Data collection that's not just a drag...;Hands on

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Later this year, Pasco launches new software that works with its sensor system (see left) to collect and analyse experiment data. Whispered about for over a year, the Data Studio software does for data what Pasco's sensor system does for science experiments - after a few moments' use, it's clear you have a lot of power in your hands. Here is something that ranks alongside other state-of-the-art packages. And best of all, it's easy, even enjoyable, to work with.

Many data-logging packages are dedicated only to collecting data, though some add interesting ways of displaying and analysing it. While everyone agrees these jobs should be easy, many believe the machine shouldn't do all the work for the student. Data Studio follows this idea, making it the latest in a line of software to encourage a thoughtful approach to data logging.

Other examples are LabView, a US industrial monitoring package, Homerton College's SoftLab and Lego's Robolab system. To get you thinking, these packages ask you to build a measuring system by connecting together sensors, meters and graphs on the screen. Instead of the instant gratification of "click and go", you have to make choices to get started. For example, if you want to examine how a temperature changes over time in Pasco's Data Studio, you drag the temperature sensor icon on to a time graph. You can similarly use the mouse to drag data from your sensors and drop it on to displays such as meters, tables and graphs.

In this way, Data Studio is following a tried and tested idea. But it pushes that idea up a notch to a system that's probably unique. If you want the data from one sensor placed on the x-axis and that of another on the y-axis, you simply drag the data on to each axis. If you want to re-scale the graph, you drag on the axis to pull it in or out. If you want to take a closer look at your data, you can change things or add a table. Even while the system is running, Data Studio lets you change things.

In short, the software is intuitive, flexible and exploits a modern machine's capabilities.

Like much intuitive software, those used to exploring software by clicking around will quickly find what they want to do. For example, they will soon learn how to fit a sine function, take the average reading of a graph or subtract one graph from another.

Yet rather than leave less experienced users to stall and stare at the screen baffled, Data Studio offers a brilliant way forward. When the software starts, it asks if you want to load an experiment workbook - a series of screen pages where the teacher can set out all that's needed to carry out an experiment. On these pages, which you can make yourself, there might be instructions or pictures and graphs ready to take data. In essence, here is a worksheet or lesson organiser that leads beginners by the hand: it can run the data-logging software, tell students how to handle the data or give them questions to answer.

What is distinctive about the workbook is that these screen pages feature fully working software buttons and graphs, rather than simply pages of details. It's a subtle point in practice, but the net result is to make Data Studio perfectly suited to beginners. What's more, if students (or teachers) flounder with data-logging software because they use it infrequently, the guidance and structure the workbook brings to an activity is a way to success.

For anyone using Pasco equipment, Data Studio could well be this year's great discovery. It combines the tools that data-logging software ought to have, from the workbook to create your worksheet to the data's collection and analysis. And, as a sign of its attention to every possible need, there's even an option to create a takeaway edition of the program for students to use at home. With that and all else here that's so well designed for school, Data Studio blows everything else out of the water.

Data Studio pound;79 (free with all Pasco interfaces) Pasco UK

(Instruments Direct)

Tel: 0181 560 5678

www.pasco.comTES Online will take a look at data-logging in the January BETT show edition

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