Encyclopedias on CD-Rom, thesauruses and spell-check facilities in word-processing packages, and online research tools will be familiar aids to most computer users. Now, the dividing line between content and research material has been further blurred with the launch of new information retrieval software at the World Education Market exhibition last week.
The internet browser plug-in from iFinger enables users to move seamlessly between the text they are reading and targeted reference material. iFinger software works with any text that appears on the screen (whether in a document or on a web page); when students come across an unfamiliar word, or a person or place they want to find out more about, they simply double-click on the word or roll the cursor across it, and a pop-up box will appear with a description or an explanation.
For example, a student writing a project on the Holocaust may come across a reference to Kristallnacht on a web page. When the student double-clicks on the word, further details from the iFinger reference software will be provided.
This is obviously quicker than reaching over to consult a weighty tome, but this plug-in is not just about saving time. It allows schools to provide easy access to approved reference materials.
iFinger is in the process of setting up deals with well-known reference producers, so the chances are schools that buy the plug-in will be using well-established names.
So far, iFinger has launched only a small number of titles. The one most likely to be of interest to UK schools is the Oxford World Encyclopedia from Oxford University Press. The iFinger version costs pound;9.99 and can be bought on disc, or downloaded from the iFinger website at www.ifinger.com . A demo is also available from the site.
A longer version of this feature appears in this week's Friday magazine