3.2 Software

ITGS students need a thorough understanding of the underlying information technology in everyday systems. This chapter covers the ITGS syllabus section 3.2 Software, with links to other areas including 3.3 Networks, 3.10 IT Systems in Organisations, and 1.1 Reliability. The book introduces the main types of software, including application software and operating systems. Students will learn the common types of software licence and be introduced to concepts such as cloud computing. Resources to support the textbook include:

  • Operating systems
  • Platforms
  • Common operating systems
  • Selecting and installing an operating system
  • Utility software
  • Disk fragmentation
  • Backups
  • Application software
  • Software licences
  • Open source versus closed source
  • Cloud computing
  • User interfaces
  • Getting help
  • Software reliability
  • Case Study: Therac-25
Accessiblity options

Computer accessibility for disabled users

Computer accessibility for disabled users is fundamentally tied to the equality of access social / ethical issue. The Disability and Access section of BBC Bitesize is a good introduction to this topic, covering appropriate input and output devices. Both Microsoft and Apple have sections on their web sites that detail the accessibility features in their hardware and software.

Speech recognition is a common technology for physically disabled users - HowStuffWorks explains the technology behind it. Recently an Indian teenager created a device to convert breath into speech, desired for users with severe speech difficulties.

BrowseAloud is acessibility software for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. It includes functions to make text reading easier, including text to speech and colour highlighting.

Speaks4Me is a system to help autistic children communicate. Invented by a father who could find no useful system for his autistic son, the software runs on mobile devices and has a touch interface.

Another development currently being worked on is the ability to control a computer use brainwaves. Computer That Reacts To Thought A Lifeline For Brain Injured (Science Daily) and Voice recognition software reads your brain waves (New Scientist) are a good introduction to this topic.

This BBC news article and video shows a Cambridge lab where they test how elderly people use technology - the results are startling and highlight that a digital divide can occur in many situations.

Finally, The Madtoe Strikes Again: Hands-free Graphic Design is an inspiring story of a young man who, despite having limited motor control, creates graphic designs. The page details the variety of hardware and software systems he uses to create his work.

The Education page contains details of hardware and software specifically designed for people with special educational needs.
Updated: 2014-10-02

Computer Fundamentals: Case Study

Bright Futures Academy Case Study. This case study lets student apply their knowledge of hardware, software, and networking concepts, with strong links to social and ethical issues and impacts. It is useful, if used with good supporting resources, when you have a class of students with very mixed IT background and existing knowledge.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Revision flashcards

Lesson resources: Revision Flashcards

Online revision Flashcards to test students on the key hardware terms. The 'Learn' and 'Test' modes of Quizlet work best.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Keyword bingo game

Lesson resources: Keyword Bingo

Give students one or two cards containing ITGS key words, then read out the definitions. The first student to get all key words wins. This set of cards covers only key terms related to the Hardware and Software chapters of the book. Download: Student cards, teacher clues.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Textbook exercise - Operating systems

Exercise 3-1

Suggested rubric for this exercise, which asks students to create a presentation arguing for either FOSS or commercial software.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Computer software introduction

Introduction to Computer Software

Computer Software in Plain English is a video from CommonCraft which offers a clear introduction to computer software. IGCSE ICT also has clear text and diagrams that are useful in teaching this topic. Both resources are very accessible to ITGS students with little or no prior IT knowledge.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Fragmentation lesson activity

Fragmentation game activity

"The Defragmentation Game" aims to help students understand disk fragmentation and defragmentation by using a set of cards. Each card is numbered (to represent the sectors used by a file when it is stored on disk) and is available in a variety of colours (to represent different files). The cards can be used by the teacher to explain the key concepts, or students can be asked to read about fragmentation and then explain what they have learnt using the cards.

The cards are available in PDF format and as an SVG file that can be edited.

