Links for learning

23rd January 2004 at 00:00

DKGoogle, pound;25

Paper marries cyberspace in this colourful attempt to explain the world and its contents to young readers. The book is equipped with the expected DK virtues. Nine subject areas from Earth and nature to arts and history are given a generous allotment of space. Within these, 600 topics are matched with 2,000 images, ranging from stunning photos to computerised graphics. But the real selling point is the dedicated website, where many themes can be explored further.

The printed text is compendious and clearly organised. Each broad subject contains two-page spreads with subheadings, so Earth leads to continents, tectonic plates, mountains, soil layers and so on. These in turn are subdivided into six questions: some have definite if complex answers (How does glue stick? When did Shinto begin?); others have taxed thinkers down the ages (Why does truth matter? Can social divisions change?).

In the scientific and technical sections, few will dispute the nature of the contents. For example, there are stimulating though demanding discussions about the causes and the reduction of pollution, or the impact of agriculture and industry on landscapes. Within the humanities, opinions may be divided. Do we really need yet another Britney Spears grin? Are William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, Arundhati Roy and JK Rowling the four writers most deserving of an illustration? Should baseball and basketball be pictured but not cricket?

Visiting the links on the website is easily done, and adds much more depth.

Key search-words are listed on each spread in the encyclopedia that will set the website's search engine off and running. Type in "Enlightenment", for example, and you are given a list of relevant websites from which to choose. You could be led to a page about French encyclopedist Denis Diderot, where you can hop easily to author and philosopher Voltaire and other significant figures.

Type in "fascism" and you can eavesdrop on Spanish Civil War veterans, read about how Hitler came to power and look at Nazi propaganda posters. These links are accessible to young people and will be regularly updated.

This integrated production will be useful in browsing for homework assignments, though students will need to be alerted to the obvious proviso about thinking before they cut and paste. The links also include animations, videos, virtual tours, interactive quizzes, databases, timelines and reports. Words like "electricity" or "culture" lead on to numerous unexpected destinations. Enlightenment encyclopedists such as Denis Diderot would be amazed.

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