A world of your own

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Ever felt the desire to create a world from scratch, then take a journey through it? Well now you can. Kahootz, from the Australian Children Television Foundation, grew out of a remit to provide 5 to 16-year-olds with challenging creative 3D tools and access to an online community into which they could publish and share their work.

Kahootz is a new type of "construction set" multimedia software that lets you build and adapt your own 3D world on screen. The speed of assembly, quality and colour of the environment is quite stunning.

Getting started is surprisingly easy, you click to select a world from a long list of multiple choices grouped under headings including outdoor, undersea, office and fantasy. Next you select from the object libraries to populate it with 3D objects, including people. Within seconds you can have a teeming, full-colour 3D world on you hands.

Once your world is complete you can decide which parts you wish to visit, and what pan and tilt you want your viewpoint to take as you travel. Sound may be added to individual objects or worlds and some of the demo files on the website show how dramatic this can be in a world built to represent the First World War trenches. Text in plain and 3D formats can also be added and animated making the software a powerful literacy tool, especially used in conjunction with an interactive whiteboard. The processing power of the graphics engine is very impressive - you really do get a sense of immersion as you travel through a world you have made.

Objects can be clicked and moved forward and back within the world and as they shrink and grow it's a brilliant hands-on way of learning about perspective and vanishing points. Finally, a notepad section allows you to draw and import graphics for linking to an object or for swatching (wallpapering) the walls of a world. Children's own faces can even be mapped on to virtual faces of people in the object store. To extend work further, each individual collection of world and objects can be turned into a scene and linked into a longer, more ambitious narrative or project.

Here is a piece of software which carries over many of the motivational features of the games world into an educational tool that will have the air dripping with dialogue as children argue about the possibilities of the worlds and scenarios they are creating. As a spur to language development through collaborative talk it's likely to have a major contribution to make in the classroom.

This software will also find great favour with teachers keen to match ICT against new findings on learning styles. Kinaesthetic learners who learn most effectively by doing and feeling their way will love "placing" themselves within this environment as they create their own work. You get the feeling that this software could be used from upper primary to adults as it is age neutral and immersion heavy.

The software is not completely intuitive when it comes to animating characters or text within worlds, however, and the timeline model used by most animation software is not used in Kahootz. In addition, worlds can only be saved as Xpressions files which the software generates for distribution. The world at large cannot see these creations as you need to have at least a demo version of Kahootz to view them. A free viewer, available as a downloadable plug-in, should now be a priority for the company and apparently they are working on it.

A worldwide series of trials was carried out with 80 schools using the software for a year and the results were very positive. "It allows children to think in three dimensions," said Victoria Pazzi, a primary teacher in Victoria, Australia. Once mastered, it allows some children to produce curriculum tools of high value, and engagement for other learners.

All school purchasers are allocated project space on the website where they may publish their own Xpression files and access teacher message forums. As creativity initiatives in the UK drive forward the use of animation as a learning tool, this is another high-powered step in the right direction.


Price: school single user pound;70; five-user pack pound;140; home single user pound;35

The home version is available for students, teachers and the general public.

Schools may purchase software directly through the website www.kahootz.com

Kahootz will be based in the BETT software centre at Stand SW84 Fitness for purpose **** Ease of use *** Design *** Value for money ***

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