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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society > Virtually educational
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image image image Date published: 16/10/02
  image Virtually educational
RTD info special "Talking Science"
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  By surfing the web, teachers can find more than 100 000 educational sites. From these they can obtain resources to improve their teaching alongside educational tools which their pupils can use directly – providing, of course, they know how to make the right choices.
   
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All those involved in education agree – children have a natural appetite for knowledge and this desire to find out more should be stimulated from the very earliest days at school. So what does the web offer science teaching? Apart from an unrivalled document base for those who know how to use it, the Internet offers various tools which can generally be considered to fall into two categories: those which teachers consult outside the classroom to prepare their courses or improve their teaching practices, and those which pupils use during lessons.

As pupils are apparently losing interest in science, teachers are turning to the Internet in the hope of bringing a new dynamism to their teaching. But where can they find the programme for a course on atoms and elementary particles for secondary school students, examples of practical activities to enable a class of ten-year-olds to understand how plants breathe, a site presenting the history of mathematics, or simply reference documents and illustrations? Cyberspace is packed with all this and more.

Separating the wheat from the chaff
It was partly to carry out such a selection that the European Schoolnet was launched in 1996 by about 20 European education ministries. This metasite gives the addresses of educational servers – in particular those selected by the main educational resource centres in the countries in question, generally run by the ministries – as well as examples of educational methods, news, and opportunities for teacher exchanges, etc. 'More than 120 000 educational sites are listed,' Thomas Maier, European Schoolnet's technical adviser, announces proudly. The general objective is to provide teachers with 'an overview of the educational use of the Information and Communication Technologies for Teaching (ICTE) in Europe'.

Many countries are also trying to set up resources adapted to their own educational system. 'In Norway, the government is planning to compile a national knowledge base for schools,' explains Jon Bing, of the Research Centre for Computing and Law in Oslo, and there are probably similar initiatives elsewhere. Nevertheless, he stresses that 'there remains a great deal to be done' when you compare what Europe has achieved with the scientific metasites of certain major US universities.

Classroom practices and limitations
With on-line exercises or experiments, educational games, and questionnaires, there is a growing trend for websites to offer tools which pupils can use directly. 'We have one or two computers connected to the Internet per class and we use them every day,' explains Jaana Minkkinen, head of the Risti primary school in a small village in eastern Finland. Classroom Internet sessions can nevertheless quickly reach the limit of their usefulness, especially with older pupils. Alain Ritman, who teaches maths at a French lycée, believes that 'it is mainly the best students who benefit most from this. The others amuse themselves but do not get much from it.' More ambitiously, teachers can use the web's interactivity and electronic mail to allow classes located in different countries to work together on a common scientific project, or even have pupils develop their own educational sites. The Americans are very partial to these science fairs and other competitions. The Europeans are beginning to follow suit, but more in the spirit of co-operation than competition.


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Find out more

European Schoolnet
http://www.eun.org/eun.org2/eun/fr/index.html

International co-operation between schools:
http://www.netdays2002.org/
http://www.thinkquest.org/index.html

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On-line museums

Boston (Massachusetts), October 1998. During a meeting of the Association des centres scientifiques et techniques, Joël de Rosnay, director of the Cité des Sciences (Paris), launched the idea of setting up a European network which would link up science museums and the new concept science centres of which there are still relatively few in Europe. Ecsite (European Collaborative for Science, Industry and Technology Exhibitions) was born. Making intense use of the Internet, the network has expanded worldwide and now includes 240 science museums in over 35 countries. It provides a forum for the exchange of information and experiences as well as for co-operation between specific projects. Ecsite's Internet portal includes a directory of the websites of all the member institutions and, as such, is a valuable point of entry for a curious public.
Visitors can also see Bionet, Ecsite's first on-line exhibition. The idea of using the web to create 'virtual museums' rather than simply museum sites is not new. The National Museum of Science and Industry in London has made it a speciality – its site now offers around 20 permanent 'events'. In the United States, the Smithsonian Institution, a grouping of Washington's science museums founded a century and a half ago at the initiative of the British scientists James Smithson, also proposes many virtual visits which often follow on from 'real' exhibitions (such as Ocean Planet, an exceptionally comprehensive exhibition on the sea, presented a few years ago).

Ecsite
http://www.ecsite.net/
Bionet
http://www.ecsite.net/bionet/
The National Museum of Science and Industry
http://www.nmsi.ac.uk/
NMSI on-line science museums
http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/on-line/exhibitions.asp
Smithsonian Institution
http://www.si.edu/
Ocean Planet Exhibition
http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/ocean_planet.html

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