The Information superhighway – implications for education

By Dianne Lewis

In embracing the concept of the information superhighway, schools need to be sure that they do not get stuck on an on-ramp to nowhere.

Thus was entitled the annual conference of the Computing Education Group of Victoria (CEGV), held over two days at the Geelong campus of Deakin university, which I attended during the last school holidays.

Most of the participants were computer education professionals from schools as well as some from the tertiary sector. There were very few teacher-librarians and yet the theme of the conference was very much of interest to us.

The keynote speaker on day one, was Bruce Dixon, former teacher, software developer and curently director of an educational computing company and newspaper columnist for The Age. Bruce spoke about the use of new technologies in schools and in particular the possibilities of the Internet for schools. He also commented that many school libraries that he had visited were at the vanguard of these exciting new developments.

There were numerous sessions devoted to accessing the Internet -via bulletin boards, via direct AARNET connection and via customized educational services. In the plenary session of day one, Ros Winter, a former teacher-librarian currently working in a tertiary sector library sounded a cautionary note. The Internet is a wonderful play ground which provides endless access to information but in many cases information can be found more quickly from traditional information sources. Internet access raises issues for schools such as document delivery, censorship and management issues. Access to the Internet means increased importance to skills such as defining the topic and knowing where to find the information. In embracing the concept of the information superhighway, schools need to be sure that they do not get stuck on an on-ramp to nowhere.

Janet Smith and Laurice Brady from Methodist Ladies College library in Melbourne presented a case-study of their experiences in accessing the Internet. During 1994, MLC established a direct Internet link via AARNET and has been experimenting with it. As a result of these experiences, the school proposes to expand the facilities for 1995. They discussed the processes by which policies concerning Internet use were being developed in the school, methods used for training and interest arousal, including an Internet club and an elective subject.

They gave some examples of curriculum uses of the Internet such as contact with a South African gopher and e-mail to South African students as part of a study of Cry Freedom. They concluded that collaborative project-based explorations in which students could participate via the Internet changed the education process making it less teacher-centred and more dynamic.

Jenny Beattie, teacher-librarian at Eltham College preparatory school library discussed the ways in which the school has embarked on the information superhighway via access to on-line databases such as Nexus, CD-ROM databases such as Dinosaurs and an automated catalogue of resources which gives students access to the print and non-print resources of the school. She emphasized the need for students to learn information skills such as search strategies, defining the task, skimming and scanning, summarizing and presentation skills. She also identified the blurring of roles between the teacher-librarian and information technology staff in schools and emphasized the need to work together rather than in competition, to achieve the best results for schools.

All in all this was a very exciting conference and I found it extremely gratifying to see such a strong presence from teacher-librarians in the programme. Conference proceedings are available from the CEGV.

Dianne Lewis