With only three months to go before a new batch of over 600,000 students take their GCSEs, the BBC has come up with this unique multimedia revision package, combining television programmes, printed material and Internet support.
For students privileged enough to have access to the books, a video recorder (all the programmes go out in the early hours of the morning in the Learning Zone) and the Internet at home, GCSE Bitesize will indeed give them an integrated package which is unique, and will provide excellent support in the key subjects of English, science, maths, geography, French, German and history.
I gave the science pack a trial run. The book is well written but not as attractively presented as some others on the market which use colour. In contrast, the television programmesprovide a lot of interestingbackground material and anecdotes which occasionally take the student beyond the syllabus demands: stories about James Joule, stolen plutonium and deep sea divers provide an interesting change from the straight facts. The material comes from BBC science series such as the excellent Short Circuit and Seeing Through Science. These chunks are in sharp contrast to the pragmatic, down-to-earth entreaties of the main presenter - HowardStableford of Tomorrow's World fame - to "write this down" or "learn this by heart".
Formulae, statements of the facts and definitions of key words all appear on screen. Rote learning is not shunned in this package. The book links well with the programmes and both are divided into the same sections, such as Radioactivity, Forces and Motion or Waves.
Each section includes a few hints on study skills and exam techniques, although some are only short anecdotes from famous faces such as Noel Edmonds and Zo Ball. They make a pleasant change and give some useful tips but do not provide a substitute for good study skills in school.
The Internet idea is an excellent one and the material I saw using this medium linked well with the other two. But the Net is probably a bit too slow to be really useful as a revision aid. Impatient revisers using a typical home system may get frustrated as they wait for images or responses. The best answer for a school would be to download material from the Web site and put it on a school Intranet system. This will increase access and save money.
The publicity blurb for GCSE Bitesize tells us that students can e-mail their questions to the BBC with a response promised within 48 hours. It will be interesting to see how the Beeb copes if all 600,000 GCSE candidates take up the offer. I am assured there is a small army of experienced respondents waiting in the wings.
The three-pronged approach of book, television and Internet makes for a balanced and interesting revision diet for pupils. Factsheets and short guides for parents are also available free of charge through schools who adopt the Bitesize scheme.
As a parent of a 15 year-old taking her exams this summer, I think the best advice is to fork out the small sum for the book, resign yourself to the additional phone bill, stock up on blank tapes for the TV programmes and stand well back.
Jerry Wellington is a reader in science educationat SheffieldUniversityInternet pages can be found at http: www.bbc.co.ukeducationrevisionFurther information from BBC Education 0181 746 1111