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Quo vadis, School: Looking Back and Ahead

Summary:
Due to the German initiative "Schulen ans Netz" (schools online) a lot more schools were enabled to work with computers and networks than with any other experiment or pilot project so far. In particular schools where neither teachers nor pupils had any experience with computers or networks were invited to take part. Of course this meant above all to show them how teaching and learning can be supported by these new media and which possibilities were opened by working with computers and world-wide networks. This supplement tries to give answers to the following question: How Can Schools Be Supported by Meaningful Online Services?
Why Should Schools Be Online?

Due to this initiative a lot more schools were enabled to work with computers and networks than with any other experiment or pilot project so far. In particular schools' where neither teachers nor pupils had any experience with computers or networks' were invited to take part. Of course this meant above all to show them how teaching and learning can be supported by these new media and which possibilities were opened by working with computers and world-wide networks.

Due to initiatives such as eEurope, eRate (USA) and similar activities on other continents an extensive discussion about the pro and cons of suitable media use has been launched. The currently most heatedly discussed opposing position on the use of the new media in class is represented by the Alliance for Childhood under the header "Fools Gold: A critical look at computers in childhood". Unfortunately the positions are presented in a diction that can be summerized in phrases like: "S/he who uses technology in class hates children". Or "technology use in class is industry-driven". It is certainly not helpful to discuss sensible IT use in such 1-0 or black and white scenarios. The numerously scientific studies published by now show that how the use of media in class has to be looked at differentiatedly. The musician Dizzy Gillespie once said it took him ten years to master his instrument and another ten years to know which pieces he should better not play. Transferred to our discussion it means we should allow us minimum five years of exchange of experience before coming to first conclusions. It will certainly need more than these five years in order to know at which point it would have been better to abstain from technology.

We, that are the assets at Schools Online, started out with the conviction that media accompanied teaching can sensibly support the new forms of teaching and learning. In particularly in the field of communication we saw for schools a substantial potential for development:
  • opening schools by communicating and co-operating with other schools in Germany, in Europe as well as world-wide,
  • competent and responsible use of networks as well as the creation of a specific culture of information and learning in the framework of a contemporary media education,
  • the support of interdisciplinary partnerships between schools, training centres, education facilities and universities


The Working Platforms of Schools Online (Schulen ans Netz e.V.)

To support the work with the new media in day-to-day teaching, Schools online, a registered association, provides various online platforms:

-The Homepage of Schools online (http://www.san-ev.de) is the initiative's communication and information medium. This is the place where all interested find topical news items about and around schools, latest news on current activities as well as background information on all working areas of Schools online. A monthly newsletter to the subscribers at home gives the latest news of the Schools online web pages. This newsletter is also available in an offline version which could be pinned to the school's pinboard.

-Lehrer-Online (http://www.lehrer-online.de) (Teachers-Online) is the up-to-date online service to all teaching. Schools online offers here an extensive subject and school related portal with individually adapted service offers for preparing classes and teaching practice. In the centre of Teachers-Online are of course the new media and the indication of strategies for their meaningful use and implementation into classroom teaching. Lo-net (http://www.lo-net.de) is the interactive communication and working platform of Lehrer-online which provides teachers with a multitude of possibilities: they can manage their files online, they can design their own homepage with a few mouseclicks, but they can also work together with colleagues in group rooms on specific projects or deal with their own students in their classroom on lesson projects which they can present online via lo-net, if wanted. This service is supplemented by LeaNet (http://www.leanet.de) a site which addresses exclusively female teachers in the Internet. Apart from numerous information offers this service has a "Ladies only" discussion, learning, and working platform. By registering all LeaNet members get automatically a free e-mail account and access to all offers and working areas.

-Business@school" (http://www.business-at-school.org) is a co-operation project together with The Boston Consulting Group. The aim of the project is to improve the insufficient knowledge on economy at school by making this topic come alive. To reach this goal, teachers and students explore with the help of the Boston Consulting Group experts the topic economy by studying real business situations and finally develop as a team new business ideas. In detail, the aim is
  • to develop a feeling for economical questions,
  • to come to know about the reality of corporations, medium size and small size companies,
  • to develop an entrepreneurial way of thinking,
  • to improve presentation and public speaking faculties,
  • to train result-oriented teamwork,
  • and finally: to relay the fun that is also in this topic.
-"Naturdetektive 2000" (http://www.naturdetektive.de) Nature Detectives is an environment related activity in co-operation of Schulen ans Netz e. V., and the German "Clearing-House Mechanismus" (CHM) and further partners. The action is supported by the Federal Ministry of Environment (BMU).

