Everyone who works hard all year, carefully budgeting their earnings and saving some, likes to treat themselves to a holiday as a reward. And that is what happens in Traveller's Cheque, an interactive CD-Rom package for pupils aged 14 and over.
Eight months of diligent toil and parsimony are explored by the package, and then the user can fly off to a sun-soaked destination of choice. Users have to keep track of their bank balance with the monthly statements provided. The fixed costs of everyday life - rent, council tax, utilities and food - are lopped off each month. The statements give accurate end-month balances but don't carry these forward from one month to the next.
Work in Traveller's Cheque means participating in a monthly quiz. In return for answering two simple questions, such as recognising the Union Jack or decoding the acronym PIN, users are paid pound;645 net per month. If only every job was so easy!
This package comes close to reality in a number of respects. Users can go shopping and their bank balance declines with every debit card transaction, every cheque written and every withdrawal from an automated teller machine. Extravagance results in fiscal problems when the user goes to the travel agency and attempts to buy foreign currency and a holiday that is beyond their means.
Learning and Teaching Scotland's curricular targets for the CD-Rom are financial education and personal and social education. However, its scope may be even wider. The processes simulated in Traveller's Cheque connect with aspects of Standard grade administration, business management and computing.
The CD-Rom, which comes with teachers' notes, has a wide range of supportive features, including speech support, an ability to conform to the learner's pace of response, some customisation options and a scanning interface. So it could help those with special educational needs and find a place in classes for under-14s.
Users choose a character when they first log in. The graphics screens have a good looking comic-book appearance and the hot keys for entering and moving around the bank, the travel agency, the shops and the airport work well.
Getting out of a location is a little more vexatious. Users have to hit the "back" key instead of following the arrow key conventions that are familiar to pupils from games. To go from one dialogue box to another means moving the cursor rather than using the "tab" key and the program tends to ignore key strikes that come too quickly. These are, however, trivial shortcomings.
Overall, Traveller's Cheque looks great, feels good to use and above all rehearses processes that are a worthwhile part of social education.
Colin Finnie lectures in business and computer education at the University of Strathclyde