Software Reviewed by
Title of Software:
Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia
Deluxe Edition, © 1996
Platform/Operating System: MS Windows 3.1 or later,
Windows 95, or Windows NT 3.51 or later
Subject: Multimedia Encyclopedia, an exploring and
While there are certainly some things in this software that could be
accessed and enjoyed by beginner or low intermediate level students, it is more
suitable for intermediate to advanced students.
Again, the younger students would surely find things of interest to them
in this software, but it is more accessible to middle school through adult
Windows System Requirements
8 MB of Ram
(12 MB Ram for Windows NT)
Processor Speed – 486DX, 33MHz or higher
Hard-disk space free: for Windows 3.1, 21 MB, for
Windows 95 or Windows NT, 14MB
Windows Version 3.1 or later, Windows 95, or Windows NT
Graphics Card (w/ compatible monitor) SVGA supporting
256 colors or higher
Peripherals – CD-ROM Drive, headphones or speakers,
mouse, audio board, modem (optional, for on-line access of additional
Time needed to complete: As this is an exploration and reference tool and not a set of
exercises to be completed, there is no set time to complete. A student could
find the information he/she is looking for in a couple of minutes, or on the
other hand, explore for endless hours and not exhaust the information
Learner group size:
This software could be used by an individual student, a pair, or a small
group around a computer. It can also be installed on a network and accessed by
This is very complex software, so there is much to learn. It took me
several hours of exploration before I felt confident in accessing most of what
the software has to offer. Much of the navigation is intuitive in nature, as
well as being clearly marked for the user. I would rate it excellent in user
friendliness, even though it may take some practice time for the user to be
able to navigate successfully to their desired destination.
Prerequisite skills or activities: A student would need to have basic computer
skills to access this encyclopedia and navigate through it. If students choose
to follow web links for further information, some knowledge of the internet
would be helpful. They would also need at least an intermediate level of
English to comprehend most of the articles. However, there is much that lower
level students could enjoy, particularly in the various and abundant media
Encarta 97 is an encyclopedia on two CD-ROMs, with additional
information available via web links to many sites on the World Wide Web,
including Encarta Online and, for an
additional monthly fee, the Encarta Online Library. Also included with the
original cost of the software is a monthly Yearbook and Web Links update.
Encarta 97 Encyclopedia has two main divisions: Media Gallery and Articles. I
will discuss each of them with their components separately although, in fact,
they can be displayed in an integrated fashion on the screen.
Media Gallery There are more than 13,000 different media on the encyclopedia
CDs, including pictures, video, animations, audio, 360° views, maps, charts,
and tables. On the Media Gallery opening screen, a complete written list may be
scrolled through, including graphic images to inform the user what type of
media it is. Or, the user can choose to view a slide show of all or selected
media in the list. Most media have a caption which may be from one-sentence
length to several paragraphs of explanation. There is also a very efficient
search mechanism on this screen, called the Media Pinpointer, where the user
can narrow the search by applying “filters”. These may include any or all of
the following: words, categories, time
periods, type of media, or place in the world.
Collages - There are 20 different collages through
which the user can explore interesting topics, such as biodiversity,
architecture, coral reefs, and children’s literature. Essays can be
accessed about the topic, captions read under most of the pictures, some
sounds or animations to enjoy, and related articles which can be linked
to, both within the CDs or online. It’s an interesting and engaging way to
introduce a topic and a platform from which the learner can explore.
- Timelines -
This is a scrollable screen, beginning from 15,000,000 years ago
until the present day. It has several tracks on the screen so that the
viewer can see what was happening in different parts of the world at the
same time. For example, about 1200 B.C. the Shang dynasty was thriving in
China as the Olmec civilization was developing in Mexico and the Hebrew
people and the Jewish faith was being established in the Middle East.
Scattered on the timeline are images which can be clicked, captions read,
or links followed to read more in depth about these events, nations, and
people. There is also a search feature to find a specific event.
Maze - A challenging multimedia game in which the player(s) weave
their way through the mazes of a castle by answering different questions
of a category and level chosen by the player. The user can link to
different articles within the encyclopedia for help in answering the
Tours - Students can take a guided tour of a subject that is of
particular interest to them, such as world cultures, arts and
entertainment, or science and pseudoscience. Once inside the tour, the
users have many opportunities to explore various media and related
- Atlas -
The atlas opens with a picture of the globe which the student can
rotate with buttons until it comes to the position where the student
wishes to view. An area of the world can be clicked, and then zoomed in
again and again, viewing maps at different scales and levels. The viewer
can click on Asia, then Thailand, then Bangkok, coming down even to a
street map of Bangkok. Each level of map has its own key and scale. Places
on the maps can be clicked and related articles accessed. There are also
video and sounds to be explored of the different places.
- InterActivities -
In this section users can choose from 10 different areas of
interest to explore through various multimedia and game formats. One can
listen to and compare world languages, click on natural wonders of the
world and match them to their location on the globe. Or, click on a
musical instrument, listen to the music, and try to match it with the
country it comes from. The user can explore the concept of fractals, and
learn to draw one of their own. Of course, throughout the program the
student can choose to link to related articles and read more in detail
about the subject.
can choose from more than 30,000 articles on these 2 CD-ROMs, as well as link
to many more on the World Wide Web. The main screen is divided into three
sections: the outline frame, media frame, and article (text) frame. The viewer
can also adjust the screen to view only text, or outline and text only. The
headings of the outline serve as a means to jump to other parts of longer
articles. The media that appear with their related articles can be enlarged for
better viewing. Red words within the articles are hyperlinks to other articles.