Students and classes as well as individuals and nature conservation groups all over the republic have here the possibility to gain information on environmental and nature conservation by the help of the Internet. They can transmit their own observations and take part in a direct information and knowledge exchange on environmental activities. The aim is to increase and strengthen the awareness of students of all ages on environmental and nature issues by immediate experience and personal action.

-The project "Exil-Club" - the establishment of an online-magazine on persecuted intellectuals was initiated by Schulen ans Netz e. V. in cooperation with the "Else Lasker-Schüler - centre for burnt and banned poets/artists" foundation. In project groups students do research on the biographies of exiled intellectuals in the past and present. At the same time they grasp the historical, sociological, and political backgrounds which led to emigration. The Federal President wore in a letter to the persons responsible: "(...) Your decision to use the new means of communication and put the Exil club into the Internet with a homepage of its own distinguishes this project from others. (...) I do welcome it very much, that you don't only ask teacher and pupil to get active and to take over guardianships for applicants for political asylum but also offer to publish papers and projects online. Your engagement is an important contribution to the active concern of young people with the situation of foreigners in this country. To be sensitive to the problems and needs of foreigners is the basis for tolerance and defiance against rightwing violence." The results are presented on the "Exil Club" website (http://www.exil-club.de).

-LizzyNet - Female Students in the Internet (http://www.lizzynet.de) is the online project which Schools online started in April 2000 with girls and young women as specific target group. Here they find offers to how to communicate and play in cyberworld. Apart from that they find information and education platforms that look at the world of computers, jobs and life in general from the particular angle of girls and young women's view. The project targets its proposals at beginners as well as at the "Internet pros" and offers innovative possibilities for a self-determined and active use of the Internet.

-In autumn 2000 a CD learning programme called "Surfcheck" was published. Its aim: to enable the student to gain access into the Internet by him/herself, but experienced surfers too can find much information around the network of networks. With this programme we wanted to show that the Internet does not have to be a closed book and that the use of this new medium is accessible even with little technological know-how. Voluntary tests at the end of each chapter check whether the subject has been grasped correctly. After having worked through the whole course it is possible to do a (multiple-choice) online test in order to obtain a surfing license and get an according certificate, issued by Schools online, providing the test was passed. In addition to that "Surf-check online" (http://www.surfcheck-online.de/) provides an online offer for instance for school classes, computer groups or individuals to do this course, if necessary with the help of online tutors, and also obtain a surfing licence.



Co-operation Projects: What is Meant by That?

Schools online has launched a number of initiatives respectively accompanied them in partnerships where the aim was not only to learn co-operation but also to experience it as an active process. In general such projects were initiated in form of competitions, such as the following examples:

EnterPreis:

The above mentioned discussion contribution "Fools Gold" by the Alliance for Childhood, questioned in particular the use of technology in primary schools. We wanted to have more certainty: Under the header "EnterPreis - we board the Internet" we started on 1 October 1999 the first Internet competition for primary schools. The patronship was held by Maus from "Sendung mit der Maus " (a popular pre-school plus programme with a mouse as main character), and head of the jury was the well known science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar.

We were looking for thrilling websites, which the pupils created themselves in teams of maximum six participants and which were put out into the Internet. There was no restriction to the children's imagination: paintings, drawings, texts and even photos were permitted - providing they were scanned and attainable from the Internet. The competition was open to all primary pupils in the following groupings: grade 1 and 2, grade 3 and 4, and grade 4 to 6. One or two teachers looked after the teams whose participants could also be from different classes or even different schools. For German schools abroad as well as foreign schools that offer German as foreign language in this age group there was an "International EnterPreis".

The results can be admired at by entering http://enterpreis.san-ev.de. They show in an impressive way how the respective experience worlds of children can be represented in online presentations and how much pleasure the children gained from their results. In the stipulated documentation are listed a num-ber of experiences which can be a source for everybody's own work. However the teams had to over-come considerable problems with regard to copyrights which impaired their work significantly.



uni@schule (university@school)

"Classroom teaching in the middle of a forest - an utopia? What is usually constricted to the rare outings and excursions became the starting point to a very unusual expedition of an under-16 biology class. Tables, chairs and blackboards - the complete classroom equipment was transferred into the forest by students and teachers of the Ernst Moritz Arndt-Gymnasiums in Bonn helped by two biology students of Bonn University.

The team did not need furniture transport. And those who were interested to follow the call of science into the thicket did not have to get the wellies out: this expedition consists uniquely of bits and bytes. And it is so thrilling that even those who normally just shrug when asked the meaning of 'photosynthesis' can become real flora and fauna experts. That at least is the hope of Barbara Scherer, team leader and biology and chemistry teacher at the Ernst Moritz Arndt-Gymnasium."

