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See the click of Rome

Shakespeare on CD-Rom may seem an alien, even sacrilegious idea to some. Yet Shakespeare tends to dominate the English curriculum, and all secondary pupils, however unwilling, must study at least two plays. It must therefore be worth considering all forms of resources.

Most English teachers are well-versed in bringing Shakespeare alive for pupils and we might therefore question the need for a multimedia approach - are we introducing it because it enhances learning, or because we have been told to extend our use of IT by Office for Standards in Education inspectors?

The award-winning series of CD-Roms from BBCHarperCollins offers a palatable way of bringing Shakespeare into the computer age. The latest addition to the series, Julius Caesar, has the same accessible format used on all the titles. The first screen shows a hexagon which provides the user with a range of options. The central option is "The Play" and clicking on this will bring up a complete audio text of the play. The text is supported either by video extracts from the BBC production, or colour stills. Users can stop the text at any time to go back, forward, access the glossary or delve into another option.

The program offers other choices for study: plot, themes, language, performance, background and characters. Each option then lists further choices. A simple click on plot will give you a summary of each act and scene. Click on themes to explore friendship, greatness, fate, Rome or politics; or language study for verse, prose, rhetoric and imagery.

Your explorations will lead you to a range of video clips, audio extracts or notes on your chosen topic. The program also enables you to search the text to find all references to your theme. There is a wealth of further material in all the options, ranging from discussions of the staging of modern productions to the writings of 17th-century critics.

"The Play" has a range of uses: it is invaluable for pupils with special educational needs, for example, as it reinforces reading in class and provides visual support; small groups are stimulated to discuss what they see; it provides excellent opportunities for individual research.

The teachers' notes which come with the package suggest imaginative ways of organising work. It is important to consider that for full benefit there has to be a fair amount of teacher direction in setting tasks for pupils and allowing time for discussion and collaboration.

Despite all these attractions, there are some drawbacks, not least the fact that in many state schools access to a multimedia computer can be difficult. Beneath the attractive glossy exterior of these programs, is there really anything more than an electronic version of Coles Notes? Also, while recognising the argument for consistency, I'm surprised that the format of the series has not developed since the first title appeared in 1995.

Multimedia Shakespeare is not about to replace a good performance, exciting lessons or inspired teaching, but it does provide a sound, accessible and enjoyable alternative study aid.

Sue Lambert teaches English atBentley Wood School, north London TES FRIDAY JANUARY 30 1998 pic on disc poor quality, Emily researching pic from BBC production English Multimedia

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