index of SoL documents and details:
This page, and much else we did in the 90s, has become very popular with © lawyers, and others enmeshed in patent battles, seaching for "prior art" and evidence of established practice pre-dating various patents. If that is your interest, please do get in touch

Schools OnLine 1995 - 96

SoL logo . Professor Stephen Heppell

Online community, user generated content, mutuality, data driven web-pages, individuals "identity" supported by their "passport" of contribution, "chat, who's online, audience signification... and more.

CERN only opensourced the World Wide Web code in April 1993 - 20 years ago as this page is written - causing much debate about the possibilities for the web in learning.

At Ultralab in 1994 we put forward a project to allow children and teachers to create their own content, dynamically, rather than simply to host and exchange documents through their URLs. The ability to annotate, create, share, swap and more, meant the whole project was underpinned by the server side technologies - our huge dynamic database - and focussed on community as much as content - in a way that is now the norm, but then seemed radical. We didn't get support for this from the Whitehall Department of Education - indeed, via their national ICT body, they mailed us sternly to say that dynamic pages were not at all how the WWW was supposed to work (hah!), and that our lengthy complex URLs would be confusing for children, as would be the fact that each time they visited a page it might have "moved on" a fair bit!!

under construction sign . from a dynamic SoL page - they were all constantly under construction, by design

Luckily the UK's DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), led by Conservative Ian Taylor who was Minister for Science, Technology & Space at the DTI, and hugely helpful, saw the potential and lined up a strong team of sponsoring companies to learn from, and alongside, the project, its teachers and its children (more about these companies from index below).

This was a £1m project - huge for the time - with £400,000 from the DTI and £600,000 from sponsors.

It is hard to think back to a time when the Internet's www had barely begun - there were no browsers for example, just a beta version of Mosaic (which became Netscape later) and a browseryauthoring thing we wrote ourselves in HyperCard - which was pretty good! Our search engines were Alta-Vista, or Lycos (Google wasn't till 1998)... All this worked, of course, through dial-up phoneline modems; broadband was a dream back then.

Within a year, we were proud to win an award as the "Best Educational World Wide Web site" in the influential 1996 Edinburgh Awards for Multimedia. Finalists were RM, SCET, NCET, BT's Campus World and Schools OnLine so we were pretty pleased to win. As it said on the site at the time:

"Remember that Schools OnLine is not a commercial undertaking, it is a research project supported by the Department of Trade and Industry with the UK's Federation for Electronic Industries (FEI). Everyone involved - Ultralab, the curriculum teams, the teachers, the students, the sponsors are very much in an action research role..!"

index of some SoL documents and details:

The report we wrote at the end of the first project year, is indicative of so much that followed and is essential reading if you want to understand the world wide web and learning - and the battle for symmetry in the early days.

A look at the functionality we pioneered in SoL - "passports", Annotations, Community, signifiers - fascinating stuff...

Schools OnLine's sponsors and supporters

Schools OnLine FAQs "It is hard to imagine the success of future projects without the research we are doing through Schools OnLine today". and more...

The functionality of Schools OnLine: "passports", Annotations, Community, signifiers - fascinating stuff...


this page created April 2013, project ran from 1995 - 1996 and
page last updated Wednesday, October 2, 2013 8:48 PM