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Cyber-community for schools - 13/02/2009

Teachers take educational website in new direction.

It started off as a project to help schools collaborate over the internet. But four years on, an EU-sponsored website has a new claim to fame: it has become a popular social networking site for teachers.

So far about 55 000 teachers, head teachers and school librarians from 29 countries have signed up with the free eTwinning portal – and the numbers are rising fast.

“Never before have we seen European schools cooperate on such a large scale,” wrote one academic predicting far-reaching effects, in the recent publication eTwinning – Adventures in language and culture .

Launched in 2005 under the EU’s education programme Comenius, the online service still does what it set out to do – enable schools to set up virtual classrooms equipped with tools like audio and video conferencing. Students in different countries can hold meetings, store work and exchange resources on joint projects in a secure environment. More than 5 300 projects are currently registered with the portal, available in the 23 languages. Kits are available for projects like setting up a mock company and, for younger children, producing a digital fairytale.

But, as is often the case in cyberspace, the website has taken on a life of its own as more and more teachers have discovered it. Of the 55 000 active members, two-thirds are not registered with a school project. Most signed up to meet other education professionals and share ideas. Teachers post more than 5 000 messages on the site every month.

The portal is run by European Schoolnet, a partnership of 31 European education ministries. Thrilled by the new success, the webmasters last year released a new version of the portal to encourage the trend. It features new tools (like blogs and wikis) geared to general collaboration, not just projects.

A contest is held every year for the best projects. This year’s finalists include a project by four schools (in the UK, France, Spain and Italy) that explores the use of podcasts as learning tools. Winners will be announced at the annual eTwinning conference in Prague on 13-15 February.

More on EU educational programmes – lifelong learning

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