But what if it's biased?

14th November 1997 at 00:00
USING THE INTERNET - GEOGRAPHY. Liz Taylor. Teacher's pack Pounds 22. Pearson Publishing, Chesterton Mill, French's Road, Cambridge CB4 3NP. Tel 01223 350555. Age: 11-19.

DATA BULLETIN: EXPLORING COASTS. Prue Poulton. Floppy discs and teacher's guide Pounds 20.99 inc VAT WWF-UK, Panda House, Weyside Park, Godalming, Surrey GU7 1XR. Tel 01483 426444. Age: 7-11.

The biggest problem with the World Wide Web is information providers who have axes to grind, writes Graham Hart

The World Wide Web is an amazing resource. It can be incredibly useful, but also very frustrating and time-consuming." So run the opening words of Using the Internet - Geography - a true statement if ever there was one.

We know it's all out there, but is it usable? Does it have to be so slow? Is it easy to access? Is the Net as important for the future as we've been told? Does this pack help in any way? A qualified yes is the answer to all the questions.

Importantly, Using the Internet - Geography (which really ought to be called Using the World Wide Web) tries to keep it simple. Ten topics - coasts and the sea, ecosystems, places, natural hazards and so on - occupy three or four pages apiece. These pages outline the contents, and value, of five "top" Web sites.

Further sites are listed with notes. Brief teaching ideas and exercises follow that, in some way or other, involve using the new information highway.

This is all excellent stuff, clear and easy to use. Small symbols indicate the expected use of the pages: key stage 3, GCSE, A-level and teacher reference. The pack, comprising A4 cards with a selection of photocopiable pages, is easy to read and well set out.

Geography publications, of course, have always suffered from the pace of change. A book that takes many months (even years) to write and publish may date quickly. The World Wide Web does not suffer from this. Updates can be made daily.

This pack urges readers to add notes of their own, explore links through the Web and keep abreast of change. A range of helpful tips is also provided. These include encouraging teachers to watch usage of the Internet. Students may be inclined to print out excessive amounts or cut and paste large blocks of text with little understanding of content. They may also search for pictures of a naked Pamela Anderson.

The one surprising omission in the information section, and my one general reservation about the product, is the uncritical way it approaches the contents of the Net. Many pages (most pages probably) are on the Internet because of a commercial decision. Nobody is vetting the accuracy of the information.

If you are studying energy and the bulk of your information comes from British Nuclear Fuels and Shell - and this is a very plausible scenario with the Internet - then it's reasonable to expect a degree of bias.

The same could be said if you only used the Greenpeace site. Perhaps the one lesson to learn is that understanding sources is just as important as ever.

On the subject of biased information providers, the World Wide Fund for Nature has extended the range of its Data Bulletin series. The series, which has been praised on these pages before, is based on floppy discs containing masses of data in the form of texts, photographs, tables, maps etc. In the past they have targeted students aged 13-16 and 16-19; Exploring Coasts is the first for 7 to 11-year-old pupils.

Exploring Coasts containstwo discs and is available for either PC or Macintosh. The indexing is very clear and case studies provide an interesting additional focus. The emph-asis, not surprisingly, is on threats to the coastline.

This is not, however, an introductory physical geography. The publishers claim that the text is edited for 7 to 11-year-olds, but it could be tough going for some at the lower end of this range.

The discs are supported by a comprehensive teacher's guide that repays careful reading. Photocopiable worksheets are particularly helpful in providing students with routes around the data.

The choice of discs, instead of print or the Internet, is probably a very sound one. When you think about it, the humble floppy disc is still a quite remarkable tool.

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