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Tentative first step into new market

THE COMMONWEALTH INFORMATION DATABASE on CD-Rom Age range 7 to 12.

CD-Rom for Research Machines or IBM or compatible computer (286 or higher with VGA or SVGA monitor) Acorn A-series computer Pounds 75, plus VAT Ginn STORY: Ginn's first foray into the CD-Rom market contains profiles of all Commonwealth countries, including 3,000 colour photographs, maps and diagrams.

Access to all this information is provided through a series of sketch maps, which can be "zoomed" into for a close-up on a particular location.

Once a country is selected, a set of icons on the screen provides further information on politics, economics, physical characteristics and people.

Each of these sections is divided into three or four sub-sections - for example, the people section includes population statistics, daily lives and culture. A teacher's guide with photocopiable worksheets has exercises based on the material included on the disc.

Although easy to navigate, the CD-Rom is disappointing. There are so many top-quality products in this area that the contents of this disc look dull and unimaginative. Maps are simply outlines of countries and therefore do little to enhance geographical ideas. The range and selection of photographs seem haphazard and, in many cases, are poorly captioned. And the information provided in each sub-section amounts to no more than one paragraph and sometimes bears little relation to the series of photographs. Inevitably when a photograph does take your interest, you are left wanting more information.

The 46 worksheets also reveal a weakness: the only way of comparing information is to go to individual countries and look it up, restricting the CD-Rom to being little more than an on-screen book.

Large publishers are still struggling to come to terms with what schools need when developing materials for non-traditional media. As a result, they often simply mimic books.

But when using this technology, children are becoming discerning information-gatherers. Teachers need material that will enhance and develop these new skills and may therefore be less than enchanted with this product.

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