7th September 2001 at 01:00
PHYSICS AT WORK CD-ROMs. Heat;Optics; Mechanics; Waves; Electricity; Magnetism and Electronics; Atomic Physics. By P K Tao, YK Mak and HM Lee. Oxford University Press pound;19.99 each + VAT

These CD-Roms for GCSE and AS-level offer video clips, simulations, a glossary, and multiple-choice tests.

Set-up and navigation are reasonably intuitive, although there are still glitches. The video clips are too long and look home made, with a heavy-handed narration.

The CD-Roms are collaborations with OUP China. As a result, their narrator dispenses gems such as "why does the can collapses?", "why does the hair stand on ends?" The simulations are very basic, with sometimes the only interaction being limited to switching things on or off.

The multiple-choice tests (with irritating canned applause for correct answers) should be reasonably useful. Many questions are awkwardly phrased: particularly odd was one of the possible answers to "which of the following is a proper use of nuclear energy?", namely "ending the Second World War by dropping two atomic bombs on Japan".

In the glossary, it is possible to get (mis) pronunciations of the words, with their Chinese ideographs. On balance, things are probably improved by turning the speakers off.

When a bug-free genuinely UK edition is released it may be worth trying, but in the meantime, cultural differences between the two intended markets detract from, rather than enhance, the learning experience.

Ian Francis is a science writer and teaches at Parmiter's School, Hertfordshire

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