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7th April 2000 at 01:00
TEACH YOURSELF THE INTERNET. By David and Rhonda Crowder. IDG Books pound;18.99. USING THE INTERNET TO IMPROVE TEACHING AND LEARNING. By Mike Battersby. Learning Online pound;7.99. CREATING YOUR FIRST WEB PAGE. By Alan Simpson. CliffsNotes pound;6.99. YOUR OWN WEBSITE: All You Need To Know. By Bill Thompson. Hodder Activators, pound;3.99.

There are half a dozen computer manuals on my bookshelves, with an average price of more than pound;20, each of which has taken me several steps beyond where I was.

The most expensive of these three guides is also the best. The target audience for Teach Yourself The Internet is "a beginning-to-intermediate PC user who isn't afraid to take charge of his or her own learning experience". The format is simple. The left-hand page contains instruction and commentary, while the right presents four illustrative screen shots. Each chapter begins with a "Master These Skills" listing. And, to encourage an attitude of self-study, each ends with a quiz.

There is a particularly good section on e-mail, which starts with the basics but quickly moves on into advanced areas, such as encrypting messages. The last few chapters get into webpage design using Netscape's Composer. A useful how-to tome for an ICT co-ordinator to lend to colleagues.

Mike Battersby's much slimmer book has been written in the spirit of the ew Opportunities Fund training schemes, looking at the Internet from a when-it-makes-sense-to-use-it point of view.

There is an attempt to leaven a serious educational approach with cartoons, used as reader alerts. (A cup of tea icon introduces something that "can take some time".) But bad organisation, clumsy writing and missing illustrations (p46) make this a slipshod book. Three full-page picture-spreads look at first as if they should be referred to in the text, but turn out to be advertisements.

Creating Your First Web Page in the distinctive CliffsNotes range is a much crisper affair. Using FrontPage Express as the authoring tool, it runs at a rate of knots through beginning the page, adding lines and lists, placing graphics, making hyperlinks, creating tables, and finally publishing to the Internet. For those who want to keep things brisk and simple, it does its job well enough.

But why fight shy of HTML, the code that creates all these effects? The best and cheapest introduction to HTML I've found is a children's book, Your Own Website, published in the Hodder Activators series. Get hold of this little gem by Bill Thompson, and you'll be able to tweak your designs in ways that are concealed from those who only know how to use authoring tools such as Composer and FrontPage.


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