Survival of the adaptable;MultimediaIT

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Survival: Mysteries of Nature. CD-Rom for Multimedia PC, Acorn and Mac, pound;40 ex VAT. SCA (Anglia Multimedia), PO Box 18, Benfleet, Essex SS7 1AZ. Telfax: 01268 755811

Worlds of the Reef:Lost Animals. Ransom Publishing. CD-Roms for Windows Multimedia PCs, pound;35 each inc VAT. Marston Books Services Ltd, PO Box 269, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4YN Tel: 01235 465500

European Ecosystems. By Bernard Dady. CD-Rom for Windows, pound;79 ex VAT

Matrix Multimedia Ltd. 10 Hey Street, Bradford BD7 1DQ Tel: 01274 841320

There was a time when reviewing three new resources meant, at most, dealing with 500 pages of text with illustrations to match. Innovative resources in-cluded photocopiable worksheets and a teacher's guide. Today, the world, or at least a very large part of it, is at your fingertips.

But is quantity the key? What use are "over 400 sound clips" if the information and language level are inappropriate? What's the point of "more than 100 superb video sequences" if the images are grainy and you've got them on a video anyway?

These questions are particularly valid when remembering that many resources are specifically promoted to fit certain national curriculum levels, and these same resources were often originally made for some other purpose.

Survival: Mysteries of Nature, for example, announces that it "fits well for key stages 2 and 3". The video clips that form the heart of the document come from the excellent Survival series, originally and successfully broadcast as an award-winning ITV series. The good news in this case is that everything possible appears to have been done to ensure a sensible match between resources and need.

The commentaries, narrated especially for the CD by Ian Holm, are simple and direct. Cleverly, the software allows an optional concurrent transcript of the narration to appear on screen; this can be freeze-framed for note-taking. The language level is demanding, better suited for the top end of the intended age range, but nothing too advanced.

In addition to good narration on the core video clips, the contents of the CD are well organised too, with clear icon-driven menus. There is no great depth to the structure, just sound lateral linking between the three major themes: flight, senses, and hunter and hunted. It is worth remembering that these are the themes. Those who remember the television programmes may recall a broader range of topics.

Beyond the video sections there is extensive archiving, incorporating additional drawings, photographs and text. Pupils can take their time to study and review the areas they choose. For teachers, an accompanying set of activity sheets reinforces the information and also invites the pupils to delve further into the CD-Rom.

Ultimately, do not forget, these are packages designed to make the best use of some exceptional nature programme footage. Everything possible has been done to fit them into the national curriculum. They may need a bit of work to make them fit your teaching, but the effort will be rewarded.

The superbly packaged Worlds of the Reef also claims relevance for key stages 2 and 3 - and adds 4 for good measure. The CD features video sequences taken from the BBC Natural History Unit. Yet again, the pedigree is excellent, but can we question the true fit with national curriculum needs?

Interestingly, Worlds of the Reef marries some relatively advanced information with a jaunty, open style. The approach is aided by the narration of an ebullient David Bellamy and a "virtual" reef-diving shack - all very evocative of warm seas and sandy beaches. You can't fail to enjoy the dives under the sea, or be impressed by the level of detail and the opportunities for further research, note-taking and scrap book compilation. There's no question, Worlds of the Reef is a considerable achievement: offering exceptional value for money. What may happen, as with Survival: Mysteries of Nature, is the resource gets used as an extra for the more able pupils.

For information, Worlds of the Reef is produced for Windows, requiring 486 DX, 8MB RAM 32,000 colours and the usual sound card and speakers. These are the same requirements as for European Ecosystems, the next in a series of interactivemultimedia learning resources for geographers and scientists.

The same qualities that I have praised before - stylish, gimmick-free design, practical information and easy-to-use structure - are in evidence again. Some key habitats, including the Norfolk Broads, the Lake District and the Maquis, are used as the basis for the resource which is ideal for secondary levels and a much broader market.

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