The National Archive of Educational Computing houses a number of interesting on-line projects from pre-internet times. A project (1985) between Essex and Hertfordshire LEAs, for example, built a link between Telecom Gold (a mail service) and the teletext style Prestel service with a virtual teachers' centre, a school common room and a mass of pages on Prestel by children for children.
Although successful enough to encourage BT to build and market a national project (Campus) its problems were threefold: children's lack of individual identity made inter-student communication too complex; the speed of contribution was too slow and the complexity of contributing was too great; too few homes were able to access Prestel so that the audience for children's work was too limited to be motivating. The most successful activities were those sufficiently seductive to overcome these problems.
It is also worth commenting that the Hertfordshire Ebeneezer
project (1987), although only for early secondary school students (11-13), had a very textual (and poor) interface but was successful in building engagement with students because of its high quality mediation and because the tasks available to engage in were so attractive - for example a creative writing task mediated by a role playing author finally published children's writing in a booklet to give it the wider audience that technology did not then offer. Both the task and the audience were motivating enough to overcome the interface for early secondary age students.
For a GridClub these examples from the archive reinforce the need for individual identity (and the complexities that follow of auditing that identity) and of building a system with a sufficiently wide audience to be motivating. Again we see that mediation and excitement matter, but remember that there was little competition for children's on-line attention at this time.
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