Subject Knowledge Online

You might hate to admit it. You might refuse to say so in front of your mates. But sometimes, even the most reluctant student, the most sullen teenager finds something a teacher says interesting.

The truth is, your teachers work hard to try to inspire your interest. And they’re probably honestly interested themselves, or at least remember a time when they were. All subjects, no matter how obscure, have some relevance to the ‘real world’. And although it wasn’t always true, the internet now means that if you have an interest, you can ‘meet’ other people who are interested too. The problem is that there’s an awful lot of crap out there. Finding an answer to any question is often trickier than plugging a homework title into Google. The truth is that you already use the web for your own, non-academic interests – videos, music, books, sports or hobbies. There’s plenty that relates to your subjects, and checking it out can really boost your understanding. It impresses your parents and your teachers. Done properly, it will be interesting too – but you still don’t have to tell your friends.

If you find useful or interesting material, there are two things you could do:

  1. Save the address to your bookmarks or favourites list, perhaps organised by subject so that you can find it again.
  2. Share it, with friends or the relevant teacher (you could always ask them not to say who found it).


Some sites are big, expensive and ‘official’. Some are free, informal and specialist. Loads of sites are around which provide reference material on particular subjects. Try looking through the ‘references’ lists on Wikipedia, or a museum for an interest that you’d like to know more about. Many galleries have permanent online ‘exhibits’, with links to all kinds of material. It’s like having the world’s biggest library at your fingertips, for free. Brush up on your language skills by reading sites in French or Spanish. Compare notes on training regimes with athletes all over the world. Read about human rights issues or the environmental consequences of mining or heavy industry.


One way in which enthusiasts now share their ideas is by blogs. These are often the ‘live’ thoughts of current experts, researchers and professors. They’ll discuss new discoveries or suggest interpretations of what we already know. Because they can be regularly updated they can cover – and link to – events and innovations as they happen. You can often sign up to receive email updates or an RSS feed.


Sites like YouTube aren’t just for music videos and kittens on pianos. You can find all kinds of material online, covering a wide range of topics. Starting with on-demand TV and radio (such as iPlayer), and moving on to archives of historical footage, old newspapers, recordings of speeches, readings of books and poetry, the web has a large and growing choice of all kinds of media. And you could always just type a search term into GoogleNews, the BBC or any other preferred news source.


In most of these examples, you have the chance to contribute. You don’t have to start up your own blog explaining what studying Geography is all about. But you’d gain a lot by commenting on somebody’s ideas, joining in with the conversation. This is just like in lessons – if you have to think about the ideas more, you’ll understand them better. Follow the same rules you’d follow in a classroom discussion – listen first, offer suggestions, back up your ideas with data, separate facts and opinions – and be prepared to have your thoughts criticised. Most students complain about being treated as a child. Be smart about being safe online and your ideas will get the respect they deserve. And in the process, you’ll learn stuff you didn’t know before, set yourself up to achieve more in exams and hopefully find it interesting as well.


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