Branching out

PRIMARY BRANCH. Granada Learning. Price: pound;39, 0161 827 2927.

If only Primary Branch were as simple as its Acorn database originals, says Chris Davis.

Way back when, two simple programs for the Acorn BBC B, Branch and Animal, did a superb job of teaching about branching databases. Now Granada Learning brings us Primary Branch, a program seemingly custom-made to do the same job. And it does - but perhaps not as simply as you might have hoped.

There are three main sections to Primary Branch: "Use a Branching Database", "Edit a Branching Database" and "Make a Branching Database". These titles may not be quite as self-explanatory as they seem.

The "Use" option presents you with a choice of databases (five are supplied) and displays their structure. So does "Edit". "Use" then lets you edit an object's name or a question by clicking on the Edit icon. So does "Edit". It allows you to use the database (so does "Edit") and lets you save your extended database, overwriting the original version. So does "Edit". In fact, there seems to be no real difference between the two options.

Surely it would be more sensible (and safer) to prevent users amending or extending a database in the "Use" section; inexperienced or mischievous users could not then corupt a perfect file. And the only way to input a new item is through playing the game. You can't simply add it to the list of items then put it onto the branch structure.

Neither is "Make" as straightforward as it might be. When you create a list of items to be used it can't be done in Primary Branch. You must use either a text editor, word processor or Primary Writer (if you have Granada's Primary Toolkit). Each item must be typed on a separate line then saved into the Primary Branch folder as a text file.

Now you open the file in the normal way and define a question to separate the items into two sets. This process continues, breaking down each subset so it's best not to make the opening list too comprehensive: if pupils begin with a few items, they can create a new database and add to it by playing the game.

Any item may have a picture and sound file attached; an excellent suggestion is to use a digital camera and a microphone to create a database of the children in the class, including their photobranchs and voices.

Primary Branch will certainly fulfil its function and may well become one of those indispensable programs of the information and communications technology learning curve. It just seems a shame some of the idiosyncrasies weren't addressed.

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