[conclusion of Hansen and Wilcox article at top of this page]
Arkansas Tech University
As Composition Coordinator and Director of CAL Activities for our department and school (Liberal and Fine Arts), I am involved with every aspect of microcomputing except programming. After learning enough BASIC to compose short instructional programs, I have been unable to find either the time or the expertise to penetrate further into the mysteries of advanced programming. At the same time, I have been examining and trying to use enough ineffective courseware to drive me up the wall. Thus, I was doubly lucky to find THE
AUTHOR, a self-authoring system with which I can write my own stuff.
By "stuff," I mean courseware adequate to meet the needs of my own courses and my own students. Not surprisingly, just about every piece of courseware we have bought or somehow acquired for use in our 18-unit Computer Lab has been deficient in one way or another. Some of it is actually well conceived and pedagogically sound--Educulture's Basic English series, for instance. Even if this is the case (and it rarely is), very often the software just does not suit all instructors in every circumstance; perhaps it is foolish to expect it to do so. In late 1983, I finally threw up my hands and decided to spend the $200+ to acquire the rights and the software to use THE AUTHOR.
When it arrived in the mail, I was at first put off by the bulky black loose-leaf manual. Like most manuals, however, it tells you much more than you really need to know. After perusing the relevant portions, I got the screen displays I needed in order to create lesson menus, instructional frames, and four different kinds of question frames. Everything in THE AUTHOR system is menu-driven, and the menus are models of clarity, covering all the moves that could possibly be made in any given situation. The manual is useful once you have found where the quick fixes are. For each Lesson Package you make, THE AUTHOR offers up to 105 frames, each with the equivalent of 18 lines of information or questions you devise yourself. That much on-screen material takes the students quite a while to work through--about six weeks, working 1-2 hours per week--and it is nice to know that it is material with which you want them spending all that time. The hardest part of working with THE AUTHOR is writing out the frames (on a kind of grid sheet) before you keyboard them into the computer.
But that is the beauty, too, of course--you devise, design, and then actually type in each frame yourself, following your instructional prerogatives. So far, I have written just one six-lesson unit (103 frames, actually) on sentences for my developmental students, and it is working beautifully. It has to, because I composed it all myself just for that group of students. In the planning stage right now are lesson packages for my technical communication and mass media courses, as well as more on composition.
THE AUTHOR is available from Phoenix Systems, St. Paul, MN, under a licensing agreement. I am writing my courseware on a double-drive Apple lle microcomputer, but it may be available for other systems. To rate it against other software of all types I would give it a 9 on a 1-10 scale, on the basis of its accessibility, end use, and lack of glitches. You could go on producing (and even selling) courseware forever with such a friendly helper.