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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Teachers pool computer knowhow
Edin Kadic
"You need to let them have fun," says Edin Kadic
Teachers from across Europe have met to swap ideas on the best use of technology in the classroom.

In the first of what is planned as an annual forum, 100 teachers from 45 countries met to discuss innovations in the use of ICT in schools.

The event - called the Forum for Innovative Teachers - is part of a scheme to build a community of teachers for sharing ideas and practices.

It was organised by the computer giant, Microsoft.

"The event highlights the benefits of technology in the education community and demonstrates working examples of ICT in practice to encourage educational excellence," said Micrososft's Mark East.

Body piercing

One of the participants was Professor Edin Kadic, who teaches the Croatian language and history of art at a medical school in Zadar, Croatia.

He is involved in an online collaboration with another medical school in neighbouring Slovenia.

Students at the two schools hold video conferences and have put together a multi-lingual website, where they publish details of projects they have worked on.

They also have regular internet meetings where they discuss "love, jobs and the projects they are working on", says Professor Kadic.

"The students had the idea of studying the trend for body-piercing, so they put together questionnaires about why people wanted the piercings, looked at the medical side, and published their findings on the website.

"These are 15, 16 and 17 year olds and they were so happy to see the pages they had made, it was marvellous," said Professor Kadic.

In their study of Shakespeare, students used computers to build models of what they imagined it was like at the Globe Theatre in London in the playwright's time.

Professor Kadic says he aims to give the students the technology, show them how to use it, but then let them use it creatively.

That is something very close to the heart of one of the conference's main speakers, Professor Stephen Heppell, the director of Ultralab, a learning technology research centre at Anglia Polytechnic University.

And he thinks it is smaller countries such as Croatia which will make the biggest strides in innovative use of technology.

Stephen Heppell
Our task is not to control and channel their creativity but to knock down the barriers to it
Stephen Heppell, Ultralab
"The countries which are doing best are mostly very small, with fewer than five million people and a stable culture, places where they are not using education to try to turn them into something else," he told BBC News Online.

"Countries like New Zealand, Singapore, Norway and Wales are all doing very well.

"Bigger countries are often trying to turn children into something they are not - 1950s children.

"The United States is a mess - some schools are innovative and are doing great work but that doesn't get taken up to school district level or state level.

"And in Germany, if you saw what they were doing in class with technology, it would make you cry - long programming or multiple choice."

Ultralab is working on 58 projects, in the UK and across the world.

Among them are schemes to test the idea of children's doing exams by mobile telephone, for people to study for degrees while at work, and a virtual school for children who have been excluded from mainstream school.

Not in school

Children involved in the virtual school - known as Notschool - have gone on to get much higher academic qualifications than they had been expected to, said Professor Heppell.

"They have usually been out of school for about two years before they come to us, but 54% have gone on to get five good GCSE passes, and 98% have got some qualifications," he told delegates.

Under the scheme, the children are put in groups of four and are linked to teachers who manage their learning and to others to do drama, sport and video work.

Stephen Heppell says teachers will never keep up with children on use of technology - their job is to encourage their creativity and ingenuity.

"Our task is not to control and channel their creativity but to knock down the barriers to it - school design, assessment, low expectation and limited resources and it is good that someone of the magnitude of Microsoft is helping us with that challenge."

It is hoped teachers attending the conference will form part of an online community to share ideas and approaches.

Microsoft has set up a programme called Innovative Teachers, which is free and open to all teachers.

It offers training to help them use ICT in their lessons. A key part of this is a virtual classroom tour which includes tips on how to set up a classroom for learning, lesson plans and materials for various subjects and topics.

For Herbert Hug, a delegate from Austria, it is a welcome development.

"A few years ago, it was most important to get money in for infrastructure, but this is changing - teachers now need to get more information on how to use this infrastructure."

  • One expert has said that schools will struggle to make best use of new, interactive online resources because their internal systems cannot make best use of it.

    Mike Taylor, of e-learning company Equiinet, said schools should be allowed to spend their "e-learning credits" on hardware that would run such media-rich materials.

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