Rise of the ROM

24th February 1995 at 00:00
The publishing revolution that is CD-Rom, those shiny, 5-inch compact discs capable of holding a hefty bookshelf of material for use with a computer, continues apace. The quality of available material varies, as discs designed for home and workplace can have limited appeal in a classroom. Sometimes the raw material, like pictures and text for example, is difficult to extract for use in children's own work, a feature much appreciated by schools.

One of the first broadcasters to move into CD-Rom publishing was Anglia Television, whose generous and brave decision to release valuable copyright-free video on its discs (excellent nature material, for example) has set a competitive precedent. It has already published a suite of CD-Rom titles, and is now publishing on all three types of computer available in schools Acorn, Apple and PC-compatible.

The latest title is Garden Wildlife, which is packed with information, exercises, quizzes and video clips, and is thought to be the first CD-Rom to contain movies in the high-quality MPEG standard. Like other Anglia titles it is deliberately pitched towards schools' purchasing power (Pounds 40), making it among the best value for money.

Anglia was soon followed by Yorkshire, which created a new outfit, Yorkshire Interactive Thomson Multimedia, to work on a series of CD-Roms kicked off by the award-winning Science Series 1: Elements (Pounds 99.99) and AEn Marcha! (Spanish, Pounds 99.99, plus Pounds 12.50 for PC microphone, Pounds 35 for Acorn) which are put out by Academy Television. More recent is the acclaimed World War II: Global Conflict (Pounds 99.99), part of its humanities series.

The CD-Roms which made the biggest impact last year were probably the first ones from Dorling Kindersley. Although some discs do not allow easy use of elements in children's work, they established a new benchmark for graphics and enjoyment.

The first crop now being released on Apple Mac are My First Incredible Amazing Dictionary (Pounds 49), Stowaway (Pounds 49), The Way Things Work (Pounds 79), The Ultimate Human Body (Pounds 79) and The Eyewitness Encyclopaedia of Science (Pounds 99). The first response to them was just short of ecstatic, but subsequent feedback from the classroom is that some of the titles are more effective in the home than in class.

The next batch are The World Reference Atlas (Pounds 79), P B Bear's Birthday Party (Pounds 39), The Eyewitness History of the World (Pounds 79) and The Eyewitness Encyclopaedia of Nature (Pounds 79). The discs to watch out for, however, will come in The Virtual Museum Series.

Another publisher wanting to build on its paper-based products is Wayland. Wayland Multimedia will show its forthcoming CD version of Violent Earth (Pounds 49.95 for PC and Mac) which brings in sound and video to illustrate the turbulent volcanic forces at work just under the earth's crust.

One of the dangers of the push into CD-Rom is that the high costs of producing a quality CD-Rom (as much as Pounds 100,000) lays it in the lap of the big publishers. But there are indications that small publishers are rising to the challenge, particularly in the primarymiddle school area. Both 4mation and Northwest Semerc have products that exploit the strengths of Acorn's technology, particularly the ability to take material from discs and use it, easily, for pupils' own work.

Guardians of the Greenwood (Pounds 49.50 for Acorn and Windows), described as an eco-adventure, is a labour of love by 4mation's Mike Matson. Pupils are invited to help Crinkle and her Gramps in their struggle against the eco-baddies, the Clunkers, who are clearing the forest. On the way they are introduced to a wide range of exercises and examples of flora and fauna.

Treasure Trove (for Acorn and PC, Pounds 69) and Technology and Design (for Acorn, Pounds 40, requires My World 2) are products from Northwest Semerc, the award-winning special needs centre and publisher that is being taken over by International Thomson Publishing. The former is a whole suite of elements like pictures, words and sounds, which are arranged into easy-to-use themes and can used as raw materials for pupils' multimedia work.

4mation - stand IT673

Academy TV - stand 362

Anglia TV - stand IT 657

Dorling Kindersley - stand PV 182

Nelson Multimedia - stand PV 194

NW Semerc - stand IT 673

Wayland Multimedia - stand PV71

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