‘Promoting innovation’ is part of JISC’s mission statement in FE, so to bring JISC Collections into the classroom you will need to be resourceful. As an inventive NQT, I should admit I was hoping that JISC Collections – a compendium of discounted research materials – would help me to magpie resources. I soon discovered JISC wasn’t designed for that. Instead, by using NATE’s helpful teaching guides, I realised how JISC Collections had a kudos that could encourage my pupils to develop independent study.
English teachers usually work at full capacity; our time is invaluable. So why should we guide learners towards research that could require significant management before it becomes practical? For one, it raises pupils above using the misleading, if humorous, academic vandalism of Wikipedia – only recently an article appeared stating that Belgian ministers were allocated two elks as part of parliamentary expenses.
During our two weeks of research, the majority of learners impressed me with their digital discernment. Our focus was to investigate how the term ‘teenager’ had been devised, employed and appropriated throughout recent history – an idea inspired from the NATE teaching packs. Along the way, we assessed how useful JISC Collections would be compared to their free equivalents of Google and Wikipedia.
Providing ‘breaking history’, by synthesising information from political, social and economic sources, is the speciality of Keesing’s World News Archive. Information can be searched by tag clouds, meaning that a search for, say fog, can be refined by ‘Disaster’ or ‘Environment’.
Education Image Gallery isn’t a replacement for the Google Image search. Instead it encourages learners to search ‘picture trails’ that explore interesting links between images, and to collate those images into albums. In addition it encourages learners to recognise the importance of referencing resources. While my pupils initially expressed a preference for the ease of a Google Image search, they began to appreciate the picture trails function for finding pictures that they would have not found by simply typing ‘teenager’ into Google.
English teachers will be most excited by the array of resources provided by Oxford University Resources. For example, the National Bibliography Database is a boon for teaching AO4 appreciation of literary figures. One pupil expressed his appreciation for the structured headings that guided his questioning. Quotations Database is enjoyable, allowing a canny pupil to share with us WC Sellar’s classic: “For every person who wants to teach there are approximately thirty who don’t want to learn—much’. Well found lad, I think.
Also part of this package is the excellent Oxford Reference Online. While its timeline function is useful for placing literary events in their historical context, it would be even better if it allowed visual interaction. Two other worthy mentions are the Dictionary of Idioms and the Dictionary of Literary Terms – both intuitive.
Also included, but perhaps not so applicable to an English teacher, are Grove Music and Grove Art.
The pupils’ research that impressed me most was done with both The Guardian and The Times Digital Archives. Tasked with finding and analysing three quotations about teenagers, they responded with mature perseverance. For example, searching for ‘teenager’ on pre-1950 archives yielded no results. However, many wanted to cross-reference both the archive and the Oxford reference website. This has to be one occasion when finding no results actually inspired the students to search!
It should be noted that searching for older articles sometimes brings up minor errors due to the poor quality of print. Still, it made a difference to reading about the credit crunch over cornflakes.
Other technical problems were also at a helpful minimum. Logging-in as a class was straightforward, although I suggest that learners copy these details from a saved word document rather than typing them off the board. Likewise, there was a teething problem of needing to type ‘googlemail’ rather than ‘gmail’ for a username. Still, JISC support replied to my emails within the hour.
The pricing of an annual subscription to these resources is a major consideration. As it stands now, purchasing the JISC Collection as a consortium of schools or via your LEA offers a discount of up to 75% off the total price. Although possible, it is unlikely one school could easily afford access by themselves.
Therefore I wonder whether perhaps, as consortiums of schools seek to purchase these resources, JISC would want to provide a forum for teachers to share ideas and best practice? Without such support, and NATE’s brilliant teaching packs, the digital natives left to their own research may only find, at best, the quickest route to those unblocked online games.