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Learning Essentials for Microsoft Office

By Charles G. Doe - Posted Mar 1, 2006
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REPORT CARD
Overall Rating:4 Stars
Installation:A
Content/Features:A
Ease of Use:A
Product Support:B

Company: Microsoft Corp., One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052; Phone: 800/642-7676; Internet: http://www.microsoft.com/education/.

Price: Learning Essentials is available at no cost to schools that have Microsoft Office academic volume licensing plans, although a one-time "media fulfillment cost" may apply, depending on the type of license.

New and existing academic volume licensing customers who order or already have purchased licenses for Microsoft Office can download at no cost from the Microsoft volume license Web site. CD media can be ordered at a one-time cost.

Learning Essentials is available to users of Microsoft Office 2003 Editions or Microsoft Office XP Professional or Standard editions. A large demonstration version is available online.

Audience: Middle school and older students and their teachers.

Format: Online download or CD-ROM.

Minimum System Requirements: Computer with a Pentium 233 MHz processor (Pentium III recommended), 128 MB RAM, up to 50 MB hard disk space for the student component, up to 240 MB hard disk space for the educator component, Super VGA monitor 16-bit or higher supporting 800 x 600 screen resolution.

Also required: Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 (SP4), Windows XP (SP2) or later, and Microsoft Word 2002, Excel 2002, PowerPoint 2002, Office XP or later.

Dial-up or broadband Internet access (provided separately) is useful for the Internet features that are included with parts of the program.

Description: Learning Essentials for Microsoft Office provides education-specific tools for students and teachers to use with Microsoft Office applications, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. The teacher version of the program is larger and helps teachers generate materials for students. Both versions provide customized toolbars, templates, tutorials, and other materials.

Reviewer Comments:

Installation: Installation is automatic if the correct versions of Windows and Office are present, along with the correct processor speeds and enough hard drive space. Learning Essentials, marketed to schools, can be installed from a network connection as well. Installation Rating: A

Content/Features: Learning Essentials is intended to help middle or high school students and their teachers improve their productivity with Microsoft Office by providing tools designed for the most frequently used Office applications. The program provides teachers with tools to help students learn how to work with Office and also offers some helps for students.

The package features curriculum-based templates and toolbars for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel; academic tutorials created by various education publishers; and other materials. Teachers can use the larger educator version of Learning Essentials for help in creating instructional resources and handling administrative tasks.

The toolbars appear as needed, either for a project-specific purpose or when specific templates are used. The toolbars offer access to resources such as foreign language dictionaries or bibliography assistance and commands for writing, math, and science. Some toolbars provide easy access to Office tools including equation editor, math symbols, and foreign language editing and translation tools.

The templates designed for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint provide starting places for assignments. Students don't have to spend additional time working with sometimes complicated layouts before beginning a project. The 64 templates for students cover writing projects, science reports and presentations, and more. The 117 templates for teachers cover classroom handouts and presentations, grading rubrics, managing classrooms, and more. Teachers can easily create additional templates with tools included in the teacher version.

The tutorials have been developed by Houghton Mifflin, Pearson Prentice Hall, SchoolKIT, and others. The tutorials often accompany templates and walk students through the process of doing good work. The 28 student tutorials include guides for creating thesis statements and proofreading. The Writing Process tutorial helps students successfully complete the four basic stages of writing. Among the 39 tutorials for teachers is Designing Great Projects, which outlines the characteristics of successful project-based instruction.

Learning Essentials also includes Microsoft Producer, an add-on to PowerPoint that synchronizes audio and video with text and graphic images.

The program's Educator and Student Centers help quick-start common assignments and tasks. The side-by-side Project Assistance windows and Checklists provide guidance and coaching and help track progress. The Create Test Wizard helps educators design tests and quizzes without having to take time out for formatting.

Learning Essentials is available in a variety of country/language editions.

All in all, this is a great addition for school districts with the correct versions of Microsoft Office. Content/Features Rating: A

Ease of Use: In the sense that Learning Essentials contains lots of documentation and an intuitive interface, it is easy to use. However, like Office itself, this program is large, intended for a variety of tasks, and complicated to learn. Teachers will need to take time to explore it well in advance, and many students will need help as they use various parts of the program. Ease of Use Rating: A

Product Support: Technical Support is available online at http://support.microsoft.com/. I could find no direct contact information on any of the materials or on the Microsoft Web site. As with other Microsoft products, users are apparently intended to figure out specific problems with the included documentation or the online material. That should cover most situations, but it will not cover all. Product support would be greatly improved with the possibility of some sort of personal contact. Product Support Rating: B

Recommendation: Learning Essentials is a useful and inexpensive addition to Windows for middle school and older students, in schools with the appropriate technology. The program may even be appropriate for some upper elementary use.

Unfortunately, for economic reasons, this program won't be used for quite some time in a school district like mine. Our older computers and older versions of Office are not compatible with Learning Essentials, and my district isn't likely to purchase computers and software that meet the program's requirements for several years.

Overall, Learning Essentials is inexpensive enough for schools that use the correct versions of Microsoft Office and I recommend it to them. Recommended.

Reviewer: Charles Doe, Elementary Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, Central Elementary School, 509 S. Broadway, Hastings, MI 49058; 616/948-4423; charliegd@iserv.net.


 
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