CD-Roms draw a map of the future

Graham Hart visits the publishers' exhibition at the Geographical Association's London conference and finds multimedia firmly in the limelight.

As much as Pounds 100,000 to produce," bemoaned Grace Evans of BBC Education, explaining why her new South Africa 2000 pack didn't contain one. "Only 1p to manufacture," exclaimed Karl Donert from Liverpool Hope University College, inviting his audience to marvel at Yorkshire International Multimedia's Exploring Maps, which he helped to produce. But there are three good reasons to use CD-Roms, said Dave Hassell, the chairman of the GA's Information Technology Group: they're "easy-to-use, motivating and gender-free".

For the third year running, multimedia resources dominated the publishers' exhibition at the GA's annual conference at the University of London Institute of Education. Most of the 82 stands, spread over three floors, boasted a flashing screen, many announcing the launch of a new CD-Rom. Geography and IT are, in the words of the National Council for Education and Technology, natural partners.

The exhibition is at the heart of the GA's annual edfest - a venue for old friends to meet, commercial competitors to share a grumble about educational spending and for everyone to see what's new. There was a time when the halls were filled by the big names in books - Heinemann, Longman, Nelson, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press et al. They are still there, but exhibitors also include field centres, university departments, examining boards, charities and even a handful of pressure groups.

The stars today are the leading names in IT: Anglia Multimedia, Matrix Multimedia, Ransom Publishing and YITM, who see geography not so much as a natural partner as a natural market. Most have covered maps, the weather and physical features in their early ventures in CD-Rom publishing. YITM's Exploring Maps is aimed at the seven to 11 age range and demonstrates all that is good about the medium: masses of information, good linking, and lively visual appeal. It supplements YITM's Physical World (11-16), Understanding Weather (16-19) and Exploring Earth Science (11 plus). As YITM's Martin Baker says: "All the easy stuff has been done. The companies that can take the medium further are those that will succeed."

Anglia Multimedia's Peter Stibbons is also well aware of this. While promoting new CD-Roms such as Key Plus (mapping for key stages 2 to 4) and the Atlasfile series (key stage 3 upwards), he is busy exploring Internet publishing. At first the work will be simple adaptations of existing materials. Later, they will need to get revenue from the Internet, which may necessitate advertising.

Elsewhere too, finance is the hand on the tiller. The Ordnance Survey, trying to maximise the return on its vast cartographic res-ource, was demonstrating its Interactive Atlas of Great Britain. This is aimed at family and educational use; it's best at key stage 3. The good news from the OS is that the famous Landranger maps, the 1:50,000 series, are currently being put into CD-Rom format. Publication of the first batch is expected in about a year.

You may recall Understanding Our Environment, a massive resource pack published by DuPont Conoco a few years ago. It's now on CD-Rom and at Pounds 39.50 should provide good value for key stage 3. Other well priced items at the exhibition included Ransom's World Encyclopedia and Photoair's The Physical Landscape of Britain. At Pounds 34.99, the World Encyclopedia may emerge as a leader in the race to provide single CD-Rom versions of major reference works. It contains a UK-based text, that of The Cambridge Encyclopedia. It can also be updated from the Internet every month.

The Physical Landscape of Britain costs only Pounds 10 if you buy it with Photoair's new Settlement Pack of 24 aerial photographs of settlements specifically outlined in the national curriculum. It looks good.

Most IT resources look good at an exhibition be-cause the publishers run their CD-Roms on very powerful hardware. But beware, a resource may not be so sexy on the machine back at school. The GA exhibition naturally provides a chance to see and use all the IT tools you may wish to buy. Five minutes playing will soon reveal important pointers on language level, ease-of-use, bookmarking, note taking, interaction, self-assessment and so on.

Further help in choosing resources is provided by the GA's joint publication with NCET, CD-Roms for Geography, which is about to be updated. The Advisory Unit: Computers in Education and the NCET itself were at the exhibition, offering uncomplicated advice to sometimes unsure punters.

Interestingly, one workshop nugget came from the NCET. It was a school's own weather records, complete with excellent search and analysis tools. No fancy CD-Rom, however, it was all run simply on a Microsoft Works database, supplied free with your PC.

Finally, my pick of the CD-Roms. From Wiley comes Mineralogy Tutorials, a companion to Cornelius Klein's classic Manual of Mineralogy. For 16 level plus through to postgraduate, this is a great tool to take you further than the book with superb screen illustrations providing a true sense of depth and feel.

And if you eventually suffer from IT fatigue, look out for Transform Educational's magnetic cartographic stencils. These provide a perfect way to have your children drawing outlines of Britain and Europe (the World is to be published soon). For the primary classroom, they're worth a long look.

Geographical Association 0114 267 0666 BBC Education 01937 541001 YITM 0113 243 8283 NCET 01203 416994 Anglia Multimedia 01603 615151 Ordnance Survey 01703 792000 DuPont Conoco 0121 455 7730 Ransom Publishing 01491 613711 Photoair 01733 241850 The Advisory Unit: Computers in Education 01707 266714 Wiley 01234 770292 Transform Educational 0116 270 1871

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