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Tempted to log-out

The version of Thomas Telford's online GNVQ course I saw this week struggled to hold my attention. It was very text-heavy. Perhaps more worryingly - and this may be more a fault of the design of the GNVQ itself - some of the tasks seemed mind-numbingly tedious.

The product overall lacked colour: the format was dominated by reams of red text against a white background.

To its credit, the course did feature video excerpts illustrating the tasks which students are asked to complete. But to use the word "enliven" would be wrong: one of the the clips I saw, designed to introduce spreadsheets and illustrate their value, was of a middle-aged woman sounding bored as she did the accounts.

A second was of an accountant, hunched over a calculator as he mumbled about having to add things up more than once.

Among the first assignments, students are asked to collect a set of 21 documents, three each from: agendas, minutes, advertising flyers, newspaper articles, fax messages, letters and invoices.

They then have to fill in a form for each, answering questions including "what size paper is it on?" and "does it use text?" Finally, they have to write a report on each of these documents - 21 reports in all.

Students are also told that newspapers can be printed in either "blocked left" or "hanging" paragraphs. There was nothing to backup this statement, so how could it mean anything to them?

Mine was only a fairly short glimpse of the beginning of a version of the online course which was used by students two years ago to give them a grounding in the practical use office skills. Thomas Telford says it has been improved substantially since then, and that it should not be used without teaching support.

But thousands of pupils did use this version. The average teenager, I guessed, would struggle to stay awake through all of this - I certainly did.

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