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To:            Donna Shea, Instructor

From:        Phil Fournier

Date:         10/2/2004

Subject:    WR1 Memo of Software Programs

The purpose of this assignment is to locate information about software that would benefit my students or myself in the Computerized Engine Controls Level 1 course that I teach for Mt. San Jacinto College.  This is a good assignment as the last time I taught the class, I felt my presentation of the material could have benefited from some technological improvement.

My first choice of software is called “Skills Manager” by Diploma Technologies.  This software was given to me by a fellow instructor at the college on a copied CD so I am somewhat concerned about its legitimacy.  I went to the Diploma Technologies website and found a good demonstration of how the product works with a Palm handheld.  However, there was no purchase or pricing information included in the website at all.  One feature that I really liked about the software is that it is evidently geared toward automotive courses, because it comes already equipped with a complete NATEF task list.  (NATEF is the recognized arm of ASE that certifies training institutions.  Part of the certification process involves the use of task lists, competencies which are directly tied to the ASE certification tests.)  I received an e-mail back from the website with the disappointing information that Skills Manager sells for $995!  I am guessing this means I will not be able to use this product, unless the copied CD I was given is somehow legitimate.

My second choice of software would have been some kind of a downloadable set of ASE test preparation questions.  I went on the assumption that I could find some sort of shareware program that I could use at no charge.  Unfortunately, it seems what I was hoping for may not exist.  I found two websites that looked promising.  The first was referenced on a number of search engines and promised a download to “try before you buy” .  The download link did not work, but after an exchange of e-mail with the author, I was able to download a demonstration version.   But the demonstration version only allowed me to sample the first five questions.  This really gives me very little idea of the quality of the programs, which cost $10 each with a minimum purchase of three.  The second website required me to purchase at least a seven day pass.  Being basically a cheap-skate and having no budget whatsoever from my department to buy anything, I am somewhat loath to risk the money. 

The third choice of software I found is a product called Smoghouse software from a company called Tools for Education.  I was able to obtain a demo version of the software and it looks promising from the standpoint that the more advanced students could use this instead of participating in the more basic lab exercises.  The software allows a student to “virtually” diagnose a vehicle that has failed an emissions inspection.  I found the interface to be a bit cumbersome, but I’m pretty sure the younger generation would have no trouble at all using the mouse and arrow keys to move the tools around in the game-like interface.   However, once again the cost of the product is completely prohibitive for an under-budgeted automotive department like ours.  The full package for use by an instructor with up to 20 students costs $699.


My disappointed conclusion is that at least for the time being, I will have to continue teaching my class using old technology of video tapes and PowerPoint presentations to enhance my lecturing and lab activities.  Fortunately, as a contract instructor for Standard Motor Parts, I have access to some very high quality presentations which I am allowed to use in my own teaching.  I could conceivable use the Skills Manager software, but feel uncomfortable “bootlegging” very expensive software.  The department might be convinced to purchase the downloadable ASE test preparation software which could be installed on the five computers we have for the use of students.