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John Simkin

Government Websites

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Article in today's Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,...1661587,00.html

Many government websites are failing to attract readers despite extensive spending, new figures have revealed. Information published today by Technology Guardian shows that many of the government's internet operations are underperforming, despite vast funding and investment. One website, UK World Heritage Sites (www.ukworldheritage.org.uk) managed only 77 visitors last year.

Sarah Teather, a Liberal Democrat MP who tabled a series of parliamentary questions on the subject, says the figures show the government has got its priorities wrong.

"Some of the visitor figures to the websites are frankly an embarrassment to the government," she said. "These websites will only improve their visitor numbers when people know they exist, and if they provide them with a service they need."

UK World Heritage comes under the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which also runs 10 other websites at a combined cost of more than £43m last year alone. Increasing the use of technology and the web has been one of the core issues promoted by Tony Blair since Labour came to power in 1997. Official figures show that there are now more than 2,500 government websites in operation.

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, told parliament last month he intended to consolidate the 36 websites which come under the Home Office umbrella "so that more information is accessible on our central sites", but could not confirm how much was being spent on them.

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I wonder why government sanctioned forums set up for teachers LIKE THIS ONE fail to grab the imagination of teachers?

It is the same reason why Becta withdrew funding for this Forum. They don't like controversy. They want teachers to say what a good time they are having. It is just not going to happen. People join Forums because they enjoy stimulating debate. This means disagreement. Commercial organizations are aware of this. I was recently offered money to post controversial comments on a rival educational website. Whereas another educational website banned me for being too controversial.

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I wonder why government sanctioned forums set up for teachers LIKE THIS ONE fail to grab the imagination of teachers?

It is the same reason why Becta withdrew funding for this Forum. They don't like controversy. They want teachers to say what a good time they are having. It is just not going to happen. People join Forums because they enjoy stimulating debate. This means disagreement. Commercial organizations are aware of this. I was recently offered money to post controversial comments on a rival educational website. Whereas another educational website banned me for being too controversial.

Agreed on all points. The crappy software most commercial concerns use doesn't help much either however.

Interestingly the only forum I have been driven off for the content of my postings was a private concern run by rather uptight and right wing history teachers.

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Guest Stephen Turner

I checked out that site Andy posted, most of the threads have just one or two replies, one guy who had all of four posts to his name is tagged as a regular poster, dry as unbuttered toast, Im not a teacher, but if I were I would avoid sites like this The way a Vampire avoids wooden stakes..

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I checked out that site Andy posted, most of the threads have just one or two replies, one guy who had all of four posts to his name is tagged as a regular poster, dry as unbuttered toast, Im not a teacher, but if I were I would avoid sites like this The way a Vampire avoids wooden stakes..

It is also true I am afraid that many teachers just aren't very giving when it comes to sharing ideas and resources in a forum such as this.

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A site for language teachers that I maintain has logged around 1000 visits per day over the last two months: http://www.ict4lt.org

It was initiated as an EC-funded project, but now I keep it going as a labour of love. I am not restricted in what I put up at the site. BECTA refuses to mention ICT4LT, and I have logged no referrals to the site from the NGfL or other DfES sites for around two years. CILT/ALL's Languages ICT site sends us quite a few visitors each month, as does the Education Forum, ByTeachers, Spartacus, the BBC Languages site and Wikipedia. The government is therefore doing us no favours and we don't need them anyway as the site shows up at the top of the list in the search engines that teachers are likely to use and it's already well established as a useful resource.

A lively forum for language teachers is Linguanet. There has been an interestng discussion on blogs over the last few days:

http://www.mailbase.org.uk/lists/linguanet-forum

Linguanet is managed by CILT (Centre for Information on Language Teaching), the National Centre for Languages - which is a government agency but is considered to be doing a good job by language teachers. BECTA has got too "techie" of late and is losing the plot, I feel. BECTA also tends to censor materials put up at its own site, which results in it being very bland and - dare I say it - boring.

