Learning to drive

24 Apr 2003

The latest version of ECDL’s computer-based learning program is taken for a test drive

The European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) Foundation, the governing body of the leading computer certificate program ECDL, launched Syllabus Version 4.0 (SV4) in Dublin last month.

SV4, a CD-Rom self-paced program, lists the facts to be known and the skills that must be mastered for a candidate to achieve ECDL certification.

According to David Carpenter, CEO of the ECDL Foundation, some three million people in the world are now ECDL certified, with some 12 million tests having been conducted through a network of 15,000 test centres. “In Ireland, over 220,000 people have taken the ECDL test, representing 6pc of the overall population and 12pc of Ireland’s working population,” he adds.

SV4 was developed by the foundation through a two-year process that incorporated inputs from computer professionals, computer societies and expert groups around the world.

Educational Multimedia Corporation (EMC), based in the Digital Hub, is the first e-learning company in Ireland to provide the SV4 courseware. So, rather than simply writing about the training course, this journalist decided to try the hands-on approach.

SV4 provides interactive multimedia-based learning that builds on the skills sets and knowledge contained in Version 3.0. The difference with SV4 is that it reflects current practice and functionality in software and includes security issues such as viruses and downloading from the internet, the use of e-commerce for everyday transactions and user awareness of content copyright from the internet.

The courseware contains everything necessary to pass ECDL, covering each of the seven modules in a simple, jargon-free way. The seven modules are Concepts of Information Society, Using a Computer and Managing Files, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Databases/Filling Systems, Presentations and Drawings and Information Networks. Each module is self-contained, which allows you to work through the course in any order.

The program itself is password protected and each module provides practical exercises to build up the user’s skills. These progress records and test scores are stored into an individual file, the My ECDL Data file.

As for the course itself, the program instructions and test exercises took a little bit of getting used to, but within minutes I got into the swing of things.

The first module, Concepts of Information Technology, involves understanding the basics such as the make-up of a PC in terms of hardware and software, data storage and memory.

As a fairly well-experienced computer user, I did wonder beforehand how much I was going to learn. But I soon found out that the ECDL program was not a walkover. For example, take this question: “True or false, input devices give instructions to the CPU [central processing unit]?” Now give yourself 10 seconds and if your answer is true, you’re wrong. Input devices send data to the CPU.

Module two, Using the Computer and Managing Files, requires the user to practice adjusting the main settings, use the built-in help features and deal with a non-responding application. This module also covers important issues such as security and virus protection. The next module, Word Processing, requires the user to create, format and finish small-sized documents. The word processing applications used to create standard tables, pictures and images within a document was deceptively easy.

Ever since my first experience at the hands of a sadistic computer teacher in secondary school, I have had a phobia of spreadsheets and databases. Perhaps after a month or so of ECDL therapy I will return to tackle these modules, four and five respectively.

Having had previous experience with using presentation tools on a computer, module six was straightforward. It requires users to accomplish tasks such as creating, formatting, modifying and preparing presentations using different slide layouts for display and printed distribution. However, for someone new to such tools, this module and its tasks may take a little longer to accomplish. Again, module seven on information and communication proves relatively easy for people already familiar with the internet and email.

Overall, the course is extremely thorough, rigorous and in some areas laborious in its coverage. The texts are easy to read, accessible and with its self-paced environment the user can pitch the program at an appropriate level. It is clearly written, well structured and can be accompanied by a voiceover if required. The text is illustrated with clear screenshots that are well used and annotated.

The main benefit of computer-based learning such as this ECDL program is that you can learn at your own pace, with the option of repeating topics or jumping to anywhere in the course that needs particular attention. My Achilles heel was the spreadsheet and database modules.

ECDL SV4 is available from EMC for €180 and is an invaluable teaching and learning resource. There are some 500 ECDL-authorised centres nationwide. These include schools, universities and vocational colleges, as well as private and State-run training courses — so there is bound to be a centre near you.

By Lisa Deeney