Economics made simple with Tutor2u

The Web is a wonderful teaching tool. Just ask Geoff Riley's economics students. By Diane Coyle, Economics Editor
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The Independent Online
EVERYTHING TO do with the Internet grows explosively fast, so it was no surprise to hear that a new website for teachers and students of economics in schools attracted 1,700 registered users within its first eight weeks.

Even so, it was still breathtaking to check in with the webmaster of Tutor2u.com after a week and discover that another 500 users had signed up and 250 schools had registered (with hits from as far away as Malaysia and Pakistan) and that first-year undergraduates have now discovered the resource too.

All of this has happened by word-of-mouth, turning what started out as a departmental website into an Internet phenomenon.

Geoff Riley, the head of economics and politics at Newcastle's Royal Grammar School, was already a seriously impressive force in the teaching of economics in the UK even before he created the website. He has bucked the nationwide trend towards declining interest in the subject, which is the most popular GCSE option in his school. There are about 70 pupils in each year group, two thirds of whom go on to study an economics-related subject at university. This suggests that one teaching team provides a significant proportion of the declining number of undergraduates in economics.

He says: "I want our students to use the Web every day, for it to be as much part of the everyday routine as putting on their shoes or turning on the television." He gets pupils to look every day at other sites through the Tutor2u portal, including the fabulous BBC Online and newspapers such as The Independent and the Financial Times.

The site gives an insight into the Riley magic. It offers charts, data and news; essay plans and revision guides; a glossary of terms in economics; student support and a discussion forum; and it links to other useful websites and book recommendations. It provides links to UK university economics departments, and support for teachers, including advice about the jobs market. There is also a quiz on the UK economy (I scored nine out of 10, so will be impressed by anybody who can get all 10 answers).

The material is not only accurate, an incalculable advantage amid all the dross on the Internet, but wonderfully clear. It downloads quickly, the links all work, and Mr Riley updates the information frequently.

This is a labour of love, undertaken with the full support of the school. He says he has spent all his spare time on Tutor2u since the start of the summer. The aim has been to create a community of users who share an enthusiasm for the subject. "As more and more people access the site, we are building up that community. This is the great benefit of the Web," he says.

Tutor2u will always be free, Mr Riley insists, giving it a big advantage over the existing, rather sparse, competition. Membership of Amazon's affiliates programme covers some of the running costs, notably the phone bill. He is, however, in discussions about the commercial possibilities of the idea, perhaps transplanting it to other subjects as a business enterprise.

He spills over with enthusiasm about the next steps for Tutor2u, which include acquiring the software to make it more interactive.

If you try to register, be patient; demand is so great that Mr Riley is having to expand the capacity of the server.

d.coyle@independent.co.uk

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