THE great software tools are the ones that lead to learning, increase understanding, make meaning and build something new. Authoring tools do that with multimedia - writing for the digital age. Giving students these skills will increase their learning and help them make sense of a world where information is the raw material.
Authoring calls on so many skills that it can appear daunting to teachers, but fascinating to pupils. Quite simply, it is about combining words, sounds, graphics, speech and moving images into juxtapositions that create something greater than the sum of its parts. In addition, it is about linking screen pages, once they are created. If you have used a really good CD-Rom, you will know what can be done.
The idea of linking pages is at the heart of the Internet. We navigate our way around by clicking on arrows and hot spots. To a child, it creates that feeling of exploration that is at the heart of learning. All of the following programs will do that.
Multimedia Textease is an excellent word processor that will take pupils right through primary school. But it is also a desktop publishing package and an authoring program, and it will create pages for the Internet. To have so much in one package is good - to have it so easy to use is remarkable. In addition, it works on both RISC machines and PCs.
Magpie, from Logotron, is written so that it is rather like creating chapters in a book. It is excellent for work in school because it positively encourages collaborative work.
It is also very easy to create and grasp the overall structure of a project. Another plus point is that it doesn't take long to learn and has been successfully used with young children.
HyperStudio has been around for some time and there are versions for Macintosh, Acorn and PC. In its newest version, not only will it enable you to create multimedia with all the sophistication of a good CD-Rom, but the pages can be saved for use on the Internet. Hyper-Studio is tried and tested, easy to use and can create pleasing effects.
Illuminatus is usually found on the RM Window Box. It can be bought on its own and has just been issued in a new version with extra features. Among them is a feature called Auto-Narrate, which enables you to add a script. It also allows a presentation to be placed on a disk for use by anyone - even if they do not have the actual program.
Illuminatus has developed into an application with an impressive range of effects, which may be almost daunting to a newcomer. Anyone who was unimpressed by the earlier versions should take another look.
rontPage from Microsoft is not an authoring program like the others. It is for writing Internet pages, but a page can contain most of the features that an authoring program will supply. The good thing about this program is that it uses univerally accessible code, so that a FrontPage page can be read by any of the browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator or Communicator or Mosaic. As a result, you can be sure that when you have written pages in this format, they can be viewed by a vast number of people. A simple version of FrontPage is included in the full release of Internet Explorer. The first version of Claris Home Page has been distributed free with computer magazines, but it is worth buying the "much improved" retail version, and is the easiest way of creating Web pages I have seen. The software is very easy to use. Sound and graphics can be incorporated into a page, or moved from page to page, with little hassle. Put simply, this is exactly the kind of software that fades into the background and allows your ideas to shine through.
If you have never used authoring software, give it a go. Once the software has been mastered, you will have a tool that will eventually lead you and yourpupils into some very rich learningexperiences.
Textease Pounds 85
HTML Reader Writer Pounds 35 (PC and Acorn) 01322 204911
Illuminatus Pounds 89 (PC) 01235 826868
HyperStudio Pounds 99.95 (Mac PC Acorn) 01474 357350
Front Page 98 Pounds 79 PC 01235 826868
Claris Home Page (Mac PC) 0181 756 0101
Magpie Pounds 62 (Acorn) 01223 425558