Venturing Out on the NSW Board of Studies Website

By Louise Bidenko

The Board of Studies

The Board of Studies is responsible for curriculum development in NSW. Like many organisations, it uses the Internet to meet its own and its clients' needs. Much that has been placed on the Internet to date are documents which also exist in printed form. The Internet provides immediate access to syllabuses, papers and reports, and is proving a very popular service for teachers and librarians. However, what is being developed at present is a departure from the placement of documents on the website. Publishing of new materials specifically designed for the Internet takes advantage of some of its most attractive functions. As it is a cost efficient source of disseminating information and resources, the potential to communicate widely and to provide a network to share information, as well as the capacity to update information easily, opens up a new area of support for teachers.

The learning area

Since 1996 a framework, writing brief and draft syllabus have been developed and consulted on in Human Society and Its Environment (HSIE) K-6, one of the six key learning areas in the NSW primary curriculum. A shift to more explicit content has been well received by teachers. The final syllabus and the twenty-eight units of work, which accompany the syllabus, were released at the beginning of 1999. A resounding request from teachers and Teacher Librarians during the syllabus development and consultation process was the need for subject specific information to support the content of the syllabus. The second most popular request was for reliable and authoritative resources. Many teachers expressed the need for additional background knowledge to help in delivering content to students in areas such as Aboriginal history, world religions and the development of Australian democracy. The support However, when people think of resources today it isn't a question of 'is there enough?', or even 'where can I find them?', more resoundingly, it is 'which resources will be useful to me?'. While for many people the Internet offers yet another opportunity to overdose on information, the 'HSIE K-6 resource file' utilises two of the Internet's strengths, namely the ability to update information simply and the capacity to disseminate information to large networks of people. Rather than sifting through a myriad of resources or simply giving up and using what is already handy, being able to rely on a credible list prepared for a particular purpose seemed what was needed. As well as teachers accessing the list, publishers can review what is currently available, assess where gaps exist and plan for future resources accordingly. The updateable nature of the Internet ensures the currency of resources, enabling resources to be added as they come onto the market and allowing deletions as material goes out of print. This obviously holds advantages over a traditional printed catalogue and the citation of reference lists in documents. When the English K-6syllabus was released in NSW difficulties arose when recommended texts went out of print shortly after the document was released. It was due to this experience that Phil Lambert, Inspector Primary Education at the Board of Studies, suggested that the Internet could host a resource list more effectively.

The list

The 'HSIE K-6 resource file' format is a humble offering in terms of Internet technology, being simply a Word document translated into HTML. Potentially, the information could be entered into a database enabling search functions by title, author, theme or unit. However, at present the list is organised under the unit headings, which is sufficient to find the titles that link to the syllabus. Other sections of the resource list include general teaching resources, organisations, publishers, museum sources and exhibitions. The potential to add to and improve this tool is exciting.

Another feature of the list is the interaction possible between viewer and compiler. The list does not purport to be definitive, but it does invite people to comment on and add to it through an email link within the document. The interactive nature of this medium offers ongoing consultation as one of its features.

Properly maintained it can also provide a central point for teachers and Teacher Librarians to find additional sites. Other organisations such as Curriculum Corporation, historical societies, publishers and distributors, museums and exhibitors are already listed with available Internet addresses and email contacts. These are hotlinked to provide immediate access. Most museums are posting their current and upcoming exhibitions and events on their own website. These links can assist teachers in accessing this information quickly to find exhibitions relevant to their HSIE K-6 programs.

The references

Initially, one or two publishers contacted me in my role of Senior Curriculum Officer at the Board of Studies to review particular texts in light of how they connected to the new HSIE K-6 syllabus. With these as a starting point, writers and Teacher Librarians were also invited to add resources to the list. This included relevant Internet sites, videos and CD-ROMs. A work in progress list was placed on the Web to promote its forthcoming existence. More publishers offered catalogues and reviews of their latest and most pertinent material.

Another source, which seemed important to include, was the existing resources available in school libraries and storerooms around the state. With the absence of a syllabus for many years decisions concerned with resourcing HSIE K-6 have been somewhat ad hoc. Many good resources have also been under utilised. For example, the NSW Department of Education in 1977 developed a full colour slide set based around early Australian exploration. It includes slides of original paintings and maps. When cited, resources such as these have been denoted as ER (existing resource).

As the Web is often a daunting prospect for those who are unfamiliar it, another motivation for developing material to place on the website was to provide an opportunity to familiarise teachers with accessing resources through the Internet. Because the file is a straightforward, it demonstrates some of the features of the Internet in an uncomplicated way.

The other resources

The resource list is not the only new venture embarked on for this area. Again in response to teachers' expressed need for specific subject information, a set of background information sheets and visual texts have been designed to give easy access to historical information relevant to the content of the syllabus and the units of work. In placing information on the Internet, the need to maintain integrity and credibility, consistent with printed material was paramount. Thorough checking of copyright on original material as well as the validity of information was rigorously applied. While the Internet offers a cost efficient way of communicating information, and can include high quality colour images and added features as well as text, the need to provide an example of good practice in publishing in this form was a consideration.

In developing primary curriculum and syllabus material that meets the needs of teachers, the challenge has been to maintain a simple structure, such as the units of work, in order to assist teachers in programming and teaching the syllabus effectively. The Internet has proved a very useful tool in enabling additional support to be provided without cluttering this programming tool.

Another example is the set of pro-formas for teachers for use in programming, assessing and reporting. The advantages of publishing them in an electronic form are that teachers may download them onto their own computers, cut and paste, add or delete headings, columns or rows and tailor them to their own needs.

Of interest to Teacher Librarians will be the mapping of the HSIE K-6 outcomes and indicators against the information skills. This will be done through the 'Linkages project' in the 'K-6 Document section' of the ยท Board's website. This project is concerned with integration across the primary curriculum. At present, it can be found on the website but it will be published on a CD-ROM in its final form at the end of 1999.

The 'K-6 Documents section', and in particular the 'Human Society and Its Environment K-6' section on the Board's website can offer teachers a variety of support in new and exciting formats. It has been very exciting working towards fulfilling teachers' needs via the new technologies available and I hope that what is being put in place now will continue to support teachers in the years to come.

Louise Bidenko

Senior Curriculum Officer

NSW Board of Studies