Richard Choat on guides to computer literacy. This recent crop of books for students of information technology, working at key stages 3 and 4 and their Scottish counterparts, will be welcomed by IT co-ordinators and those with IT teaching responsibilities.
The practical problems facing IT teachers and authors are considerable. The majority of secondary students are likely to receive a single, formally taught IT lesson each week - even if, with luck and good financial provision, they are able to use computers as part of the curriculum and get access to computer equipment in school on an informal basis.
Any text aimed at the 11-16 age range is likely to have readers whose reading ages span an even wider gamut and whose conceptual and practical skills are also diverse. First Byte adopts a down-to-earth, hands-on approach which assumes access to personal computers with a graphical user interface (either IBM clones running Windows or Apple Macintosh machines). By concentrating on the sensible and effective use of standard word processing, graphics, database, and spreadsheet packages, the authors pick up on pupils' existing knowledge and experience and guide even the youngest reader in producing well-formatted documents that are easy to edit and attractive when printed. Although discussions of operating systems, memory management and programming are wisely avoided, brief forays into the technicalities of multimedia production and the Internet succeed in conveying the potential power of these tools. Effective black-and-white layout makes this volume good value for money - even for adults aspiring to computer literacy!
Go for IT! is aimed at pupils of all abilities aged between 14 and 16. It is more closely focused on applications of IT, from digital telephones to how modern local industries work. It also gives realistic examples of the use of control and measurement technologies. The open-ended, cross-disciplinary activities at the end of each chapter should be accessible to pupils with a wide range of competence. The extension projects and comprehensive glossary will whet the appetite of the more technically minded. The colour photographs and diagrams are relevant and well designed.
This is IT! and This is IS!, although claiming to span the 11 to 16 age range, are obviously written with the thought that many secondary school pupils will wish to attempt a GCSE course in either information technology or information systems at the end of Year 11.
The IS text is more sophisticated in tone and avoids the rather garish colour layout of the IT volume. Treating information systems as solutions to problems faced in business and commercial environments provides students with a convincing reason for learning something of the detail of storage devices, system software and coding. Leading on from this sensible starting point there are informative sections on communications, legal aspects of IT and issues of data security. Finally, case studies of system solutions in mail order operations, supermarkets and traffic control are rounded off with plenty of exam practice questions and a serviceable glossary and index.
The supplementary CD-Rom (for Windows and Acorn machines only) provides a broad range of illustrative files in a variety of formats as well as suggestions for assignments to be used across the curriculum and administrative aids for IT co-ordinators.
Richard Choat is head of information technology at William Ellis School, London, NW5, part of the LaSWAP Sixth Form Consortium