GEOSKILLS - An Introduction to Spatial DataRay Wyatt
School of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies, The University of Melbourne
This is an excellent CD-ROM that clearly introduces concepts about how to represent the earth, and spatial features upon it, through the use of maps and computers. Its innovative animations are used with great skill to drive home many difficult concepts. It also has a sprinkling of calculations and exercises for students to be challenged by, although there are never too many of these, and they never form an insurmountable barrier to continued progress. Indeed, at all times the student can look ahead or backwards on the CD-ROM and every lesson has several dots along the bottom of the screen to click on in order to see where one has got up to. All of this puts students firmly in control of their own learning.
After the introduction there are six sections, covering models of the earth, data collection, plane cartography, three-dimensional cartography, digital maps/GIS and remote sensing respectively. Within each section there are about 4 or 5 lessons, and each lesson has about 8 dots/computer screens. However, some of the latter have further screens that are appended using a "continue" button, which appears at the bottom right corner of the current screen with annoying unpredictability.
Perhaps the most innovative diagrams and animations are those that try to explain how various map projections of the globe work, in section 1. Considerable thought has obviously gone into such illustrations, although beginners, who presumably this CD-ROM is designed for, will still find some projection concepts difficult to understand. This is not the fault of the CD-ROM; it is the fault of the complexity of the concepts. Indeed, in only a few places are the authors guilty of too cryptic a style of explanation. An example is when they seek to explain an early attempt by a Greek philosopher, in 250 BC, to measure the size of the earth using shadows cast by vertical poles at different latitudes. A diagram is presented to illustrate his method, yet the simple trigonometry that he used is left unexplained. But this is but a minor blemish in a generally thorough example of interactive learning.
The CD-ROM could certainly keep Geography students, in the final year of high school or in the first year of university, busy and interested for one year and one semester respectively - provided they have a teacher to stimulate and maintain their curiosity. The latter is essential if they are to work through the whole CD-ROM. Again, this is more a comment on the nature of adolescent students rather than the fault of the CD-ROM. The latter's innovative way of presenting material is sometimes remarkable.
UniServe Science News Volume 17 November 2000
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