By Hugh John
More than 63,000 Bedfordshire students and teachers can access Encyclopaedia Britannica Online School Edition and hundreds of articles, interactive games, illustrations and multimedia resources via their school’s learning platform.
The county council deal means financial savings and reduces the time teachers would have to spend mapping content to the curriculum and lesson plans. Most important, teachers and students have access to constantly updated, mediated, age-appropriate material they can trust at home or school - anywhere with an internet connection.
“Pupils are able to use the stimulating content for research and homework and teachers can make use of the extensive resources to prepare lesson plans and assignments", says Neil Turner ICT curriculum project development and access consultant for Bedfordshire’s Education Centre. "As the learning platform content can be accessed from home as well as at school, parents are reassured that Britannica delivers content which is age-appropriate and accurate.”
Britannica is three reference products in one. The opening screen lets users choose introductory, intermediate or advanced level content. The three modules have similar formats, each including a dictionary, thesaurus, world atlas, Flash-animated timelines and well written articles supported by a selection of multimedia clips. Articles at the introductory level are particularly well structured, each starting with a collection of diect sentences. Photosynthesis is described thus: "Green plants use the sun's energy to manufacture their food. This process is called photosynthesis. It is essential for life on Earth."
A browser style interface enables users to move effortlessly through the vast Britannica database. The default search process is to enter a query into the search box and hits are presented in three columns across the screen: for primary, secondary and A-level students. Additionally, tabs with links to ‘Learning Materials and Teachers' encourage alternative searching and browsing activities.
Although Britannica has made huge improvements, both in presentation and content, there are reservations concerning localisation - despite UK English spellings, for example, much of the material has a distinct American flavour - and multimedia, where the text-based nature of the original encyclopaedia is evident. Music-related articles, for instance, would certainly benefit from additional sound clips. Enter "Bartok" into the search box and you'll be presented with a series of excellent articles and... two photographs of the great Hungarian composer.
Britannica Online School Edition is compatible with a range of learnng platforms.
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