Dorling Kindersley, already one of the world's biggest book publishers, has established an enviable reputation as a leading publisher of multimedia CD-Roms. Its reference and educational titles have attracted plaudits for consistently high production values and have sold commensurately well. The company recently previewed a raft of new titles - due to reach the shops in the next two months - many of which are bound to be attractive for school and home learning.
First impressions, as is customary with DK Multimedia, are generally favourable. Understandably for a publisher with a global market, the new titles are not based tightly on the national curriculum and, consequently, are unlikely to feature as part of a core teaching process in most multimedia-equipped classrooms. Many of them do, however, appear to lend themselves to project work and study outside class.
One suspects that many science projects have benefited from reference to DK's Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Science. The 2.0 version is altogether meatier and technologically superior to its predecessor. DK claims to have added 750, 000 words, and has introduced an unusual navigator to help you pick your way through to the required information. A "Matter Explorer" operates like a virtual microscope, enabling you to examine the surface appearance of various types of organic and inorganic matter until you reach a spurious "sub-atomic" level. Various distinctive types of molecules also get the virtual reality treatment (a feature that chemistry teachers may use), and the Who's Who section has been expanded. All in all, Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Science 2.0 has no peers as a scientific reference tool, and schoolchildren of all ages with a bias towards science will find it useful.
Its twin CD-Rom, Eyewitness Encyclopedia of Nature, has also received a version 2.0 upgrade, concentrating on interactive exercises such as identification of microscopic creatures and the ability to investigate creatures and plants in representations of their natural habitats. Again, this will help students with a biological bent as they seek specific information for projects and essays. Both science and nature encyclopaedias are much more approachable than the average textbook, and parents will no doubt use them to encourage children to develop a greater interest in their subject matter. But teachers will find that neither CD-Rom is structured with the classroom in mind, although they may be able to work some elements into their lessons.
Geology is a subject that tends, to a large extent, to be overlooked until children reach the GCSE stage, and teachers may well find that the all-new DK title Eyewitness Virtual Reality: Earth Quest takes a commercial, visually exciting route with lashings of 3D animation. Teachers may find the ability to create different types of volcanic eruptions and watch crystals grow and minerals develop in virtual space seductive in class. But the pseudo-adventure game thread running through the CD-Rom, designed to captivate children with time on their hands and access to home PCs, is not the sort of thing that comfortably meshes with a rigid classroom course. It's nice to see a heavyweight like DK creating a dedicated geologic title, though.
DK has high hopes for a new title with no direct competition in the home multimedia market: BMA Family Health Encyclopedia. Aimed at parents, this curious reference work is one which most of its owners would surely hope never to consult. Its centrepiece is a flow-chart-style diagnosis mini-program. A bible for hypochondriacs but not so relevant for school use.
The final four CD-Roms in DK's spring collection - entitled My First Maths Adventure 1: Counting and Sorting, My First Maths Adventure 2: Adding and Subtracting, I Love Maths and I Love Spelling - are overtly educational titles that have a whiff of marketing exercises about them. So-called edutainment titles, the first two aimed at pre-school children and the latter two aimed at 7- to 11-year-olds, they are undoubtedly visually appealing. But their content appears to belong to the run-of-the-mill edutainment.
Parents seeking a means of instilling in their children the basics of maths and spelling will naturally gravitate towards DK CD-Roms, and they shouldn't be disappointed. But teachers will probably find that the titles' insistence on ploughing through sequences of exercises requires more time than is available in the classroom, and are unlikely be impressed by the lack of differentiation between them and the plethora of similar CD-Roms on the market, many of which adhere more strictly to the national curriculum.
* Dorling Kindersley, 9 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8PS. Tel: 0171 836 5411