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Political visions at the double;News

A new website and CD-Rom allow virtual exploration of the Houses of Parliament and much more. John Davitt reports

TWo substantial resources for history, politics and citizenship education have been launched, but both bear the same name, Explore Parliament. One is an interactive CD-Rom, the other a website.

Until alerted by The TES, both sets of developers appeared to be unaware of the existence of their democratic doppelganger. However, the double effort has not been wasted as both are complementary and compelling resources.

The website, launched late last month by Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House of Commons, has a clear focus on the democratic process, and on schools. She said it would support the new citizenship requirements of the national curriculum and demonstrated how the National Grid for Learning could deliver real benefits in the classroom.

Developed by the Parliamentary Education Unit with RM and 3T Productions, the online resources have a lively, stylish child-friendly feel. Schools will be able to use the website to propose their own private members' bill by posting a short "green paper" on a reserved area of the site.

Other schools can then read the proposals and respond, producing digital debate via email, culminating with an online vote where the bill is either passed or rejected.

"The aim of the site is to encourage exploration of Parliament. It is geared towards the needs of young people - the idea is that they can explore interact and have fun," said Rob Clements of the Parliamentary Education Unit.

Other areas of the site allow exploration of the democratic process, facts and links to the official Parliamentwebsite.

The Explore Parliament CD-RomJfrom Armchair Travel is a more comprehensive visual resource. It is the the result of a meticulous two-year photographic mapping exercise that allows users to view the complete Houses of Parliament as one virtual journey.

The disc uses Apple's QuickTime VR technology to stitch together panoramas of all the major rooms and corridors in the Palace of Westminster. By clicking on an image and moving the mouse, it is possible to go left or right in a room to see more.

Objects of interest can then be clicked on to get a larger image with text and audio annotation.

A Virtual Travel Engine also allows you to view a 3D map of Parliament and go to any area with a mouseclick. Two other sections let students follow a timeline of all British Kings and Queens or see the geographical locations involved in the passage of a Bill through Parliament.

Ten thousand images were gathered for the CD, which have been parcelled into 72 panoramas and 470 QuickTime movies. More than 250,000 words and a search engine allow any combination of search for historical figures or parliamentary process to be made. For those just starting on the resource there are a selection of guided tours.

The Explore Parliament website is at The CD-ROM is pound;39.99 (ex-VAT) from Armchair Travel, 0171386 5454.

Sample VRJmovies can be seen

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