In a ceremony held in the middle of an Austrian lake, teams from the United Kingdom learned that they had swept up four of the ten European Academic Software Awards for 1995/96.
The UK successes were in the departmental and commercial categories, where the only reward is international recognition and a potential fillip to sales. Student entrants, however, were eligible for prizes. Contenders from Spain and Austria respectively won a prize of 10,000 Austrian schillings (Pounds 600) contributed by Digital Equipment, and a PC contributed by Compaq.
The contest is coordinated by the University of Klagenfurt and was held for the first time last year. The judging is based on software design and educational value. Winning entries are expected to contribute new ideas to the development and use of interactive media in higher education. The UK had two advantages over other countries. One was the rule which said the software must run in English. The other was the Pounds 43 million of funding council money that the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme has pumped into the development of higher education software. Two of the four UK winners, SToMP and Winecon, were TLTP projects.
The TLTP economics package Winecon was already well known in the UK economics community. "This is really raising the profile outside the UK and outside of economics," said senior programmer Simon Price of the University of Bristol, one of eight universities which developed the package together.
By contrast the developers of Calculus Connections relied on private-sector finance. Cambridge University mathematician Robert Harding, who designed Calculus Connections with Douglas Quinney of Keele University, welcomed their award: "It is certainly extremely encouraging to have the work evaluated at that sort of level in competition with the whole of Europe," he said.
The package uses roller-coasters and other examples to introduce the basic concepts of calculus through a combination of live-action video, animation and simulation. The publisher John Wiley, which commissioned the work from the UK academics, has sold more than 5000 copies, many to the United States.
Science, engineering, medicine and mathematics dominated the awards. Winecon was the only successful entry from the social sciences. The Happy Bee, from Belgium, tackled health education and Aids.