A great buy with a little help

28th June 1996 at 01:00
All too often the best multimedia is let down by a lack of support materials. Nicola Jones pleads for some practical assistance from publishers

Your shiny new CD-Rom has arrived. You open the huge box, to find a lonely little disc in the middle. There are loading instructions but that's it. Sound familiar? Many CD-Roms and software come without any support materials at all, not even a user manual.

Yet research suggests that supporting resources are a crucial factor when teachers are making the decision to buy software. Meetings with teachers after the Department for Education and Employment's CD-Roms in Primary Schools initiative identified the need for good-quality resources to support the use of CD-Roms, both at the machine and in the classroom, before or after accessing information.

One of the criteria for evaluating the CD-Roms in Primary Schools initiative, where more than 400 titles were assessed by people with a wide range of primary classroom experience, was the quality of support materials. On the Apple Mac and PC platform, many of the titles reviewed submitted no support materials at all. Acorn CD-Roms fared better, perhaps because of Acorn's educational base, with the majority of titles coming with materials, including overlay keyboard support, activity sheets for follow-up work and suggestions for using the CD-Roms in the curriculum.

Good support materials rely on the commitment of those producing them to involve practising teachers and parents in the development of titles.

Some software distributors, such as TAG Developments and ABLAC, work alongside teachers throughout the process. Microsoft has teamed up with both TAG and the Technology Education Research Unit (TERU) at Goldsmith's College to produce support materials for its titles.

It has just released the Microsoft Encarta Resource Pack to support the use of Encarta in the classroom (see page 39). This contains a teacher's guide, activity worksheets, electronic templates and a poster and video entitled Information Technology in the Classroom. Further resource packs for Dangerous Creatures, Ancient Lands and Science will be available soon.

TAG's own programs, which include titles in the Mapper series, such as Home Mapper and Body Mapper, all come with a folder of support materials, which include advice on planning topic work and teacher guidance for each activity. Claris Templates for the primary and secondary curriculum, which have been produced by TAG and TERU, all come with a well produced folder to support them, although the secondary science support notes would be most useful for teachers with sufficient technical skills to customise the templates themselves.

A new title published by TERU and TAG, called Renewables in View, which helps pupils understand the concept of renewable energy, has an extensive pack of activity sheets which is integral to its use. The disc has animations, narrations and on-screen stimuli which guide pupils into off-screen activities, such as making energy from wind, waste and water. The sheets have been designed to be used directly by pupils and would be a boon to any busy primary teacher.

Software originating in the United States seems to be better supported and materials can be adapted for use in the UK. A to Zap!, a CD-Rom for the infant classroom distributed by TAG, has a comprehensive folder with guidance to teachers and parents for using each activity, and photocopiable masters to extend the activities done on-screen. There is even a letter to parents, explaining the work children will be doing on the computer and offering suggestions on how parents can extend the classroom experience into the home.

ABLAC, a British company, works in partnership with Davidson and Associates, a US company that develops its software with teachers and educationists. The company works with teachers here to adapt the materials so they are suitable for the English national curriculum.

Don Johnston Incorporated, another American company, produces a folder of literacy and learning materials for its CD-Rom, K C in Flyball. These are well produced and have some features which make them unique among those I looked at. Throughout the materials, teachers are invited to make use of other software to support their pupils' learning, even where it isn't produced by Don Johnston.

There is a consideration of children with special needs throughout. For example, an activity which suggests pupils make up a rhyming riddle includes non-verbal learners using a talking word processor so their riddle can be read back to them and the class.

Some developers have included support materials on the disc itself, to be printed out when necessary. But it isn't a very good idea. A CD-Rom produced by Anglia Multimedia takes this approach with the activity sheets for its art resource of animals, Looking at Animals. While this is a good resource, the Mac instructions to print the activity sheets did not work as directed and, when they did, the font size was too big, cutting off the page.

Educational publishers are used to supporting teachers and often produce helpful guidance and activities related to the title. Collins's recent title, Pathways CD-Rom (see review, page 32) comes with a comprehensive guide which is in keeping with existing guides produced for each stage of its Pathways reading scheme. The materials include clear instructions on the technical aspects of the disc, as well as guidance for teachers in the use of the CD-Roms for the national curriculum, with reference made to the English programmes of study throughout. Ten photocopiable masters and a pupil record sheet are included. Longman, which produces software to go with the Longman Book Project, also includes helpful booklets to support its software for the classroom.

Software companies that team up with the fast diminishing advisory services have reaped the benefits when it comes to materials produced to go with the discs. The World of the Vikings CD-Rom, produced by Past Forward, is a guide which has sections on both a subject-based and topic-based approach. This was developed in collaboration with the Yorkshire advisory team. There is also a section on developing study skills and some photocopiable worksheets, one of which asks the pupils to write instructions for making a Viking comb, based on the information found on the disc.

Another company, Photoair, works with local authorities to provide support materials for discs of photographs taken from the air over a local area. A country-wide disc of photos, called The Physical Landscape of Britain, for use with secondary students, includes extensive on-line support materials to guide the interpretation of high-quality aerial photos.

CD-Roms have been in schools for a while, but Leslie Ovens from ABLAC, who attended the recent National Association of Head Teachers conference at Torquay, feels that heads are enthusiastic about any approach that will support the use of CD-Roms at a time when there aren't resources to buy more equipment or invest in training. With support materials, the use of the program can be extended, so that learning can continue when pupils are away from the computer.

Most software developers are beginning to realise that good curriculum support is vital, but it needs to be part of their overall strategy from the earliest stage of development, rather than an after-thought to increase sales.

* ABLAC: 01626 332233Anglia Multimedia: 01268 755 811Collins Educational: 0141 306 3484Longman Logotron: 01223 425 558Past Forward: 01904 663041Photoair: 01733 241 850TAG Developments: 01474 357350

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