The course evaluated is Economics for Schools, but this detailed user review is relevant to any WinEcon course

WinEcon is a software package, available by download, for teaching economics. The software contains tutorial material, relevant theory, interactive exercises, self-assessment questions, economic databases and an economic glossary. It provides much of the required information that any GCSE, AS/A2, AVCE, BTEC National Diploma/Certificate or HNC level student - in a variety of disciplines - may need in their study, or research, of Economics and Economic theory.

It is organised by chapter such as Supply and Demand, for instance and each is further broken down into manageable sub-headings (topics) which contain a variety of text and graphical output. The program proved as useful to the students as an easily accessible textbook, and the PowerPoint type presentation of some of the content improved the interest shown by some of the students within the trial groups.

Classroom use

It proved very simple to load the program onto a variety of PCs and laptops in an FE College situation where the product has been visited by a range of candidates at a variety of ability levels from GCSE up to Access to HE level (for a complete list of trial candidates please see the Schemes of Work section).

A number of candidates, including BTEC National/VCE and Access to Higher Education students, have used the information available within the program to complete a Level 3 assessment vehicle.

The program has also been used, in conjunction with digital projectors and/or interactive whiteboards, in group teaching situations and a variety of lecturers and student groups have reported that the program has added value to the learning experience by graphically illustrating varying aspects of the subject and assisting student recall and use of aspects of economic theory.

The interactive nature of some of the animations and activities proved immeasurably useful in explaining, for example, Supply and Demand Theory and its real-world applications.

The program’s ability to be used as a Web-based resource as well as the opportunity to extract topics of information for out of Centre use, whether on-line using the external links from the College’s LAN or via interactive handouts, assisted in the production of learning materials that proved more interesting, relevant and easier to assimilate than the traditional typed hand-outs.

Tutors are able to create web pages in Word, or similar, which can be linked to the WinEcon software by creating Word pages containing hyperlinks to appropriate points in the WinEcon package which, when clicked on, will automatically open the WinEcon software at the required topic. This latter ability is extremely useful for student learning. They are able to access the LAN or individual PCs where the software is loaded and, for offsite use, candidates can purchase a student copy of the software at, currently, £12.99 per installation.

What is usual is for teachers to use the software to produce interactive handouts and/or links to Web-based resources from the WinEcon software and these are used by students for study purposes when in any of the College’s numerous buildings and outreach Centres.

The LAN-based materials aided students to work on directed study in their own time, self-directed study and on a variety of team activities – presentations, brochures, fact sheets, etc. There were numerous examples of students using the materials to prepare/revise theory and application before lectures and of the same students adding to lecture notes after lectures.

The program also assisted in the production, and answer, of formative tasks and tests as well as the answers to a number of summative portfolio exercises.

Labour saving aspects

The volume of materials available has reduced preparation times for the delivery of Supply and Demand Theory, for example, as all of the necessary materials for the teaching of the theory are available within the program.

This also occurred with students studying various units such as Business Organisations and the External Environment; Business Environment; Introduction to the Principles of Economics; Economic Theories and Concepts.

Learning outcomes The program can be used across a varied selection of Business and Economics courses where the quality and volume of available resource assists candidates to acquire the relevant theory and to apply such theory in assessment vehicles.

In classroom situations it has been used, with digital projectors, to reinforce the candidates' learning experience and, by involving the candidates in its interactive activities, to enable candidates to produce outcomes for complex economic theory.

Whilst the use of the software with WebCT and interactive whiteboards could not be evaluated within the College of Further Education where it was tested as such facilities are not available within the College at this time, there is no doubt, however, that the program can be used in such activities as its ability to Web link and work across a variety of computing platforms. This was proven using the College’s LAN and some off-site learning by some of the students.

Student Response

Apart from some criticism from students with limited attention spans the program has been enthusiastically used by all of the test groups in both classroom and research activities.

Special Needs

[The customisation features available would make it very easy to include or exclude topics to suit varying abilities]

The attainment level of candidates at which the program is aimed are expected to have Level 2 or 3 Communication and Numeracy skills and the language style in which the program is written would make understanding difficult for candidates with lower level language and numeracy skills.

