Click on to insight
Don't worry if you're a novice: the instruction booklet for The Troubled Century multimedia package is very clear, and if you have Windows 95, you simply push the CD into the computer and follow instructions. The program has three parts, each addressing a different objective. Struggle for Peace is the easiest. The user selects a time period (1900-14, 1914-18, 1918-33, 1933-39 or 1939-45) and a character and is asked to make a series of decisions in that role (if they have chosen the British Prime Minister, for instance, they try to protect Britain's trade and empire). The program tells them how well they have done. It shows the issues which faced politicians, and gives an insight into their thinking.
Superpower Relations is an interesting approach to historiography. The user chooses an issue (say, Vietnam) and is told the actions of the politicians who dealt with it. They have to analyse ("rate") the politicians' decisions: to what degree were they affected by ideology, public opinion etc? Then they click on a "Historical Perspective" button, which reveals "the historian's view" for comparison. The task is not well explained, the text is difficult, and I wanted to know who the "historian" was! But this is an inventive attempt to get pupils to analyse politicians' motives, and to take account of historians' opinions.
Societies in Change is a straightforward research package. Pupils can study the Economy, Society, People, Power or International Relations of Russia, Germany or the US in any of the five time periods. It provides a satisfactory database of text, photographs, video clips and sound recordings. In particular, the "export" facility is exceptionally easy to use if pupils want to incorporate text or photos into their research "reports".
I am cynical about CD-Roms, which often lead only to aimless clicking. But this package has been properly designed with educational objectives, and a clear idea of how pupils will use it (in classroom or resources centre). Once familiar with the programs, teachers can set discrete, attainable tasks. Whether you can afford it is another matter, but it won't be wasted money.