Soft options

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Roger Frost chases that bee in his bonnet about those at the top who sprinkle their software recommendations down to us. Advice and truisms are out...questions are in

There's no challenging advice from the top, and especially when it really does make sense. What they say is "Select the software that supports your teaching objectives". And much of the time that's what people do. But I've a thing about advice and truisms: I don't know what to do with them - not until someone turns them into questions.

It takes a question like "What's your favourite piece of software?" to start to make sense of it. The answer - which is "For what?" - is the trick to buying good ICT for school.

Based on what sells most in schools, an answer for favourite software might be Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, because here are some staples for ICT everywhere. Or ask around the primary schools and you find Textease from Softease to be an incredibly popular choice.

Pretty soon you realise that ICT in schools generates a great list of "For what?" style reasons. Some say it's to teach children about technology they'll meet in the world. Others say that children prefer these packages to pencils and felts so they work harder. There are as many reasons as there are religions.

A curiculum subject teacher might take another view. For example, the tricky ideas of school physics need more than explaining - they need illustrating and experimenting with as if to prove them true. Fable's most recent Force and Motion, that won this year's BETT award for best educational software in secondary schools, is for objectives like this. It is for the nitty gritty of teaching about displacement-time graphs, projectile motion and terminal velocity. It has pure software models that either children can use or teachers can demonstrate. It will not teach anything to do with ICT skills, but then teaching physics isn't about ICT skills.

The message here is that, for teachers, choosing software is not unlike choosing textbooks - they're bought to meet subject objectives and the decisions are local, departmental and often personal. I might be happy to let others decide what colour my PC is, but choosing software is something else. Software bundles and managed services are all about someone else's objectives. If you get one of these and they meet your needs you have been given a gift!

Textease from Softease (various titles within range)Price: pound;39-pound;149www.textease.comForce and MotionPrice: pound;59.95 (GCSE only); and pound;79.95 (Advanced+GCSE)

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