Knowing it all

6th January 2006 at 00:00
Online and on DVD, the latest encylopaedias provide lots of sound facts, writes Hugh John

Pity the DVD. Once the successor to the compact disc and barely five years old, it's been condemned to the technology scrapyard by none other than Bill "these things can scratch or simply get lost" Gates.

Encarta and Britannica may be ploughing on, but DVDCD reference publishing has been in the doldrums for some years. Dorling Kindersley? Gone.

Kingfisher? Gone. Groliers? Missing in Action. World Book? Never made it to DVD. Even the OUP is baulking at revising its titles. There wasn't a new children's encyclopedia last year.

Even so, DVD titles still have strong educational presence. Encarta, particularly, is very popular as a reference source. The 2006 edition ushers in Microsoft Student. Intended to provide a complete learning environment and designed as a learning adjunct to the student edition of Office, Student has some powerful tools that draw on the strengths of Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Strong in every department, totally integrated, improving yearly, backed by untold riches, Encarta deserves our unstinting admiration, not the grudging respect it gets.

Both Encarta and Encyclopedia Britannica offer a layered, curriculum-mapped learning experience. While Encarta has consistently refined its content, Britannica has been adding to its multimedia capability. Add this to its excellent range of articles and you get a formidable resource.

Heinemann's World Book on CD-Rom may not be the innovative force of old, but its clear, expository style and simple interface is well suited to top-end primary and early secondary. All three will be at BETT.

Published bi-annually and drawing on reports from the United Nations and Amnesty International, the New Internationalist World Guide CD (pound;30) wears its heart on its (left) sleeve. Themes such as "Latin America: an eroded democracy" and "Inequity.Com: the Digital Divide" are persuasively and passionately argued, and an ideal jumping-off point for a classroom discussion among older students.

Widespread internet access and blistering broadband speeds have drawn education services online; RM has been waiting patiently. Living Library, its online resource, launched eight years ago, has been redesigned (see review, p74).

But why pay when you can get it free? David Skinner, head of the Websters team localising Encarta for the UK, says: "The current infatuation with free resources obscures their disadvantages; for example, the difficulty of evaluating search results."

Espresso was among the first to realise the potential of broadband for education. It offers focused and stimulating modules across primary and secondary levels. At BETT you can see previews of new curriculum content for 2006, including News Bites, four weekly video clips from the ITN newsroom.

Proquest Learning has recently introduced the Primary Library, which supports literacy throughout the primary curriculum. It has 60 topic pages, with newspaper articles and reference materials that aim to enhance teaching in geography, history, RE, science and citizenship. If you're at BETT, go and look at the excellent secondary modules in literature and history.

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