By Jack Kenny
Few things are more important than teaching students how to deal with the oceans of information that surround them. So far there hasn't been much success. Information skills should be a top priority, so any attempt to help deserves serious consideration.
NetTrekker is a US-based company allied with Atomic Learning. Its aim is to sell subscriptions to a "safe" search engine that will only produce "the right results". In other words, to reduce the ocean of information to a pond. Some will find that proposition attractive – after all, the Internet can be a university, a swamp, a maze, a hall of mirrors or a sleazy back street. Some way of helping students to deal with that is necessary but should it be a walled garden?
A walled garden is totally dependent on the people who populate it with resources. You are restricted to their taste, their knowledge, their expertise, their understanding of the UK curricula. The way to test it, as I did, is simply to try one of the introductory NetTrekker accounts. Type a few searches and see how impressed you are with the results.
The searches I tried produced images but sadly no text. Something was obviously wrong. At this point I contacted NetTrekker. They told me that they were having trouble with Internet Explorer 6 and advised me to use a more recent release. That was not the answer because I had been using Google's Chrome. Nevertheless, I tried it in Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 and still had severe problems.
On the plus side, Nettrekker has topics, everything segmented in key stages and lists of useful sites such as English Heritage and the British Museum. There are some unique resources which help you with reading ages. You can download free clip art. You can even get lesson plans from Michigan and Huntsville USA. However, you could probably get most of the resources through the conventional, free Internet. The real problem for Nettrekker is the delightful simplicity of Google or AltaVista or Yahoo: its navigation is not easy as that of a conventional browser.
There probably is a way of creating a walled garden. Those with long memories will remember that BT tried it years ago – and failed. NetTrekker, on this showing, has a long way to go. The Internet is not going to go away and the present generation of students is going to have to find ways of living with it in all its variety.
Subscription web service for schools. Bills itself as a "cross curricular content tool". Pricing: £595 for an average sized school, with specific prices quoted individually based on the size of the school or local authority.