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Seminar4Web authoring tool reviewed

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Title: Seminar4Web CDROM e-learning authoring tool
Publisher: Information Transfer
Price: Single user £1595 + VAT; up to 5 users £4995 + VAT

The puff in Information Transfer's leaflet promises that "this is the system you can learn in half a morning and go on to make effective and elegant learning programmes within a matter of days". For a change this is no exaggeration.

The Seminar4web authoring system offers a simple and quickly mastered way to assemble PC or web based learning and assessment packages without the hassle of having to know how the machine actually performs its magic (more on this later). Based around a series of simple templates, the system allows you to assemble both information screens and interactive tests and quizzes.

The starting off point is to select the type of screen, called sets, which you want to use. These range from simple text and graphic information screens to true/false, yes/no, multiple choice, ranking, matching and text entry test screens. All offer the option of graphics and a variety of layouts as well as the usual choice of background. Simple tools also allow for the insertion of hotspots to call up pop-up screens, graphics, voice, sound effects or video at the click of the mouse. Optional links to more in-depth material, other files, video, websites and so on can also be easily inserted.

However, it is the assessment tools that win the day. All types of question are quick and easy to set up and an instant "view" facility allows them to be tested straight away without any tedious exiting and running of programmes. A vital component is the built in scoring system which keeps track of the user's achievement. Scoring can be set to either learning or assessment mode (the former allows multiple goes). Although I couldn't quite get it running, the programme also allows for optional material to appear dependant on how well the user is doing (eg extra revision material if low scoring). Another useful sounding feature is the ability to call up a questions from a bank to create random tests.

But, there is a price to pay for Seminar4web's simplicity of use. Whilst each type of screen offers several options I can imagine quickly becoming frustrated with their inflexibility. This causes problems when the various screen components are not quite what you want... you know, the kind of situation where in PowerPoint you adjust the box size just a smidgen to get that last word in or change the layout to inject a bit of variety. Well, as far as I can see you can't move or adjust anything in Seminar4web (except basic text style, size, colours etc). This may not cause too many problems for simple applications but I am sure that any serious user would hit upon lots of occasions when a little bit of jiggery-pokery would be useful!

The programme also has some minor but irritating features. For instance:

  • All multiple choice answer and pop-up text boxes are in white. The only way to colour them (not very satisfactorily) is by using a sort of hi-lighter pen effect... why not allow us to select a background colour?
  • The "final comment" box seems only to be available for some screens... why not make it a standard feature?
  • Why is it that upon giving a wrong answer in some types of question the cursor flips over to the try again tab... but not in others?
  • Then what about the backgrounds? Many of the patterns have such a wide range of contrast that text becomes difficult to read (in fact I preferred the simpler textures).
  • Finally, who designed the main planner page? Whilst the simple and graphic insert icons are great the cumbersome and confusing page/set navigation system isn't!

All of which brings us to price. The cost is obviously geared to the big corporates (Abbey National, Glaxo, ICL, Kellog's and Shell are cited in the puff). This leaves the smaller organisations and independents with a pretty hefty bill for a pretty limited tool . In fact, I can't help comparing it with the much more sophisticated (and hence more difficult) Illuminatus v4.5 that I got as a free cover disc.

So, overall... if you have the cash and know that all you want is a simple to use tool then Seminar4web is probably a good buy. If you want more, or want to spend less, look out for a cover disc on a PC mag near you!


Seminar4Web was reviewed by Neil Wellman, NetWork Associates.

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