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Information Technology for Advanced Level
by Julian Mott and Anne Leeming
published in 1998 by Hodder & Stoughton
307pp ISBN 0-340-71180-9 £16.99
'A' Level Information Technology
by Pat M Heathcote
published in 1998 by Payne-Gallway publishers
370pp ISBN 0-9532490-0-X £14.99
Information Technology for Advanced Level
The aim of both of the above textbooks is to provide a comprehensive and concise covering of all topics studied for an A Level course in Information Technology. Both books refer to the Northern Examinations and Assessment Board (NEAB) and the books are structured in a modular way to compliment the format of A & AS Level courses.
The book by Mott and Leeming is split into two sections CORE and EXTENSION. The Core section of the book covers the Core 1 and Core 2 sections of the syllabus which make up the examinable part of the AS Level. The Extension section covers the Extension 1 and Extension 2 sections, which together with the Core make up the full A Level. This book also includes a project chapter that gives advice on how to tackle projects for the NEAB syllabus. This section provides students with suggestions for possible projects and bulleted lists of what should be included. Although this book provides both student and teacher with clarity in relation to modular coverage, I felt that when teaching a particular topic such as communications the book became a little disjointed. I found myself skipping backwards and forwards between chapters to ensure that I had provided full coverage.
The Heathcote book however, although it has taken a similar approach in its structure appears to flow more easily. The book is divided into 5 sections, within a section, each chapter covers material which could be taught in one or two lessons. Sections 1 to 3 contain the topics that are needed for the AS Level and the remainder of the book covers the second year. Section 3 also deals with topics that will help students to tackle a minor project such as specification and analysis, design, implementation and testing and documentation. This book provides students with a thorough breakdown of requirements for the projects and discusses the main issues surrounding project work. The depth in which it is addressed can be reflected through its some 20 pages on the topic as opposed to the 6 in the Leeming and Mott book.
Another useful section in the Heathcote book is the NEAB syllabus review, this breaks down the syllabus and deals with the assessment scheme, topic coverage and the project marking schemes. This section proved to be useful to the students I was teaching and myself as it is an accessible reference source to the syllabus which saved me 'digging out' my copy of the NEAB syllabus every time I wanted to check something. Having the list of topics to be covered in each module also provided the students with an opportunity to consider their knowledge in each area, this would also be useful for revision purposes.
In terms of subject coverage although both books are very thorough I feel that again Heathcote has the edge. The book offers deeper explanation, where as the Mott and Leeming book skims over the surface with brief information supported by bulleted lists and case studies. In using these books for teaching A-Level for the first time I found myself referring to the Mott and Leeming book for a basis to start and then using the Heathcote book to ensure that the students received a deeper and fuller understanding.
Heathcote and Mott and Leeming use case studies to illustrate IT topics in practice, in both cases they are used well. Whilst teaching A-Level from these books I found that the use of case studies secured students understanding and placed the theory they had learnt into some context, therefore making the subject a little more tangible.
One other point in relation to structure and layout, and although a minor issue it can be all the same frustrating. It is important for me to be able to access information quickly. I hate having to plough through pages and pages to find a particular topic, I feel it is important that textbooks have good content and index listings and I know that is a sentiment shared by many of my colleagues. In the case of the books above I found the contents page of the Mott and Leeming book to be a little sparse, one line descriptions with no further indication of content. The Heathcote book has a comprehensive content page (or should I say pages) that details each section, the chapters within and a list of the topics covered within the chapter. The indexes in both books were generally on a par, although both could benefit from being more completely comprehensive.
Mott and Leeming used end of chapter questions and also at the end of each section (Core & Extension) used revision questions and also provided an answers section at the back of the book. Heathcote used questions at the end of each chapter but did not offer as many questions and did not provide any answers section. I generally used the questions in the Mott and Leeming book but found it quite infuriating that not all answers were supplied, the answers provide students with a good model to base their own answering technique on and it is a shame, specifically in Heathcote, that this not utilised fully.
In my opinion in terms of page layout and presentation the Mott and Leeming book offers an eye-catching layout which is easy on the eye. The pages are split into columns that are easier to read and grab/maintain the reader's attention as opposed to the standard page layout used by Heathcote. The Heathcote typeface appears to be a little more condensed where as the Mott and Leeming is nicely spaced giving the page a fresher look. In relation to illustrations the Heathcote book offers dark screenshots and illustrations which in some cases needed to be inspected closely if they are to be at all legible. The Mott and Leeming book offers clearer illustrations however, both could benefit from a little more colour. I understand the financial constraints behind coloured illustrations and if this cannot be, then authors should give more consideration to the complexity of the illustrations they try to print in black and white.
Generally, both books offer a good coverage and content of A & AS Level courses. Students and teachers can make good use of both of these books and I certainly have utilised them both fully. They offer value for money although I consider the Heathcote book to have the edge in terms of content. I would imagine that most IT teachers would find the books an invaluable reference tool, whether they are teaching GCSE, GNVQ or A Level.
I would recommend both books as the content and advice contained within them is pragmatic and if followed closely is likely to raise the standard of students' work. The student using the Mott and Leeming book would achieve a good grade in their IT A Level, however, I think the user of the Heathcote book may achieve a little higher as result of the more substantial content.
Student Teacher, Liverpool John Moores University
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