Title: Book Workshop
This is a simple and fun program. The installation was stress free, and the user is given the option
of installing the entire program to the hard disk so that the CD isn't required to run the package in future.
This is vital if a teacher is to use the software with an entire class. The first annoying glitch was the fact
that the program can only run in 256-colour mode. I imagine that the programmers have the web in mind,
but since the program uses only it's own colours and users don't import graphics, this seems unnecessary.
The interface is obviously designed for children, much of the icons on the tool bar will be familiar to users
of MS Word but are larger and spaced further apart. I still think help balloons and rollovers would have been
a useful extra. When the user opens a new book, they see a picture frame and a blank area for the text.
The picture can be placed in a number of default positions, moved freehand and resized which gives the
user a lot of control over the layout. At the bottom of the page are two hands, which allow users to turn
to the previous or next page; such intuitive icons are well suited to young children. Blank comments pages
can be inserted into the book, which allow teachers to write in corrections or praise on a printed copy.
I found some novel features in the extras menu such as "read selection/read
story" that reads what the student
has written in a synthesised voice, as if Stephen Hawkings had an English accent. This can teach children
pronunciation as well as providing an alternative to the conventional spellchecker, which is also featured.
It also does some of the teacher's work, which could save time in a busy class. This menu also contains
the "Insert Hyperlink" feature. This allows the reader to jump backwards or forwards to a particular page.
While most users are unlikely to experiment with non-linear narrative structures, it is a nice introduction to
thinking about links, a key concept in web design. The other screen is the picture edit area. We liked the
large "Oh No!" button for the undo function. There are plenty of materials such as backgrounds and readymade
images that can be placed anywhere on the screen with the Stamp tool to kick-start the imagination. Students
seem to respond to the visual aspects of the program more as it is much easier to get satisfying results with the
pictures than to think of something to write. This is not the fault of the designers, just human nature. To be fair,
it is possible to create strange and interesting pictures (Aliens wandering around desserts of Main St., Anytown
in a couple of clicks) which could inspire some interesting stories, but that is largely a matter of the child's disposition.
A lot of the image editing tools are found in professional packages such as Flash and Photoshop, and this program
could serve sa a user-friendly introduction to working with such programs.
When the book is finished, the student can print it or put it on the web via
a link to the company's website.
The students I used this program with mostly enjoyed it an didn't run into many major difficulties, the students
would have to be creative by nature to get the most out of this program. It is certainly a change from the more
passive forms of entertainment offered by software and will make users think for themselves.
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