Edited by Graham Davies

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It is also true I am afraid that many teachers just aren't very giving when it comes to sharing ideas and resources in a forum such as this.

I think too that there aren't enough teachers on this forum wanting their classroom problems to be shared and solved. I trawl a lot of online forums and when I find an issue that I can respond to, I am always eager to post a reply. My website is devoted to modern languages, special needs and information technology issues. I have lots of teaching resources on my computer, but not on my website. When somebody on a forum asks for help, say, with a lesson on telling the time in German, I rush to upload my own resources on the topic to my website. That way my resources are genuinely problem-solving and if I'm in luck I may get some feedback too, based on somebody else trialling my materials. It can be a win-win situation.

So what we need isn't simply a treasurehouse of expertise and resources. We already have that in great measure. We also need people able and willing to ask real practice-based questions to exploit what we know. That way we help other people and also learn more ourselves.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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So what we need isn't simply a treasurehouse of expertise and resources. We already have that in great measure. We also need people able and willing to ask real practice-based questions to exploit what we know. That way we help other people and also learn more ourselves.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

Agreed

I will be delivering INSET in the New Year to a group of student teachers about the forum and its potential using a website dedicated to their training.

Hopefully we will then get a few more of the sort of questions David refers to.

It may also help if members publicise the trainee teachers website on their sites

ITTwordsmed.jpg

http://www.professionalteaching.org/

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One of the problems that teachers may experience if they offer free resources at their own or their school's website is that the increase in traffic may lock up the site - and the Education Forum knows all about this problem. The problem has also been mentioned by a contributor to the Linguanet Forum, who pointed out that it actually costs HIM more money - because of the increased traffic and the kind of agreement he has with his hosting service - if too many visitors access his site for free downloads of resources.

I can cite two cases where teachers who offered free resources at their personal websites found some of the resources turning up in training packs produced by commercial training agencies. If you offer free resources at your website you should always include a copyright message indicating who owns them and that the resources are strictly for non-commercial use in an educational environment. It won't stop plagiarism and people exploiting your resources for financial gain, but at least it makes your position clear and may deter some people.

Many teachers believe that "if its on the Web" then it is "in the public domain". This is not true, of course. The term "in the public domain" has a special meaning, i.e. that a work is out of copyright, for example because the author has relinquished copyright and made the work freely available to the public, or because the author has been dead for over 70 years.

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One of the problems that teachers may experience if they offer free resources at their own or their school's website is that the increase in traffic may lock up the site - and the Education Forum knows all about this problem.

Let's get one thing clear - the Education Forum has never suffered from "too many visitors".

What we have suffered from is the either clumsy or malicious (and probably illegal) use of software by individual users to download/bring down the entire site.

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So, the National Grid for Learning (NGfL) is about to close down (13 April 2006). The site was set up as the result of a government consultation process that took place in 1997. However, the NGfL turned out to be rather different from what people imagined it would be, and it was not really a "grid" – more a collection of resources and links and very difficult to navigate The NGfL resources – currently at http://www.ngfl.gov.uk – are being incorporated into the BECTA website.

Another government website bites the dust. The Virtual Teacher Centre (VTC) went the same way in December 2005.

The BECTA site is now becoming vast and increasingly difficult to navigate. It is not at all easy to locate information. BECTA has changed a lot since the old days when I first became aware of its existence and when it was known as the Council for Educational Technology (CET). In those days there was a strong emphasis on pedagogy. I was on the planning committee of a conference on Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) organised jointly by the CET and the Centre for Information on Language Teaching (CILT) that took place in 1981. Nowadays, BECTA seems to be mainly technology-driven and appears to have lost sight of the pedagogy. It has turned into a blinkered organisation, often failing (choosing?) to ignore the existence of other important sources of information, e.g. the ICT for Language Teachers website (ICT4LT), which receives over 1000 visits per day and is not mentioned anywhere at the BECTA website

Does anyone actually use these huge, labyrinthine government-financed sites? I suspect most of us find subject area sites much more useful

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