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War and pieces

Castles, World War II- On the home front, Counties of the British Isles, Countries of the World, CD-Roms. All Pounds 40 except World War II, Pounds 25. Anglia Television, SCA, POBox 18, Benfleet, Essex SS7 1AZ.

Build a castle, or relive World War II, Tony Fisher samples CD-Roms from Anglia.

Of these four CD-Roms from Anglia Television, Castles is a multimedia standalone package, while the other three are more conventional datafiles, requiring Anglia's popular Key Plus data management system to gain access to their contents.

Castles is produced specifically for Acorn computers, whereas the others work on Acorn or IBM and compatibles. All four discs represent good value for money and they're actually useful, which reflects Anglia's feet-on-the-ground approach.

To run Castles you need an Acorn computer with 4 megabytes of RAM, and, preferably, a high-resolution monitor (such as that provided with the A5000). Otherwise, everything you need is on the disc itself. The information focuses mainly on mediaeval castles and is aimed primarily at the end of key stage 2beginning of key stage 3, with direct links to both programmes of study for history.

The disc has an essentially branching structure, with a main menu of five possibilities leading to subsidiary menus. The main sections are About Castles, which offers information about types of castle, castle features and attacking and defending a castle; "Building a Castle" (materials, occupations, techniques, equipment); "Living in a Castle" (a "tour" of Orford Castle in Suffolk); "Castle Guides" (10 residents of Chirk Castle explain how they are preparing for a visit from their local lord, and a modern historian gives background information).

The fifth main section is Castle Data which, in addition to a database of some 159 castles, together with photographs, also provides a "dictionary" of terminology and access to a range of resources for students and teachers. These include both the drawings and photographs used elsewhere in the application, and ideas and worksheets.

The strengths of this CD-Rom are that it is genuinely multimedia, that it is interactive, and that, if used in such a way, it should encourage children to select text, photographs and graphics and transfer them to their own files on disc (which they are permitted to do) in order to fulfil their own assignments.

Information is conveyed as text on screen (readability levels might inhibit use by some children), diagrams, photographs, animations, and Replay video clips. The clips are a good inclusion, though I had some trouble getting them to run smoothly , which might have been a hardware problem. Interactivity is provided by hot-linking key words to a glossary, offering choices and using "buttons" and objects within graphics for students to click on. There's also an optional "notepad" function, which enables users to make notes on screen while using the CD-Rom and then save them to disc, and a "find text" option which will search for words or parts of words. Some sequences of screens work like a carousel and you can go round and round rather than being automatically returned to the main menu at the "end" or offered a prompt on screen.

I wondered, too, if some of the text information, pared down though it undoubtedly is, could have been made briefer still. Also, watch out for the mode setting of your monitor some of the text is illegible in the wrong mode, simply blending into the background.

Overall, Castles is interesting and a mine of information. It's not difficult to use, and there is help on the disc. It could encourage exploration, the only problem being that it might prove difficult to prise children away from it so that others can have their turn.

World War II On the home front is a library of over 200 photographs from the Hulton Deutsch collection. For each photograph there is a database record with information in eight "fields" which can be searched in the usual way. In addition to the original headline, main and secondary captions, taken from the labels attached contemporaneously to the photographs, there is a "today's comment" which offers background and raises questions. There is also the date of the photograph, if known, a reference number, the latitude and longitude (which enable it to be plotted to key maps) and whether or not it was censored.

These photographs are an excellent resource, and together with the text can be exported into students' own work, though it might have been better to be able to preview the photographs, in the manner of Photo CD, rather than always having to go in through the database which, though excellent for the purposes of enquiry, is a long way round.

Counties and Countries are both based on vector mapping information from Bartholemews. The Counties disc has some 101 maps, Countries 74. The maps are interactive, in that several features for instance main roads can be turned on and off. Students can export the maps into their own work by a simple saving process and can access them via the Key Plus program to plot information. This plotting can be of point, line and area-based data.

A small criticism of the maps is the idea that the centre of a town's name gives its position. Given the power of the package, I'd have thought a dot at least could be inserted on the map at the appropriate point. Also, the legend for layer shading of height of land can't be shown without actually exporting the map.

Still, the maps would be useful to members of a class who were researching their own area-based case studies or projects, underlining yet again the link between IT and more autonomous learning styles.

Anglia - stand 357

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