These are the opening lines of a report which we recently published for the above mentioned competition. The scientific studies confirmed in their interim reports how successful developing processes in schools could be assured above all by the participation of university establishments. "Tomorrows teaching, a team effort" was thus the motto for the competition "Uni@Schule" (http://www.san-ev.de/uni-schule) which Schools online started on 10 March 1999. "University@school" called upon all those teaching and studying at German universities and schools. Requested were practical lesson projects which include new media realistically while being creative and innovative. With the new competition we wanted to stimulate the creation of didactic and methodical lesson models on the net. 48.000 Marks in all as well as attractive prizes donated by the competition sponsors awaited the winners.

106 teams took part - and in the end the jury had to evaluate more than 50 contributions. The results can be examined at the above mentioned address. We would also recommend to look at the participant's documentation which gives a good insight to the difficulties which had to be overcome.

Further, mainly internationally important co-operation projects are:



Thinkquest

The ThinkQuest Internet Challenge is a competition for young students which is held annually by Advanced Network & Services (USA). The objective of the competition is the promotion of the "Internet way of learning" - an interactive variety of learning which trains the student to use the Internet as a continually growing source of information as well as an important tool. To this aim a team, consisting of two to three students and one to three coaches, designs a website. The winning teams will split scholarships and prize money of more than one million Dollars between them. For further information see http://www.thinkquest.org or http://www.thinkquest.de.

Netdays

Each year thousands of projects in Europe, initiated by schools, vocational training centres, youth clubs and cultural institutions, make use of the internet and the new media, adding up to a colourful array of events. The overall name for these activities is Netd@ys Europe. This broad initiative wants to demonstrate how much the new media can facilitate learning, teaching, and discovering in an information society. The idea of Netd@ys came up in the USA in 1996 and contributed decisively to the fact that over 50% schools there are connected to the Internet. In contrast to America the main focus of Netd@ys Europe is not just on improved technical computers and Internet equipment. The objectives of Netd@ys Europe are:

  • the promotion of the use of the new media and of the Internets for teaching, learning and discovery purposes;
  • the exchange of experiences and developments of new pedagogical contents;
  • the support of interactive projects in education and culture.
In the year 2000 this event will take place for the fourth time running. Netd@ys Europe's influence is increasing with every year. It helps to form new partnerships, to inform more and more organisations and to increase the number of participating countries. By now Netd@ys Europe has become a unique event: it has become the biggest event in the world which aims at raising awareness for the use of the Internet and the new media in the fields of education and culture in all places and for all ages. These aims can only be attained if new partnerships between the public and the private sector are established and if organisations of all kinds and sizes are brought together. To this end Netd@ys Europe is engaging itself.

Outlook: Working in Networks

Currently the public discussion turns around the so-called "digital splitting" (cf. http://i-d21.de/news/disp.pdf) and the consequences of IT applications in schools (s. a.). On the spot, however, a number of problems have to be solved first. The most important tasks for school governments are the practical putting into action of school development plans. With regard to a responsible costs-benefit relation the desired planning measures should find their way into them by giving practical examples of how to use the school's infrastructure effectively. Additionally it is important to show more pointedly the utilization potential of further online services (s. a.) as well as to demonstrate suitable embedding of IT into lesson teaching. It should also be assured that an exchange of ideas on the benefit of IT use in class takes off by providing suitable platforms.

Based on scientific evaluation it can surely be said that there is a positive attitude towards the use of new media in schools. It could be considerably improved by providing proper technical access solutions. Research groups pointed out a number of action options of how schools could be supported at this. There is enough proof to demonstrate how the initially euphoric and then successfully used implementation of IT infrastructures came to a standstill or even stopped altogether due to organisational alteration processes. This point has to be more closely watched in future.

Another very important point is the need for a suitable teacher's training to assure a successful introduction of new media in schools. A non-representative survey among its networking schools led the Bertelsmann Foundation to point out a possible strategy which is based on a decentralized training course for teachers (cf. http://www.netzwerk-medienschulen.de/dyn/1006.asp). A German research team was able to show that we are only at the beginning of e-learning activities. Therefore it is not possible to give conclusive answers on the possibilities of meaningful online learning. More time and experiments are needed.
Profile

Michael Drabe

Michael Drabe is a former educator and former chief editor of Verein Schulen ans Netz e.V.. Presently he is establishing a company, which supports the use of IT in schools (K-12) in Germany.
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