AS-levels

2nd March 2001 at 00:00
AS Guru English. By Nargis Walker, Nancy O'Brien and Hilary Whiteside.

AS Guru Maths. By Stephen Hodges.

AS Guru Biology. By John Graham and Anthony Lewis. BBC Educational Publishing pound;9.99 each.

AS Guru TV. English. Biology. General Studies. Study Skills. The Learning Zone BBC2 Until April 2001.

AS Guru Study Skills video. BBC Worldwide pound;9.99.

AS Guru website. www.bbc.co.ukasguru.

It's good to see a genuinely multimedia publication. Much of what claims to be multi-media hardly justifies the name but this resource, which includes print, video, TV programmes and a website, is a properly integrated package, with a coherent design and approach.

It's also good to see a publisher take on the challenge of AS. Just what is the AS standard? And how should students tackle their AS year? Some teachers have already run into trouble, treating the course like the old A-level. Struggling to integrate key skills, without enough time to plan and liaise with colleagues, has sometimes aggravated the problems. This suite of materials confronts these issues head-on.

A common thread is that AS is different from GCSE and calls for a different attitude and approach to learning. The Study Skills video, which is particularly good, makes no bones about it: if you want to succeed at AS-level, you have to work more independently; don't expect your teacher to give you all the answers. Students are addressed as young adults, expected to play an active part in the teaching and learningprocess.

The content is based on what the publisher calls the "core specification areas" of the subject and "those parts of the core curriculum that have proved the most difficult for students to deal with". This is a slightly suspect concept, given the variety of ways in which the AS specifications meet the subject criteria, and teachers should check coverage before committing to class sets of the books. They may be better used for introduction and revision than as the core text.

The books are clearly written, well produced and, with around 140 colour pages, well priced. The TV programmes are lively and up to date: Rusty Lee on the digestive system, with visual aids, is well worth watching. The programmes can be viewed as a whole or in bite-size chunks which are indexed so that particular sections can be found easily.

The website will, of course, attract most interest, at least while it is still something of a novelty. Besides text, there are animations, notes, activities and a message board. Navigation is simple and hotlinks are thorough. Graphics and animations can make pages slow to load but, if you avoid peak times, this is no problem.

The cross-references between components can be sparse, showing signs that development was not always synchronised, but these are minor blips in an ambitious project that delivers on what it promises. More subjects will be covered next year.

Patrick McNeill

Patrick McNeill is a post-16 education and training consultant


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