Specifications for CD-Roms in the humanities are leaving the classroom behind, reports Simon Womack. It isn't surprising to find geography and history are contexts for the vanguard of CD-Rom development. If any areas in the school curriculum can most readily benefit from the power of the CD-Rom to give pupils access to a vast wealth of information, then it has to be these. But features are being built into current humanities CDs which distinguish them from the efforts of only a few years ago.
The ability to customise the contents of the CD is not new but it has certainly become an extremely valuable, if often under-used, feature. Straightforward systems built into CDs, like Picture Trail in AVP's PictureBase series or TrailSave in the new CD from YITM How We Used to Live: Early Victorians, are just two examples of the tools which allow reference collections of illustrations and information to be compiled by pupils.
The new BBC CD, Japan 2000, should prove an exciting development of this concept. It will not only have the facility to allow pupils to edit their own multi-media presentations but will, through the simulation of a newsroom and contact with the TV news editor, provide a brief for those presentations.
The most over-worked geography teachers must surely welcome having someone who knows the contents of the CD set a focused geographic enquiry on their behalf. Of course if you are still worried that the general questions on a disc cannot possibly meet your requirements then this CD and possibly more in the future will answer this by allowing teachers to write their own scenarios.
Anglia Multimedia on the other hand is offering to customise its CDs with support from its World Wide Web site. More primary sources for the CD Nelson and his Navy, together with a Viking Saga and extracts from Caesar's Gallic Wars, for other CDs, are available for downloading.
Major innovations have also been taking place in the routes by which pupils access information. CDs which are illustration and video led, rather than through traditional text, are now more obvious in both history and geography. The series of CDs on the themes of European Weather, Settlements and Ecosystems from Matrix Multimedia all offer and manage their information through the extensive use of sketch and interactive maps, slide shows, animations and multi-resource screens.
Similarly the BBC's Geodome is a virtual geographical museum with all that suggests about the routes by which pupils are accessing information on landforms, processes and the hazards they pose.
Just as there has been an emphasis on examining the approaches to information access, so there has equally been an effort to harness multimedia capability to develop genuine interactivity. Distant Places, from the Advisory Unit, offers the facility to redraw maps to the user's needs, while Exploring Maps, from YITM, allows pupils to build up information on maps. These developments are, of course, highly dependent upon the mix and the quality of media included.
Interactivity only starts to become feasible when features such as good quality and worthwhile video extracts, animations and text accompanied by a simultaneous narration are in-cluded. Based ar-ound the Jorvik exhibition, The Vikings CD from Anglia Multimedia allows pupils to wander in the village where characters describe their homes and work, and the objects that they use in their daily life.
However, this company's next project, Romans, is even more ambitious in setting out to see what multimedia can bring to the historic simulation. This includes walking through a reconstruction of a Romano-British town, quizzing the inhabitants and listening to a Roman soldier, all in an attempt to become a Roman citizen.
Both history and geography have particularly benefited from CD-Rom development which has addressed specific and detailed areas of learning or content. These CDs have been tailored to age groups and produced by authors or consultants with schools in mind.
Older CDs such as Discover London or London from the Air have given pupils access to large numbers of quality air photographs and accompanying maps in quantities not previously attainable in either primary or secondary schools. New products like Britannia, from the Bradford local education authority, have drawn on very detailed and specialist information.
It is interesting to question the function and role of CDs intended for both home market and education. The encyclopedic value of world histories or atlases is extensive and they are well laid out and presented. But because they are aimed at adults and children, home and school, they can rarely deal with specific learning objectives.
Whether CD-Roms for the home and school are beautiful is a matter of personal taste but they certainly appear to be getting bigger. Or at least the demands they are placing on hardware and memory size are now becoming more exacting.
If requirements for more megabytes of memory and faster CD-Rom drives are to become a norm, where will this leave schools? Even those with the most ambitious of replacement or maintenance schedules for their hardware cannot possibly keep pace with all these developments. Are there to be two divisions of CD-Roms - those for use in the home with relatively new high specification hardware and those for schools?
Clearly the publishers who are committed to producing materials for schools will continue to design CDs which are easy to install and use on the sort of computers that schools are likely to have over the foreseeable future. But this might scupper the notion of pupils using the same information tools, both at school and at home.
Perhaps, in the longer term, it will prove more important for the humanities subjects to concentrate on building up their own library of quality CDs, and perhaps more significantly, to concentrate on developing pupils' learning in association with the CD-Rom.
Britain Since 1930
PC and Acorn platformsSingle user Pounds 49AVP. Tel: 01291 625439
How We Used to Live: Early Victorians
PC and Acorn platforms.Pounds 59.99 Yorkshire International Thomson Multimedia Tel: 01264 342992 Vikings PC, Apple and Acorn platforms. Pounds 40 Anglia Multimedia Tel: 01268 755811
PC and Acorn platforms. Pounds 59.99
Yorkshire International Thomson Multimedia Tel: 01264 342992Romans PC, Apple and Acorn platforms. Pounds 40
Anglia Multimedia Tel: 01268 755811 Britannia Apple platform Pounds 39. 50 EDIT Tel: 01274 493535
PC and Acorn platforms. Pounds 100 stand-alone version The Advisory Unit Tel: 01707 266714
Geodome Landforms PC platform. Pounds 32.99 BBC Tel: 0181 746 1111
PC and Apple Platforms. Pounds 72.69 BBC Tel: 0181 746 1111
European Settlements, European Weather, European Ecosystems
PC platform. Pounds 79Site licence Matrix MultimediaTel: 01274 730808
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era
PC and Acorn platforms. Single user Pounds 69 AVP. Tel: 01291 625439