It's time to forget the technology and concentrate on the communication, says John Davitt, introducing this year's crop of software with an increasingly human touch.
POSSIBLY last year's ugliest acronym, ICT was born at the Bett'98 technology show, giving IT the push even before the turkey was cold. The only good thing about the term is communication - the key point for English teachers.
Constant development has given rise to many fine tools for writing and publishing. Word processors (some that speak what you write, some that even listen and copy what you say), multimedia authoring software and web-page creators are all becoming ubiquitous - and increasingly affordable. The key question now is how to graft them into the curriculum as servants in the writing and communication process.
This year we can forget the technology and concentrate on the communication. It's also time to lift our eyes from the keyboard and consider the bigger picture. Voice recognition has come of age 20 years before expected, and many systems allow human speech to be rendered into text on screen. It's not just dyslexic students or keyboard-phobic teachers who will celebrate. DragonDictate now claims 95 per cent accuracy, and Aptech is developing its use alongside KeySpell, an intelligent spell- checker that diagnoses types of spelling mistakes and offers appropriate guidance.
Other human processes will receive digital endorsement this year as Kath Balcombe's excellent Handwriting for Windows software goes on sale (Inclusive Technology and Rickitt Educational Media). This allows any electronic text, from Encarta to a student's own work, to be displayed on screen and printed out in properly joined-up letters. It will prove a boon for dyslexic students and primary teachers wanting to generate easy-to-read labels.
Europress has probably been one of the most prolific, and the most overlooked, UK software producer, but it has quietly assembled an excellent stable of CD-Roms with a weather eye on literacy. Its chairman, Derek Meakin, sees ICT as a powerful tool for building literacy in the home. He says:"Research shows mother does most of the home reading. Boys assume books are a feminine pastime. It would make a tremendous difference if fathers read with their sons for at least 10 minutes a day, even if they do it with the help of their home computer." Starting to Read, with its clear-cut guide to phonics, word recognition and sentence building, is worth a particular look. The company also has some free titles available for primary schools as part of a literacy scheme.
The much-acclaimed Wellington Square reading books from Thomas Nelson are now available at levels 3 and 4 on CD-Rom (PC and Mac) from Granada Learning (Semerc). The discs contain "talking book" interactive books and more than 100 classroom activities designed to boost the confidence of the older but less able reader. It is a model of how good book materials can be enhanced and extended by appropriate multimedia and good screen design.
Developers are also starting to consider how networks and the Internet will change the format of English learning materials. The English Romantic Poets, from Headstrong Interactive, is a multimedia program designed with the school network in mind. It features more than 60 poems with sound, biographies and historical background supported by pictures and original prints. It is designed to be run on any number of stations. A second title, on the War Poets, will be previewed at BETT. Interactive interviews with some of the poets will feature as audio files.
s for making your own multimedia, there is now plenty of choice. This software mixes graphics, text, and sound in one interactive environment. HyperStudio, available from TAG, is starting to show its age, and the latest Textease Multimedia from Softease will offer it serious competition. Available for PC, Mac and Acorn, it combines multimedia authoring with speaking word processing. The latest version has web-page making built in, so student work can start on paper, migrate to screen, become a piece of multimedia and end up as a page on the network or the Internet. The new software also includes text flow, and drag and drop options to insert live video clips. Schools have long seen the potential for students to write in a variety of media but software has been too costly. The first company with a sensible site licence for multimedia authoring will reap a big dividend - maybe it will be Softease.
* BETT CONNECTIONS Aptech stand SN55 01661 860999 www.keyspell.com
Europress stand H48 01625 855000 www.europress.co.uk
Granada LearningSEMERC stands SN9 F40 0161 827 2927 www.granada-learning.com
Headstrong Interactive stand Q46 01484 660770 www.headstrong.demon.co.uk
Inclusive Technology stand SN1 01457 819790 www.inclusive.co.uk
Rickitt Educational Media stand D102 01458 253636 www.r-e-m.co.uk
Softease stand M22 01332 204911 www.textease.com
TAG Development stand F50 01474 537886 www.tagdev.co.uk