A-level science students in Northern Ireland are set to benefit from an e-learning system that has been shown to boost exam grades.
The Scholar programme, developed five years ago by Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University, has already been rolled out to every secondary school in Scotland and an increasing number in England.
Designed to match the curriculum, Scholar allows A-level and AS-level students to access course materials - including text, diagrams, interactive demonstrations and assessments - over the internet. It also offers discussion board facilities and lets teachers monitor pupils' progress.
For the past seven months, Scholar courses in computing, physics and chemistry have been trialled at four schools in Northern Ireland under the auspices of the Northern Ireland eLearning Partnership and e-learning specialist Interactive University (IU), which is responsible for developing Scholar commercially.
Ruth Moir, IU's director of academic and customer services, said that in the second phase of the pilot about to begin, she expected to see widespread take-up of the system across the six counties - not least because of its proven success.
"An independent evaluation by the Scottish Executive's Education Department shows that pupils using Scholar are achieving higher grades," she said.
The programme has also helped to boost independent learning among pupils. "Students are studying at home in the evening, using the materials to grasp concepts, revise for examinations or move ahead at their own pace," added Moir.
Fears that Scholar could create a divide between those students who have home access to the internet and those who do not are unwarranted, according to Moir. "The percentage who now have access to Scholar at home is very high: 91 per cent," she said.
IU also runs a staff development programme that shows schools how to integrate the system into lessons most effectively.
Feedback from students and teachers has been very positive, with particular praise for the system's interactive elements, such as Flash animations that recreate physics experiments on screen.
"Independent evaluators say they have a high degree of confidence that students value the role of the learning resource, particularly when it comes to examinations," said Moir.
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