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Millie the motivator

Clear resources on computer are hard to find - but here's one, says Roger Crawford

AN interesting and well structured programme of learning resources for the study of information technology - that's KeyBytes. Paul Coulthard, of Gateacre Community Comprehensive School, Liverpool, says it's the best thing he has seen in 15 years of teaching information technology.

KeyBytes integrates software, a textbook and copious worksheets, divided into 17 units covering a range of topics. These include word-processing, spreadsheets, databases, graphics, DTP, touch-typing, simple operating system functions, basic hardware and networks, as well as the use of IT at home and work. There are optional activities, puzzles and computer games which will interest and motivate pupils (and adults).

Screen displays are colourful and layouts are simple and easy to understand. The accompanying textbook is well illustrated, with reading material pitched at the right level and presented in digestible chunks. The lively Millie Megabytes cartoon character features throughout KeyBytes, in the software and in a humorous cartoon strip at the end of each unit. She spices up KeyBytes, but left me with a very slight worry about equal opportunities - I prefer a richer mix of gender and cultural images.

KeyBytes supports delivery of the national curriculum up to the end of key stage 3, but teachers may need to organise some supplementary materials and activities, measuring, for example. However, KeyBytes caters for different levels of ability and will be useful at key stage 4. It has also been used for continuing professional development, as well as with primary pupils and adults.

Assessment is built-in, with frequent on-screen tests and regular feedback on success. The results of a summative test at the end of each unit are saved by the software. The final unit is the KeyBytes test, which can cover some or all of the units at the teacher's discretion. The password system that controls pupil access is also a feature that many teachers will welcome. Each unit has its own set of passwords, which are not unique to pupils but indicate progression through a unit so that the next time a pupil uses KeyBytes, they can start where they left off. Teachers have all the passwords and can control pupils' progress.

Software should be free of errors, but there are usually a few bugs. I really liked the refreshing honesty of the KeyBytes documentation. Flaws and omissions are admitted, and there are explanations of why these occurred and what you can do about them. Fortunately, they are not too numerous or particularly serious.

Installing KeyBytes was easy and many features can be customised to suit different groups of pupils. The software did not crash once in operation.

KeyBytes: A site licence for a secondary school of 1,000 pupils costs Pounds 825 plus VAT, but prices vary. Detailed installation instructions are provided for Windows 3.x and 95 standalone systems, and Novell and RM networks.

KeyBytes will run on both older 386 systems with VGA monitors and more modern equipment. However, it is not available for Apple or Acorn hardware.

Website: www.keybytes.demon.co.uk

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