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Using desktop publishing to produce educational materials: Hardware and software issues

Robert Goodwin
Desktop publishing software and hardware has made it possible to produce a range of educational materials that were previously only available via commercial printing processes. Professional looking student worksheets, overhead projector transparencies and instructional materials containing text and graphics can be quickly prepared and then updated as required. Until recently these materials could only be produced in black and white and it was difficult to incorporate graphics and photographs. New hardware and software developments are now making it economically feasible to produce some of these materials in colour and to include graphics and photographs at reasonable cost. In this paper I will look at the hardware and software available for desktop publishing and the types of educational materials that can be produced.

If Australia is to become the clever country it is important that education is able to compete successfully with all the other activities students can pursue. The availability of a wide range of attractively presented educational materials is essential to retain the interest of students. Educational materials, whether they be computer programs, videotapes, slides, overhead projector transparencies or worksheets need to be of a standard similar that the students see outside of education. Desktop publishing has made it possible for educators to produce professional quality printed materials for their students. These materials may be worksheets, notes, overhead projector transparencies or booklets. In this paper I will look at the software and hardware used in desktop publishing, the types of educational materials that can be produced and the new hardware and software becoming available.


There is now a wide range of desktop publishing software programs on the market and some of the latest word processing packages incorporate many of the features of a good desktop publishing program. A typical desktop publishing system is likely to have the following: The page layout and design software must give WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) presentation of documents and allow you to edit them in this mode. It must also be able to import text and graphics in the common file formats. The page layout and design software may contain word processing and graphics features but they are usually limited. (PageMaker 4 contains word processing but it is better to prepare text in a word processor first and import it as text is not lost if the PageMaker file becomes corrupt, a fairly common occurrence)

The word processing software should contain all the features needed for text editing, spell checking, thesaurus and grammar checking. The graphics package should contain all the tools you need and a vector graphics package is preferable as graphics can be scaled without loss of definition. Scanning software may be graphics only or have text and graphics capabilities. It is a great advantage if all of the software chosen will run in the Windows environment on DOS machines. The software actually chosen for desktop publishing will depend on what you want to do, the hardware you have available and what you can afford to buy.

The cost of the software is less of a problem these days as many of the more expensive commercial packages can be bought as educational versions for a greatly reduced price yet retain all the features of the commercial package.

If you do not want to do much with graphics other than incorporate an occasional scanned image or picture from a clip art collection a good word processor may be sufficient for your needs. If you want to produce detailed layouts containing text, graphics and tables then a page layout package is essential.


As desktop publishing is graphics intensive it is important to select hardware capable of running the software at a speed that is not frustratingly slow. The minimum requirement for PageMaker 4 is a 386SX computer with 2 Mbytes of RAM. In reality such a machine is too slow for experienced users and a full 386 or 486 machine with 4 or more megabytes of memory is preferable. The screen needs to be of high quality and, for continuous use, an A3 screen is recommended.

Hard disk space is also critical. The software, particularly if using graphics and clip art libraries takes a lot of disk space. Forty megabytes is an absolute minimum and 120 or more megabytes is preferable.

A postscript laser or inkjet printer is essential for good quality printout although dot matrix printers give reasonable results when using the "true type" fonts available with Windows 3.1 or the fonts in Adobe Type Manager.

Scanners can be bought to enable text and graphics to be incorporated in documents. Scanners have improved considerably in the last two years.

Types of materials that can be produced with DTP

Student worksheets Student worksheets containing both graphics and text can be prepared. Graphics can be annotated as appropriate and the worksheets updated as required.

Desktop publishing programs give a wide choice of fonts and point sizes and graphics can be changed to appropriate sizes. Thus it is easy to produce overhead projector transparencies that can be dearly seen from any where in the room.

Booklets Booklets, unit outlines and even whole books can be produced using desktop publishing. The in house control usually results in quicker production times as problems can be solved on the spot.

Wall posters Wall posters up to A3 size can be produced. They are usually easier to produce with a graphics package.

Recent developments

A number of recent technological developments have opened new possibilities for the production of educational materials.

Digital cameras Obtaining photographs and incorporating them in desktop published material often presents problems. The recent release of the Logitech digital camera indicates that a reasonable solution to this problem may be available soon. The Logitech camera takes monochrome photographs that can be transferred from the camera to a computer via the communications port. Provided they are taken in good lighting conditions the photographs are acceptable for educational materials.

Colour production While the use of colour is not recommended for large blocks of text, as it makes the text difficult to read, colour can be used to highlight keywords. Colour can be very useful in graphics such as charts and diagrams. A range of recent developments has made the production of colour materials much easier. The use of colour is limited to "one-off" productions as there is no way at the moment of mass producing colour materials at reasonable cost except by using commercial printers. Colour production also presents storage problems as files containing colour graphics are usually too large for storage on floppy disks.

Colour printers The colour inkjet printers now appearing on the market can be used to produce colour overhead projector transparencies and colour posters of A3 size at reasonable cost. While special paper is recommended for best results they give reasonable quality on standard paper.

Colour scanners Colour scanners are now available for the same price as black and white scanners were a year ago. While good results can be obtained the colour files are very large, a relatively small photograph requiring ten or more megabytes of storage space.

Erasable compact disks Storage problems may be solved using erasable compact disks. I have used the Sony system, which gives 600 megabytes of storage, for nearly two years.

Please cite as: Goodwin, R. (1992). Using desktop publishing to produce educational materials: Hardware and software issues. In J. G. Hedberg and J. Steele (eds), Educational Technology for the Clever Country: Selected papers from EdTech'92, 244-246. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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