This activity was based on an idea from the Computer Science Unplugged website.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Software piracy

Software licences and impact of piracy

Copyright infringement ('piracy') is a major issue for software companies. The BSA study includes many statistics about piracy worldwide.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Software reliability

Computer Reliability Exercise 1

The articles below cover different types of failure in computer controlled systems. A useful classroom task is to analyse these articles and consider how significant hardware failure, software failure, user failure, and corrupt data are in causing the problem.

RISKS and Risk Factor are two excellent resources frequently updated with reports of reliability and other ITGS related computing issues.

Updated: 2018-05-21
Software reliability

Computer Reliability Exercise 2

Research the following incidents. In each case, to what extent can the system software be blamed for causing the problem? What do these accidents tell us about the issue of software reliability?

Updated: 2019-03-19
Car software reliability

Cars and software reliability

Modern cars contain numerous microprocessors and thousands of lines of computer code. Software reliability problems have their own section here because of their ubiquity and their potential to be extremely dangerous (although it must be said that most issues are not life-threatening).
Updated: 2014-10-02
Software reliability

Computer Reliability: Examples for Further Reading

The ten biggest computer failures of 2012 (Telegraph) is a slideshow of the worst computer failures during 2012. Apple Maps glitch could be deadly reports on some of the (many) errors found in Apple Maps when it was released in 2012.

Post Office wants to get to bottom of IT system allegations A quite frightening article about how Post Office workers have been disciplined and even sacked for fraud, despite allegations that accounting errors are caused by faulty software. In July 2013, an investigation found hardware and software problems in the Post Office's systems which may have been responsible for the errors ( ComputerWeekly article, BBC article).

Google Spreadsheet, Excel Web App 'cannot be trusted' examines the potential impacts of unreliabile free software - in this case, Google Doc's Spreadsheet application and Microsoft's Excel Web App, which failed a variety of mathematical tests involving common spreadsheet functionality.

A software bug in the US military's Patriot Missile system led to an inaccuracy that increased over time that ultimately led to the death of 28 US servicemen. The linked article gives a very clear explanation of how such a simple error can cause significant problems (the missile's timer was out by less than half a second - but when a missile is travelling at 1.7 km/s, that equates to over half a kilometre off-target).

User and Computer-related Errors Involved in Two Australian Aircraft Incidents (IEEE) describes two 'computer' errors airboard passenger aircraft. The first caused an Airbus A330 to unexpectedly maneuver without the pilot's command; the second involved a simple data-entry error that could have resulted in loss of the aircraft.

Using a Software Bug to Win Video Poker (Wired) describes how a man exploited a software bug in a gambling machine to win thousands of dollars.

Chrysler to recall 840,000 vehicles because a software error causes the wrong airbags to be deployed in a crash.

US State Governments Can't Shake IT Woes gives a good overview of a multiple of IT systems failures in the US government.

20,000 traffic tickets wrongly issued is a good example of a failure in automated systems.

RISKS digest is an excellent and very active mailing list of "risks", many (but not all) of which are related to failures in computer systems.
Updated: 2014-10-02
User interfaces lesson plan

User interface practical lesson plans

These lessons are designed to help students understand the difference between graphical user interfaces, command line interfaces, and menu-driven interfaces, and where each might be used.
  • Command Line Interface lesson and associated files. This practical exercise gives students a chance to use the command line to manipulate a set of files, including moving and deleting files and using wildcards.  The lesson includes a command line help sheet for the most common commands. This version of the lesson uses the Microsoft Windows command line.
  • Menu Driven Interfaces lesson In this practical lesson students will create a prototype menu driven interface for three scenarios, using the button and macro functions in Microsoft Excel.
  • User interfaces summary This sheet gives students a chance to reflect on what they have learnt about each type of user interface in different areas, including ease of use and flexibility.
Beyond the GUI discusses the possible impacts of future 'conversational' user interfaces that use speech as both input and output mediums. Finally, BBC Bitesize has some good notes on the different types of user interfaces which can be helpful for revision, and The Cambridge lab where they test how elderly people use technology (BBC) highlights how difficult it can be to design easy to use technology.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Accessibility technology

Human-Computer Interaction

In the Metro Tragedy, Man Meets Machine is an interesting article from the Washington Post which describes the problems of human-computer interactions in potentially dangerous situations, tying in to the People and Machines social / ethical issue in ITGS. It ties in nicely with the resources on computer reliability and the user interfaces lesson plans above.

