementation can justifiably be cited as best practice in the e-learning field.
Hackney Education Service
Learning Live is the London Borough of Hackney's response to the challenge of implementing Internet technology in schools.
To date, 66 schools have been connected to the BT ADSL broadband network, enhancing levels of communication, support and resource sharing that is quite unprecedented between schools and the local education authority. The underlying philosophy is to overcome the day-to-day isolation schools have tended to experience in the past, and create opportunities for improving standards by knowledge sharing.
The site is divided according to audience, with areas for students and teachers, as well as governors, parents and community life-long learning organisations. Content is authored by a number of programs aimed at children. A bespoke self-publishing system is being developed to encourage contributions from non-technical experts.
Since going live in December 1999, more than 260 e-mail accounts have been created. The total budget for the current year is £600,000. One of the unexpected benefits of the network has been the enfranchisement of formerly disaffected students.
Learning Live includes facilities that have been developed by students themselves, for example, a wholly-pupil authored curriculum application. Hackney provides free e-mail facilities for schools, based upon their own domain names, and Web site hosting with support for site development. This aspect of the project is regarded as important for on-going development since encouraging users in the Web creation process is essential both for the effective production of useful content.
Hackney is leading by example in adopting an intranet network utilising the latest broadband technology. In its determination to provide the best possible educational structure to its schools it has set the standard for others to follow. The systems in place will allow for further exciting developments in communications, education and commerce. Hackney should be congratulated.