Some uses of at Netherhall School

Some uses of at Netherhall School


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Author: Alastair Wells Publication Date: 2006

Netherhall School develops an interactive and creative learning environment that embraces the local community and students who are excluded because of illness.

‘Because of our high level of technological awareness in 1996 we wanted to create a learning community based on the school,’ says Alistair Wells, Netherhall’s Head of Information and Communications Technology. ‘This led to us being chosen to take part in an online home media trial starting in 1996 which involved hundreds of families in the Cambridge area. The next year we were involved in the Socrates project which explored the potential of the Internet and email for pupils in local primary schools to establish links with secondary school students. This initiative led to older children becoming mentors for younger colleagues by offering advice and sharing information.
Alistair Wells,  Head of ICT

In 1999 Oracle’s provided us free with the tools we needed to develop an interactive and creative learning environment. has dramatically changed the way we work at Netherhall and facilitated methods of teaching and learning that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
Netherhall’s next initiative is to launch to parents to help them become involved in their children’s education on a daily basis. Another project for the near future is to extend the system to include long-term sick pupils in hospital and children who are unable to attend regular classes for health reasons. The school is also exploring technologies like ADSL that will provide greater capacity and faster access.


“But these institutional changes in teaching and learning did not happen overnight. ” explains Alistair, “we have a long history of technical innovation in teaching and learning. Netherhall School in Cambridge was an early adopter of technology and one of the first to create its own website. In 1982 the LEA-run comprehensive started to pilot the use of computers in schools and became a government funded centre for developing software for educational purposes.
Management tools
Donations and sponsorships had provided Netherhall’s 1,480 students and 85 staff members with a large number of PCs, Apple Macs and networked computers through which the school’s website was accessed via a leased line. ‘We had a large and growing data base which was available to our staff and students,’ says Alastair Wells. ‘What we lacked were funds for the management tools necessary to harness the power of the Internet and exploit its potential in the classroom. Discovering enabled us to bridge that gap and has revolutionised both learning and teaching at the school’.

Interactive, collaborative learning was developed by Oracle to provide schools with an easy tool to build and house collaborative learning communities using the Internet. Provided free to educational establishments, it allows teachers and students to share curriculum and ideas within individual schools, school districts, across the country or throughout the world. By integrating and centralising information, creates messaging, discussion and web page creation into one coherent whole. Using Oracle 8i, the world’s leading Internet platform, and centrally managed by Oracle, frees educators from the complexity of managing an information system.
Universal access in a secure, private environment is an Internet-based service that is accessed from any web browser. No special software or hardware is required and the school can access the website using their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Each user at Netherhall has their own email account on the system which can be accessed from any PC at school, home or in a cybercafé. The closed environment offered by gives school administrators visibility of all content developed. Filtering software prevents students from receiving email from unknown external parties without the need for manual supervision by teachers or parents.

An integral part of the learning process

Netherhall’s special needs learning support department was the first to pilot a user group on the website. ‘ The system proved ideal at enabling special needs pupils to learn at their own pace’, says Alastair Wells. ‘They were excited about the ‘street cred’ associated with using the latest technology which has helped integrate them into the main stream.’ All departments now use as an integral part of the learning process which is complementary to classroom activities. Guided text fields with cut-and-paste links make it simple to create interactive web pages which can be used as a forum for class discussion. Teachers can guide and mentor individuals in private user groups. Homework can be created and submitted online. The new Key Stage 3 National Curriculum requires students to discuss and debate topics over the email and publish materials on the Internet. is ideal for these applications.

Extending the boundaries

‘Through we have established a close relationship with a school in France’, says Alastair Wells. ‘Our language students send sound files to each other which helps improve fluency and cross cultural understanding.’

MirandaNet is an international Fellowship of teachers who are interested teaching and leaning with ICT. Alastair is a MirandaNet Fellow and as a result of that connection the school  used to facilitate a collaborative project with a school in Prague.  Netherhall also  has online links with another school in Singapore.  Pasting pictures into the website enables them to send emails without text and communicate messages to schools in countries where there is no mutual language. Geography students recently conducted a virtual field trip to Antarctica, ‘visiting’ the base camp and ‘seeing’ the ozone layer for themselves through video clips and photographs on the website.

Simple to learn with ongoing assistance from Oracle has been designed to be very user friendly for both staff and pupils. ‘Oracle provided the initial training for selected staff members’ says Alastair Wells. ‘From there we were able to develop web-based tutorials and printed user guides for both teachers and pupils. On average, students need just one hour to be conversant with and this gives them tremendous encouragement to get stuck in and become involved. There is a help button on each page to provide on the spot assistance where needed. Oracle have been very supportive at every stage. They are a super team to work with’.

Of course all schools are learning communities, regardless of whether the Net is used to extend learning or not.  However, once a school begins to build a closed intranets the way in which students and teachers communicate begins to change. The idea of sharing materials and publishing work online begins to grow. If a school makes a link with the Internet,  students and teachers are exposed to many new influences and unmediated opinions which school communities have to learn to regulate and control.

A web-based learning environment like, on the other hand, offers the benefits of both an Intranet and the Internet. ( This learning environment is being developed for 11 million school children world-wide to use.  Teachers can choose closed or open communities depending on the purpose of the group. Staff can also allow students to search Internet resources, but emailing can be monitored. Unwelcome contacts can be barred.



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References & Contacts

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