Human-Computer Relationships And System Safety discusses this possible over-reliance on computer systems in more detail.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Cloud computing

Cloud computing

Where are the savings in using GoogleApps? gives examples of the quite significant cost savings that can be made when a large school switches to a cloud computing system such as Google Apps. This BBC Webscape video focuses on cloud computing backup solutions.

However, with Google being notorious for scrapping applications and projects mercilessly, this Guardian article notes that Google's projects have an average life-expectancy of 4 years and asks whether it is a good idea to rely on free cloud infrastructure for business or personal use.

Even Google won't be around for ever, let alone Facebook. What happens to our data then? is an interesting article exploring this concept in more detail and pointing out that many of the services to which we now entrust large amounts of our data are still relatively young companies.

You can also download the cloud computing diagram from page 59 of the book.
Updated: 2014-10-02
ITGS Taboo game

Lesson resources: Banned words game

Banned words game - This game is similar to 'Taboo' or 'Forbidden Words'. Each card contains an ITGS key software term which students must explain to the class without mentioning the 'taboo' words listed on the card. The aim is to improve students' ability to explain key ITGS language and have a little bit of fun. Works well as a starter with the class split into two teams. I find printing the cards on coloured paper and laminating them works best.

Download Software cards or the blank cards to make your own.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Revolution OS DVD cover

Revolution OS

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

This documentary traces the origins of the Linux operating systems and the Free Software movement. It is useful for helping students understand some of the key differences between FOSS and commercial software, as well as highlighting just how extensively open source projects are used (for example, the Apache web server). The documentary relies heavily on interviews however, and showing segments of the film is probably the best approach.
Updated: 2014-11-07
ITGS Key words game

Banned Words: ITGS Key word game

This is a PowerPoint version of the Banned Words game featured elsewhere on this page. This saves a lot of printing, cutting, and laminating of paper cards.

The gameplay is simple: students must try to explain the ITGS key word to their team without saying any of the forbidden words at the bottom of the page. Teams take turns and have a minute to explain as many ITGS terms as possible. The activity is designed to help improve students’ skills and description, definition, and explanation.

The slides can be viewed online at SlideShare, or you can download them from there as a PowerPoint file. If you download the presentation you can make use of the button which takes you to a random term each time and stops when all terms have been used (this is achieved using VBA code, so Office may give you a security warning).

Updated: 2015-10-28
Examples of FOSS

Examples of FOSS in Use

ITGS students sometimes mistakenly believe FOSS is 'trial' or 'simple' software, or that it lacks features compared to commercial software. The examples below highlight where FOSS in used in the 'real world' and where the advantages and challenges are found, and should help ITGS students understand that very large organisations do make extensive use of free and open source software. 50 places running Linux is a good place to start, with some perhaps unexpected examples.

FOSS in schools

FOSS in government

FOSS in Healthcare

  • NHS to embrace open source explains the benefits the UK's National Health Service hopes to derive from switching to open solutions.

Updated: 2017-05-03
FOSS misconceptions

Misconceptions about FOSS

There are a few common misconceptions about FOSS. Students sometimes believe it is always free (zero cost), or that it is trial software rather than full versions. There can also be misunderstanding surrounding source code and how its availability might affect system security. A common FOSS misconception and Another FOSS misconception try to address these issues.

Updated: 2017-05-03
Software and hardware review activity

Hardware and Software review activity

This short review or revision activity is designed to help students distinguish between the different types of computer hardware (input, output, processing, and storage) and software (operating systems and application software). These core topics are often tested in exams, so a clear understanding is essential. You can download the activity and the solution.

Updated: 2018-05-21