A new educational Web browser promises to help Canadian teachers bring relevant Web sites into their classrooms while leaving out sites that parents may find objectionable.
MediaSpark IT Solutions, based in Sydney, N.S., will begin testing the program, called GoWebster, in a Sydney school next week. Teachers at Sherwood Park Elementary, Cape Breton's newest, fully wired school, will use the program to complement their lessons.
GoWebster is designed to bring some structure to students' Web surfing, said Kevin McCormack, MediaSpark's marketing director.
"The goal is to provide real structure for teachers, the structure that the Internet has been lacking", McCormack said. "This much money being spent on whole classrooms of students 'just browsing' didn't make a whole lot of sense."
When a user launches GoWebster, a pre-programmed list of bookmarks appears, catalogued according to school subject.
Students can find Web sites specifically related to learning about volcanoes, for example, but they won't be directed to sites that might simply mention the word "volcano".
GoWebster also includes detailed lesson plans to help teachers find ways to work the Web into their lessons. The plans include a list of pre-selected Web sites, plus ideas on how to incorporate the Web sites into a traditional lesson.
The key difference between GoWebster and browsers such as Netscape and Internet Explorer is the controlled environment, McCormack said.
Netscape and Internet Explorer allow students to view anything that exists on the Web. Many Canadian schools and libraries have resorted to filtering software, like Net Nanny or Net Shepherd, in an effort to control what students can see.
In Nova Scotia, teachers are required to preview all Web sites students may see. "Now you can just imagine the problems that gives you if you're using search engines", McCormack said. "The students only go to the educational sites that we've assigned, unless the teacher opens up the browser to go further. The teacher maintains full control."
The program has piqued the interest of a few universities, as well as the Nova Scotia Department of Education. Sherwood Park won't be the only school to test GoWebster. There are plans to introduce it to several more schools.
The Ontario Ministry of Education has also expressed interest in bringing the program into its classrooms. The program will sell in Canada and the United States for about $300, once beta testing is completed.
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