If there is any fault at all to report it is that the completeness of the information does, at times, make the using of the program a little too boring for students of lower-level abilities as the book-like nature of the screen graphics and text does not match the requirements of these members of the trial groups. It proved difficult for these candidates to dip in and out of the program and retain the information provided.

There was also little to hold the attention of those students who are easily distracted and who expect this type of media to be more interactive.

Though I didn't have the chance to do this, the publisher claims that use of the Web-linking features of the software allows tutors to create Web-based courseware that itself dips in and out of the program using the hyperlinks to WinEcon. In this way, the software could be customised to use only the more interactive screens and to add additional/alternative explanations, instructions and summaries.

Assessment and pupil tracking opportunities

Each topic area contains a useful review section which candidates are able to complete at their leisure.

The on-board interactive exercises, self-assessment questions, economic databases and economic glossary ensures that the program can be used to assist student understanding.

The volume and breadth of the theory available within the program is such that all candidates have seized the opportunity to use the program's research and reference capabilities in a variety of assessment types ranging from 10,000 word Business Reports for HNC students through to on-going portfolio production by AVCE students.

Whilst the software has no built in pupil tracking, I believe that use of the Web-linking features allows the software to be integrated with the course management systems which could provide pupil tracking.

Design and navigation

The pages of information are colourful and contain a variety of text and graphics, all of which are relevant to the study of Economics.

It is organised into chapters (Supply and Demand for instance) and each chapter is further broken down into manageable sub-headings (topics such as Demand Curve of an Individual) which contain a variety of text and graphical output.

The information contained within the program proved simple to access by all candidates, even where little instruction had been given on the program's use. This ease of use, it has been reported, has meant that the trial groups have been able to access materials in advance of lectures and to use materials not covered in lectures in assignment responses.

The easy to read and easy to use Table of Contents enabled students to seek and find information that was relevant to tasks, or the course, and to use such information in its correct context when responding to formative or summative tasks.

The ability to interact with economic models and to amend input data to produce differing results really helped students to grasp certain economic theory, as, through self-study, they were able to question models and observe the effects on outcomes.

Students thought, generally, that the contents were more than adequate for the purpose of understanding economic theory and that they were easier to understand than similar information taken from textbooks. However there was a split response as to the quality of the contents with some students thinking them to be too detailed and others too basic.

Students enjoyed testing their knowledge within the program, particularly when working independently on tests, and of having the ability to revert to passages where their knowledge wasn’t as good as they had assumed it was.

Planning

One planning issue is ensuring the availability of the correct hardware and software to use the program in classroom situations and, on rare occasions, on interactive whiteboards.

Lesson plans had to be amended to make adequate use of the program but, in all test cases, the information and activities available within the program ensure that candidates are always working towards the achievement of a qualification's Scheme of Work.

Schemes of work supported by Economics for Schools

The course Economics for Education is primarily aimed at the delivery of A/S and A2 Economics but it can, with little effort from the tutor, be used as a support option for the delivery of -

  • BTEC National Diploma/Certificate and Award in Business
  • BTEC Higher National Diploma/Certificate in Business
  • VCE Business and a variety of Access to Higher Education Units

There appears to be sufficient detail available for educators in Higher Education to consider the use of the program for Foundation Degrees and the First Year of Undergraduate programs of study, although a version covering the full first year degree course is available [Introductory Economics].

Literacy

The program is written to the expected literacy standards of level 3 and 4 candidates. If the literacy standards of candidates are below these levels then clarification and assistance has to be given in order to ensure effective understanding by the candidates. There is no doubt that regular use of this program will increase the literacy levels of some candidates and expand the vocabulary of others.

Numeracy

The comments on Literacy apply equally to comments about expected numeracy standards.

Ease of installation

The program was downloaded from the vendor's web-site and saved on to CD. Alternatively, the sofware can be installed and networked onto a LAN. The licensing password proved easy to obtain and to use and the program's installation procedures ensured that the product was simple to install on various types of PC. The hardware chosen for the test ranged from older Intel 486 based machines through to Pentium 2.6Ghz machines which had a variety of Hard Disc sizes and RAM ranging from 64Mb through to 512 Mb and a variety of Operating Systems, Windows 98, 2000 and XP.

In all cases, it is pleasing to note that the program ran without difficulty.

Support materials

The program is well supported by its 'Help' files and the on-going student support materials relating to each topic area.