CD-Rom encyclopedias are so rich and complex that it has proved difficult for many teachers to come to terms with them. In the worst cases they are often used for aimless browsing, or for printing out chunks of undigested text. It is now possible to obtain an English version of a major encyclopedia with a resource pack to suggest ways that it can be used most effectively.
The pack has been developed in England around the anglicised version of Encarta 96 and is designed to help teachers use the encyclopedia across the curriculum.
The pack seems mainly aimed at key stages 2 and early 3, and consists of a bulky folder of photocopiable worksheets, a video, a poster and a disc.
CD-Rom encyclopedias traditionally have more virtues than vices. The main thing is that they are considerably cheaper than the paper versions, inexpensive to update and easy to search. They are also, in the case of Encarta, capable of doing more: sound and moving images, for instance.
The major criticism of this pack is that it could encourage work done out of context. Its virtues, however, are so great they are more than a match for this. The quality of the presentation is good: well-bound, robust and attractive. The material will not suit everyone and you will probably quarrel with some of the simplistic ideas but they have been developed by teachers and, to be chauvinistic about it, teachers from the UK. It is a pity for those in England and Wales that the opportunity was not taken to make explicit references to the curriculum.
Students and teachers who work through this material will be introduced to some of the essential skills that are necessary to make good use of the information that is raining down on all of us. The important thing is not the quality of the materials that are in the pack, but the ideas that they will stimulate, so that you can apply them to the Grolier Encyclopedia, earlier versions of Encarta, the Hutchinson and even material that you acquire from the Internet.
The whole pack provides starting points for the busy teacher. Hopefully, after a few months it will stimulate ideas that will harmonise with both pupils and the curriculum. Given the importance that must be placed on the use of information skills, this production could make a useful contribution.