Free steps to heaven

14th April 2000 at 01:00
It can be a very expensive business. Once you've bought the school computers, there's a big clamour for software...but before you dip into the school funds why not trawl the Web for some free software. Jack Kenny investigates.

We may now be used to what it offers, but the Internet's generosity is still astonishing. The amount and quality of materials freely available to open up creativity is amazing. And, as they are free, teachers feel more able to experiment, a position helped by the fact that the Net does not recognise the divisions we accept in schools as the norm.

You might teach music but couldn't you enjoy using a paint program? Why shouldn't an English teacher be using Image Composer or a geographer Paintshop Pro?

Freeware is exactly as it says. Simply locate the program you need, download it and it is yours. Shareware is similar except that you are given time to use it and at the end of that time, usually a month, you are expected to pay for it; a sort of try before you buy system.


Install this piece of shareware and you will be able to create, manipulate and transform images. Via an easy-to-use interface, this powerful program allows painting, illustration and photo editing and lets users manipulate images by adding filters and distortions. For example, you can take an image such as a photograph taken by a digital camera and make it look like a watercolour or an Impresionist painting. The amount of control you have over the final image is remarkable and was previously only available if you were prepared to shell out far more money. In terms of educational value a program like this can increase visual appreciation by allowing users to compare changes they have made to an image.



Cool Edit Pro is a digital audio software package using most computers' sound cards that is easy to learn and lets users mix up to 64 tracks - a bit like having professional audio equipment in one easy-to-use package. It turns your computer into a compact recording studio, so you can use it to record your own music, voice or other audio, then edit it, mix it with other sounds and add effects to it such as reverb, chorus and echo.



This is a program you should try even if you are only mildly musical and even if your grasp of music theory is tenuous. It may only use the keyboard of your computer, but you will be surprised what this can do. It's a 256-track MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) sequencer that also has an audio track, which means you can have a vocal or some live drums too. You can use the Sound Recorder in Windows to sample a vocal from one of your favourite CDs or try recording your own by plugging a microphone into your sound card.

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