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Village life via CD

A CD-Rom from ActionAid takes the user on a virtual trip around an Ethiopian and a Guatemalan village (pictured here). In some resources, "virtual trip" means a few linked photos, but in Air Above, Earth Below, the visual experience really is impressive . The whole of both villages has been filmed and travellers can move anywhere they like by pointing and clicking, as in a software adventure game. Each move on the ground is mirrored on a map, essential to avoid getting lost.

To learn more about the village, and development issues generally, the user can access datafiles on a huge range of topics. For example, choosing Basic Rights: Education in the Ethiopian village, will bring up photos of a local teacher, extracts from an interview with her, a panoramic view of the schoolroom and short extracts about schooling. Much of the information is helpful and relevant, though an overview and media search facility would make access easier. The presentation is innovative and lively and gives the user a lot of freedom, but there is little on-screen guidance and, so far, no instructions on paper. This makes working out how to access the data time-consuming and frustrating. For example, to bring up a part of the data file, you click on the topic, then on the subtopic, which brings up a series of other topics in a circle, one of which you drag to another box.

There also seems to be no way of swapping from one village to another. Action Aid plans to include help files on its website, which should speed things up. Although there isclearly much useful content and wandering around the village will help pupils gain a sense of place, guidance and lesson ideas will be needed if busy teachers are to get the most out of this resource. Potential users should also be aware that the CD uses some of its latest video and audio technology, and requires a fast computer.

Air Above, Earth Below

CD-Rom pound;13.80 plus pound;2.07 postage from: ActionAid Schools and Youth, Leach Road, Chard, Somerset TA20 1FR.

Also available from online catalogue at click on 0"Schools and Youth"

Action Aid is offering copies of Air Above, Earth Below free to the first 250 applicants. Email:

Liz Taylor is a lecturer in geography education at the University of Cambridge

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