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Retail markets in mind

Chris Drage assesses the educational value of CD-Roms mainly aimed at home use. Romans Pounds 40 plus VAT (Pounds 19.99 inc retail) Eureka! An Encyclopedia of Discoveries and Inventions. Pounds 40 plus VAT (Pounds 19.99 inc retail) Survival's Mysteries of Nature. Pounds 40 plus VAT (Pounds 29.99 inc retail)

Anglia Multimedia for Acorn, RISC OS, Apple Mac or PCSCA (Anglia Television), POBox 18 Benfleet, Essex SS7 1AZ

Anglia Multimedia is moving relentlessly towards the retail market - a move which often means loss of quality, as companies struggle in the melee of cost-cutting and undercutting competitors. So how do these new educational titles measure up?

Romans is an "adventure" program set in a fictional, provincial town in Britain. The CD is packed with detailed pictures, videos and animations to introduce life in Britain in Roman times.

As a visitor to the town, the pupil chooses one of four possible careers - soldier, merchant, physician or tailor - and then collects the tools and knowledge needed to fulfil the role. On his journey through the town, the child meets other townsfolk, gathers objects and skills, and discovers information on daily life. Once the pupil convinces the magistrate that he has earned the right, citizenship is granted and the simulation ends.

There is a tremendous amount of information about the Roman way of life buried in this CD, with expert help at hand to offer modern explanations. It is packed with historical facts and images, information and background material. If the software isn't enough, there's a range of worksheets on the CD-Rom that can be printed out to focus children's study. This is an excellent resource for older primary pupils.

Eureka! An Encyclopedia of Discoveries and Inventions relates directly to design technology, science and history. It links different sources of information as only a CD-Rom can. Pupils investigate discoveries in the context of time and place, inventor and inspiration, and transfer pictures and text to their own presentations as required.

Eureka! covers more than 600 inventions and discoveries, together with biographies of more than 60 inventors. Many of humankind's greatest achievements are demonstrated via 50 video clips, dozens of animations, text, audio and hundreds of images. Activity sheets on the disc focus particularly on using it as a source of information and stimulation for design technology.

Nine documentaries cover a journey from two million years ago to the next millennium, and inventions can be explored through themes such as culture, food, building, everyday life, energy, industry, medicine, transport and warfare, using the world map, a timeline, category search or A-Z index.

Survival: Mysteries of Nature has already won the Emma (European MultiMedia Award) in the general interest natural history category, and presents the beauty and excitement in the lives of the strangest fauna through film shot by the award-winning Survival TV series, complete with an original narration by Ian Holm.

The subject is led by audio sequences, offering access to a wide range of abilities. Three interactive documentaries cover Senses, Flight and Hunter and the Hunted, describing ways in which some of the world's most extraordinary animals live, thrive and survive. Interactive animations, drawings, photographs and text complement the Survival video. The accompanying database provides a major information source for further study. Again, activity sheets on disc help teachers to focus pupils' attention when using the CD.

From a school's point of view, this trio of CD-Roms is a bit of a curate's egg. Romans is clearly aimed for school consumption, although getting all your class through it in a term will prove a challenge.

It is interesting to note that on Anglia's World Wide Web site (, Eureka comes under the family reference section, while Survival is found in family entertainment. Of the two, Eureka, by its very design and structure, is more appropriate for schools, although Survival has many motivating avenues to explore.

All text and pictures are available for pupils to use in their presentations. For schools paying the full price, a disc of copyright-free activity sheets is also provided for teachers to print out and use. Teachers will have to decide whether it is worth paying the extra Pounds 20 for the convenience.

Keep in mind, though, that not so long ago a quality CD-Rom could cost about Pounds 100, and in this context the Anglian trio represents good value for money. Similarly, look out for special deals: Xemplar currently offers two-for-the-price-of-one. All are thoroughly recommended, but check them out before you buy.

* Anglia Multimedia Stand 22

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