Microsoft       Deluxe    

 Encarta 97




Software Reviewed by Pat Sarvis


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 reference tool


Publisher:  Microsoft


ESL/EFL Levels:  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.


Age Group:  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 learners.


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 information)


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 available.


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 a class.


User friendliness:  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 offered.


Program Description:  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.


Articles  Students 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.


Objectives:  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


Pedagogical Considerations:


Program Operation


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).


Program Output   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 ESL/EFL classroom:


Overall Opinion:  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: