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John Simkin
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My original objective behind the creation of the JFK Forum was to create a group of experts willing to answer student questions on the life and death of John F. Kennedy. Today I posted a request for volunteers. Hopefully there will be a long list by the end of the day.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1169

The idea is that students ask questions via their teacher. Could you help me with that. I am particularly keen to have questions about his political career. For example, questions on Civil Rights in America, the Cold War, Vietnam War, qualities as president, etc.

If you could post the questions in the JFK Forum with the heading: “Question: ….”

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showforum=126

It would also be good if you could add the name, age and school of the student.

If this is a success I propose creating similar forums on the Cold War, Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, etc.

I would like to create other Question/Answer sections in other subject areas. Is there any of your subject areas where you have access to “experts” who would be willing to answer questions. Although the history section is aimed at students (via their teachers) it does not have to be organized in this way.

For example, we have a great deal of expertise about the use of computers in the classroom. Would others be willing to join a panel where we would answer teacher questions on this on the forum?

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John writes:

I would like to create other Question/Answer sections in other subject areas. Is there any of your subject areas where you have access to “experts” who would be willing to answer questions. Although the history section is aimed at students (via their teachers) it does not have to be organized in this way.

My own specialism is ICT and Modern Foreign Languages – and has been since 1976:

http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/cvgd.htm

I can draw on the advice and experience of many teachers who are active in this area in all sectors of education. Many such teachers are members of EUROCALL, the longest-established European professional association dedicated to ICT and Modern Foreign Languages:

http://www.eurocall-languages.org

John writes:

For example, we have a great deal of expertise about the use of computers in the classroom. Would others be willing to join a panel where we would answer teacher questions on this on the forum?

You can count me in.

John, I imagine you know about the BECTA “Ask an expert” section at their ICT Advice site:

http://www.ictadvice.org.uk

So far it hasn’t covered Modern Foreign Languages, which is an area that looks a bit thin and outdated at the BECTA site in general. Moreover BECTA seems to be unaware of the Web’s largest collection of ICT training materials for language teachers, namely the ICT4LT site at http://www.ict4lt.org, and does not seem to have heard of EUROCALL either – possibly a symptom of the not-invented-here syndrome? ICT4LT is a member of the Association of Teachers’ Websites:

http://www.byteachers.org.uk

I am currently working with two colleagues on a guidance document regarding the use of digitised resources in digital language labs and multimedia language labs. It will be published on the Web in the autumn.

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John, I imagine you know about the BECTA “Ask an expert” section at their ICT Advice site:

http://www.ictadvice.org.uk

So far it hasn’t covered Modern Foreign Languages, which is an area that looks a bit thin and outdated at the BECTA site in general. Moreover BECTA seems to be unaware of the Web’s largest collection of ICT training materials for language teachers, namely the ICT4LT site at http://www.ict4lt.org, and does not seem to have heard of EUROCALL either – possibly a symptom of the not-invented-here syndrome?

Yes, I had the honour of being one of the three history experts earlier in the year. We did not get many questions (few teachers seem to use the site). It also only offers the service for a month at a time. It was this that gave me the idea that we could provide a better service than Becta. We could even offer to take over that part of their site (I think they are likely to say no as we would be able to make the idea work).

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John writes:

We did not get many questions (few teachers seem to use the site).

Yes, one wonders whether money spent on BECTA is money well spent. Few MFL teachers use the BECTA site; they tend to look at the subject specialist sites first, e.g. CILT, the National Centre for Languages: http://www.cilt.org.uk

John writes:

It also only offers the service for a month at a time. It was this that gave me the idea that we could provide a better service than Becta. We could even offer to take over that part of their site (I think they are likely to say no as we would be able to make the idea work).

A month is far too short. And I'm sure that BECTA will turn you down! :o

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I have no brief for BECTa as a whole, but I really must come to its defence in the matter of special needs in education. The organisation hosts a very lively online discussion group called SENCo Forum, which unlike most other online fora has been the subject of ongoing research of its effectiveness by the University of Birmingham, whose reports testify to its positive impact on the problem of special educational needs coordinators working alone in schools. There is plenty of "horizontal" exchange of information about budgets, timetabling, staffing, salaries, the kind of knowledge that senior leadership teams prefer to keep to themselves! Further information about SENCO Forum at:

http://lists.becta.org.uk/pipermail/senco-forum/

BECTa also hosts online discussion groups for those interested in particular categories of SEN, e.g. visual impairment and dyslexia. They also run an Inclusion website where those working with SEN students can ask questions to be answered by other SEN professionals. I've answered many questions myself. See:

http://inclusion.ngfl.gov.uk/

They've also run very successful afternoon and evening "virtual conferences" on SEN-related topics. I wish more educational organisations provided such events. E-learning organisations, particular those serving the higher education sector, make it very difficult for secondary school teachers to attend their annual conferences because they hold them in early September, when schools are at their most hectic and can't release staff!

Finally, BECTa run SENIT, an online discussion group about the use of ICT in teaching pupils with SEN. The contributors are mainly special school teachers and they demonstrate their considerable technical and pedagogical experience on a daily basis through this medium. Further information at:

http://lists.becta.org.uk/pipermail/senit/

Hope this helps.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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David Wilson is right in pointing out that BECTA has a good reputation in the area of Special Educational Needs. The people working in this area seem to be more clued up. I regularly search the BECTA site for information relating to MFL, but what I find appears to be becoming increasing out of touch. Three examples illustrating what I mean:

1. Some time ago I looked for information on automatic speech recognition (ASR). The only reference I found was in the context of SEN. ASR has featured in MFL for many years, dating back to the early TriplePlay software produced by Syracuse, and it features in more recently produced packages such as Talk to Me and Tell Me More by Auralog.

2. I also looked for examples of the uses of text manipulation software. I found references in the SEN sections but not in MFL.

3. BECTA’s “compliance police” (part of the Curriculum Online initiative) hauled my business over the coals for tagging a text manipulation package as suitable for SEN children. I pointed out that text manipulation does indeed play an important role in SEN and that their own website recommended it! One hand does not seem to know what the other is doing.

All three of the above examples date back more than a year. Maybe things have changed – but I doubt it. If BECTA would only look at the ICT4LT site they could be much better informed.

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BECTa also hosts online discussion groups for those interested in particular categories of SEN, e.g. visual impairment and dyslexia. They also run an Inclusion website where those working with SEN students can ask questions to be answered by other SEN professionals. I've answered many questions myself. See:

http://inclusion.ngfl.gov.uk/

They've also run very successful afternoon and evening "virtual conferences" on SEN-related topics. I wish more educational organisations provided such events. E-learning organisations, particular those serving the higher education sector, make it very difficult for secondary school teachers to attend their annual conferences because they hold them in early September, when schools are at their most hectic and can't release staff!

Finally, BECTa run SENIT, an online discussion group about the use of ICT in teaching pupils with SEN. The contributors are mainly special school teachers and they demonstrate their considerable technical and pedagogical experience on a daily basis through this medium. Further information at:

http://lists.becta.org.uk/pipermail/senit/

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

Thank you for this information. There is no doubt some good things going on at Becta (they for example produce a good newsletter for history teachers). This reflects the fact that they have some people in certain positions. Clearly they have someone good dealing with Special Needs. However, this usually happens in spite of, rather than because of, Becta. This is always a problem with large bureaucratic organizations. Becta is aware of the problem and plans to contract out as much of the work as possible.

I have also been told by an insider that the Department of Education is unhappy with the performance of Becta. This year they have held back some of the money destined for Becta. They plan to give it instead to some of the subject associations who have shown that they can spend this money wisely.

Another major problem concerns the slowness of Becta’s website. It appears to be one of the slowest on the web. When I asked a senior official about this I was told that the reason for this was that they shared a server with the University of Warwick. Apparently, the Becta works very well during the holidays. Now what does that tell you about Becta?

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John writes:

I have also been told by an insider that the Department of Education is unhappy with the performance of Becta. This year they have held back some of the money destined for Becta. They plan to give it instead to some of the subject associations who have shown that they can spend this money wisely.

The best public-funded agency as far as modern foreign languages is concerned is CILT, the National Centre for Languages. They have a good and frequently accessed website, they are aware of ICT and how it can by applied in MFL teaching and, above all, they understand pedagogy. They were one of the few NOF training providers that received mainly positive feedback both from OFSTED and from their trainees. They have a wide range of publications, including a dedicated series on ICT and MFL:

http://www.cilt.org.uk

The professional association ALL (Association for Language Learning) is also very good:

http://www.all-languages.org.uk

They produce an informative newsletter and high-quality journals. Their annual conference is well attended. They are a strong lobby group.

If some of BECTA's money were directed to CILT and to ALL I am sure it would be spent more wisely.

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