River deep, mountain high
Good educational CD-Rom producers stamp their own style on their discs. Interactive Learning Productions, which made the successful Environment series, uses a similar format for The Physical World, which it has produced for Yorkshire International Thomson Multimedia.
Each disc consists of topics divided into a series of screens with pictures and associated text panels. The discs include a trail-save option that enables you to store a series of screens for later reference, a glossary and a "Scrapbook" application that allows users to create a simple presentation themselves. The CD also contains a review option which gives learners a multiple-choice quiz on their current topic and a more sophisticated "Assessment Manager" test.
The disc was developed to accompany David Waugh's key stage 4 text book, The Wider World, and is divided into three main sections: Features and Processes; People and Their Environment; and Natural Hazards.
Features and Processes is the main information source and covers, in some depth, coasts, glaciation, soil and weathering, tectonics, weather and world climate and vegetation. The screens are amply illustrated with diagrams, pictures and animations, although the annotated diagrams need to be viewed full screen and this obscures the text.
Compared with some CDs, this text is largely written at an appropriate level. On occasions, however, the text and diagrams do not relate well - particularly the animations which are rather grainy and have no text or sound commentary.
The animation of the formation of a cwm is virtually incomprehensible as nowhere is the process explained. This, however, is not true of the video sequences, where the commentary is highly relevant and appropriate to the age range.
The other two sections consist of a wide range of helpful case studies. People and Their Environment has nine examples from Amazonia to Snowdonia explaining how humanity has shaped the environment and is effected by it. Each case study has at least 10 slides, with additional pictures and text panels providing enough depth for any school project.
The 15 Natural Hazards case studies are complemented by news footage from Independent Television News, which add an air of immediacy. However, the lack of European events might give some pupils an unbalanced view of natural disasters and where they occur.
The Physical World is a thorough educational tool that geography teachers will find of more use on a computer in their classroom than tucked away in the library. It provides opportunities for the teacher to use information technology as part of individual and group resource work.
Like all good educational CDs, text and pictures can be easily saved to disc so that children can use them as sources in their work. The Physical World will support any materials the teacher might wish to use lower down the school. Geography departments that purchase this can be sure it will be used over and over again.