Cool tool for data analysis

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
ELECTRONIC ATLAS FOR SCHOOLS. Anglia Multimedia pound;60 +VAT. Tel: 01268 755811

Titles are important and Anglia's new Geographical Information System, An Electronic Atlas for Schools, could mislead. It is not a traditional atlas on computer, but a complex tool for analysing data and displaying it on a wide range of maps.

The package includes three elements. First, there are seven "Documentaries" explaining topics such as map symbols and volcanoes. These are professional but do not match up to software specifically designed for the purpose. Second, at its heart, are the "Mapping and Database" facilities which demonstrate their power when importing and matching data with maps, but are limited for undertaking traditional atlas tasks. Third is the "Web Link" which takes you to Anglia's well-organised site with downloadable maps and data.

Undertaking conventional atlas activities such as locating a place is problematic. For example, to find Manchester, click the arrow by "No database" box, click on "English - towns", select the "View maps" symbol, a globe ... type "Manchester" and press Enter. Still with me? Go to the "Map key" symbol, a key, tick the "Towns" box ... At a particular scale hundreds of place names appear. Return to the "Map key" box, where "Towns" will have appeared, type "Manchester". Two red dots will remain, one labelled Manchster. I am still investigating the other.

The handbook, however, contains useful activities on English Civil War battles, volcanoes, and so on, using data on the CD-Rom. More expert teachers can import maps or data from Key Datafiles or, using the "Web link", from Anglia's easily accessed website: Earthquakes, Sea Trade and Empire, etc.

While the system's power lies in its ability to import and match data to maps, its weakness is the limitation of its display facilities. It appears impossible to display graphs and their legends together. Another powerful feature should be the ability to plot the areas of sections of maps but this, frustratingly, is limited to rectangular areas.

The "atlas" database contains an eclectic selection of photographs. One shows Nairobi's business area challenging stereotypes of Africa but there is nothing on Ghana. And the image used to represent India's extensive railway is the "top of a bridge".

These elements highlight the eccentricities of this system. I found it frustrating: I could not explore the detail of the road to Timbuctoo or plot the area of the Volta Lake, or spin the globe and see the world mapped from above the Pacific or compare different projections.

Overall, this is a powerful, if limited, Geographical Information System, but not an atlas as most would expect it to be.

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