Many schools are looking to upgrade their careers education software. Phil Revell discovers what's new in this expanding field
Information technology is about opening up opportunities, and so in careers education and guidance we can expect to find a rich seam of software waiting to be mined by the careers co-ordinator. Moreover, the past few years have seen significant amounts of money made available to schools through the various careers library initiatives. Schools that bought software and hardware with the initial funding are now probably looking to their first major upgrade. So what new developments can IT co-ordinators expect to find?
Paul Bennett is the business development co-ordinator with Shropshire Careers Service. Like many careers services, Shropshire offers schools and colleges the possibility of buying software at a discount on a countywide licence. Paul reports that the two most popular careers programs are Microdoors from COIC and Kudos from Cascaid.
Kudos has been a market leader for some time and the current version is available in Windows. It generates career suggestions based on students' personal and work interests, taking into account their actual or expected qualifications. It is genuinely popular with users and comes complete with exercises and activities designed to back up the program. Cascaid also offers Careerscape, which looks at entry routes, employment options, training and job descriptions for more than 650 careers.
Microdoors is the veteran in careers software and has access to the occupational database compiled by the Department of Education and Employment, which boasts more than 1,400 jobs. As a source of job information it is still unrivalled, but its Dos format was beginning to look very dated and the DFEE recently signed contracts with a consortium to produce an entirely new Windows version of the program called Odyssey. This will offer a faster, simpler format for users, with connections to other databases such as the ECCTIS database of higher education courses.
Connectivity is the key element of Careersoft's Careers Information Database, an all-singing, all-dancing multimedia CD-Rom which Careersoft's Bob Gledhill describes as "the only comprehensive multimedia careers information program on the market".
CID comes in several different versions, including Special CID, which has possibilities for touch screens and overlay keyboards. CID can be linked to both Kudos and Microdoors allowing users to use the video clips and sound extracts in the multimedia program to illustrate the job information in the databases. Local job information can be added, as can text, pictures and even video clips.
Nigel Machin, assistant head of Holden Lane High School in Stoke, has been using CID since the first version was released four years ago. He feels that the ability to personalise the program is one of its strengths. "We can put work experience information into the program, including photos which we have taken with the school's digital camera. They can also take careers information straight from the program and put it into their records of achievement. The program uses language that kids can understand."
Another multimedia program is Trotman's Job Matters. The approach here is skills-based: students are encouraged to think about their own strengths and weaknesses and about the realities of starting work. The consequences of careers decision-making on work and lifestyles are also considered. It was first published in 1994 and the first version was noticeably slow, even on machines with the recommended 8 megabytes of memory. Trotman has a new version waiting to be released later in the year and its spokeswoman assured The TES that the bugs had been ironed out.
Another Trotman product is the Looking Ahead CD-Rom which is aimed at key stage 3 students coming up to options. The cartoon-based format takes students through the decision-making process.
Malcolm Hunt produces materials to advise teachers about IT in careers education for the National Council for Educational Technology. In his view one of the strengths of IT is the "gee whizz" factor, but he emphasises that IT can only be part of the guidance process, "You can take a horse to water but you can't make it think."
Malcolm feels that there could be a wider range or products on the market, in particular few developers had used the potential offered by the technology to look at work simulation or "virtual" work. One exception is the Adventures into Work family of programs by Careersoft which allow students to explore work environments.
CONTACTS AND RESOURCES
* Careers Information Database, Adventuresinto Work, Careersoft. Tel: 01422330450. Careerscape, KudosCascaid. Tel: 0116 265 6688. Microdoors, COIC Tel: 01142 594564.Job Matters, Looking Ahead Trotman.Tel: 0171 581 3307. Odyssey Progressions Tel: 01483 413200.
* Program prices depend on how the product ispurchased.Software can be bought as a straightforward purchase, with a site licence or through a local education authorityor Careers Service.
* The National Council for Educational Technology produces four Good Practice Guides to help teachers with the decision-making about using IT in careers education and guidance.The guides cover Getting Started, Choosing Software, Managing IT and Evaluation. Teachers who are keen not to re-invent the wheel would be advisedto make good use of them.
* The NCET's Good Practice Guides Using IT in Careers Education and Guidance, Pounds 4.95 each.NCET, Science Park, Coventry CV4 7JJ.Tel: 01203 416994www.ncet.org.uk