Following are some features of the article section of the encyclopedia.
- Dictionary -
Most words in the articles can be double-clicked leading the viewer
to the dictionary with the word and its definition highlighted. Or the
dictionary can be selected from the menu and any word typed in to see its
- Tools -
While reading an article, the viewer can use the Notemark from the
menu to write down important information. At the bottom of the note card
is written the reference information for citing the article. Or, the
student can open a word processor within the encyclopedia to take notes
from the article or copy a portion of it.
- Pinpointer -
This search mechanism is similar to that used in the media gallery.
Articles can be scrolled through, searched for alphabetically by title, or
searched for more specifically by using “filters”. There is also a Wizard for help with
Information” - At any time in the article view, the
user can click on More Information from the menu. They can then choose to
view related articles in the encyclopedia, or updated information in the
Yearbook, or follow links to Encarta Online or other sites on the World
Wide Web in order to access further information on the subject.
As noted earlier, this software is non-ESL specific and is designed for
exploration and reference. If the owner maintains the monthly updates of
articles and web links, it can be an effective and up-to-date research tool for
students. The multimedia aspects of the software make the information more
accessible for ESL students as well as aiding comprehension by targeting
several learning modalities. There is much to stimulate the imagination and
pique the curiosity of the casual browser. Navigation within the program is quite
easy, with a little practice.
Type of Program:
Problem solving, informational, game, student tool, teacher tool,
non-ESL specific, text construction, and exploratory activities, and research
English language areas covered: Reading, vocabulary, listening, cultural
competence, computer and internet, and depending on the activities that the
teacher plans around the use of the software, most likely the skills of
speaking and writing
is a clearly written and illustrated instruction manual included with the
software. The onscreen menus are easy to follow and intuitive in nature.
There is more than one way to find specific information, whether written
or media: scroll through an alphabetical list, search by word, category,
time, or place.
program opens easily and quickly and it is easy to navigate from feature
to feature, or find related articles or media, either within the CDs or
via web links.
theme or subject explorations, such as InterActivity, Collages, and Guided
Tours have onscreen directions for their various activities.
are no lessons, as such, in this software, but the learner can easily move
from one screen to another. Simply by using the forward and back arrows
the user can return to pages previously viewed. The learner is free to
make choices throughout as to what media or articles to view or what links
only work that can be saved is that which the learner produces on the
Notemark or Word Processor, which is accomplished just as it is in
learner can quit at any time from any point within the program.
student may enjoy simply to browse through this vast software. However, to
make it most profitable, I think some sort of direction from the instructor
would be most beneficial. That may take the form of researching to answer
student or teacher generated questions, explore a theme or particular
subject and then to do something with that information, such as give an
oral or written report, write a letter, make a brochure, etc.
there is no work that the learner produces on this software, except
possibly notes taken, there is no report or scores available for the
is no authoring option included in this software.
Feedback As this is not a drill and practice type of software, there is very
limited feedback/response given to the user. There are a few options within the
media gallery that has games for the student to play. Generally, if the user’s
answer is not correct, as in a matching game, the student-moved image will not
stay where the student placed it. But, he/she can try as many times as they
like to get it right before asking for the answers. In other games where
students are expected to answer multiple choice questions, links are provided
to the related article so that the user can find the answer if they so desire.
Content As noted earlier, this program is rich in information given both in
text and various media. For those users desiring more detailed information,
there are generally additional articles which can be accessed. The student then
is free to construct their own understanding of the subject they are studying,
with the added vocabulary support from the multimedia (still images, video,
audio) and the dictionary. The thinking skills addressed with this software
depend mostly on the tasks set by either the student or the teacher. The
software provides for meaningful interaction between the computer and the
students, as well as, if students are working in pairs or small groups to
accomplish a particular task, there will certainly be interaction and
negotiation of meaning and direction amongst them. The software is well
organized, enjoyable, interesting, and factually correct (if the owner
remembers to maintain the monthly updates).
The program has attractive and colorful
screens, as well as a vast store of various media. The sound was easily
understood and added to the understanding of the subject and enjoyment of the
user. It seems that most of the media, text and graphics, as well as maps, can
be printed from the screen or copied into a document.
Examples of how this software might be used in the
research on an assigned topic or subject of interest to the student
thematic collages, guided tours, and interactive activities can be used as
a source of introductory material for a unit of study. The multimedia
nature of the program presents new ideas and vocabulary in an
of a particular place, such as a rainforest, might be used as a
brainstorming session for student creative writing.
can research a particular country or city and then make travel brochures,
including maps, information, and pictures. They could also make a
multimedia presentation including the nation’s national anthem and samples
of the language, both spoken and written.
can find supplemental information of a particular place or era of history
to aid in comprehension of a piece of literature being read.
I highly recommend this software for an ESL/EFL classroom. It’s
stimulating content and multimedia presentation makes language and concepts
more accessible to English learners.
Best Part of the Program: To me the best part of this software are those pieces that help
the user to explore a theme, rather than browsing endlessly through articles.
This would include the interactive activities, guided tours, and collages.
Worst Part of the Program:
the software’s greatest weakness is in another way its greatest strength.
The huge amount of information it offers the learner can be overwhelming
if careful tasks and goals are not set.
- It is
the responsibility of the owner of the software to keep up with monthly
updates to the Yearbook and the web links. While this apparently only
takes a few minutes, if not done, some of the information will quickly
become outdated or inaccurate in our rapidly changing world.