Skip to content
ascd logo

Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 7

Review: Making Decisions About CD-ROMs

      The trickle of CD-ROMs entering the marketplace is quickly turning into a flood to rival the Deluge of '93. Two million discs were sold in 1992, and that number is expected to double each year to reach 64 million discs by 1997. This surging demand has spawned a cottage industry of producers to meet the needs of what analysts predict will be a multibillion-dollar market.
      As was the case with early computer software, few CD-ROM products fully realize the potential of the medium. At present, most merely repackage information from another format, usually print. Multimedia CD-ROM products, however, offer the advantage of print, sound, graphics, and animation all in one document, as well as reasonably fast access, and very low costs of reproduction. For example, once mastered, optical discs can be reproduced in quantity for less than $2 per disc, including the jewel case container, the manuals, labels, and packaging. Thus, on a single CD-ROM, the consumer can have access to the equivalent of about 550,000 pages of print information, at a tiny fraction of the original production cost.
      To gain access to this information, however, one must first invest in the necessary computer hardware. To meet the industry Multimedia PC (MPC) standard, an IBM-compatible user will want a 386 or 486 computer with at least two megabytes of RAM, a hard drive, CD-ROM drive, audio board, mouse, and a VGA or VGA+ display. The Macintosh user will want equivalent power in a Mac II or better. If you already have an adequate PC, you can buy a multimedia upgrade kit with the CD-ROM drive, audio board, and speakers for under $800. Almost all of the new computers from both IBM and Apple aimed at the home or school market are or will be multimedia compliant, many with built-in CD-ROM drives. (Note: If you are buying a CD-ROM drive separately, make sure the drive is fast enough to be MPC compliant if the MPC label does not appear on the box.)
      With the hardware installed, your next decision is which CD-ROM to buy. Interactive games are popular for the home market, but as an educator and author, I would choose one of the many multimedia information products: for example, illustrated encyclopedias, talking dictionaries, and maps with pop-up databases. One of the first such products for IBM-compatibles has been updated recently and is, for my money, one of the best choices—Microsoft Bookshelf, 1993 Multimedia Edition.
      In this edition, Microsoft Bookshelf's seven reference books—The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition; Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th Edition; The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia of Quotations; The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition; The Hammond Atlas; Roget's II Electronic Thesaurus; and the World Almanac and Book of Facts 1993—are enhanced with full-motion video and sound. But the best part is that all seven are linked, so an index search can find topics in one or all of the books.
      Like their print versions, reference books on disc must be accessible while you are working on your own document. In a computer environment, this means they can be used at the same time you are using your primary software, usually a word processor. Because MS Bookshelf is a MS Windows application, you can simply put MS Bookshelf on your Windows desktop before opening your word processor.
      Once MS Bookshelf is open (you may want to use the “Help Demos”), it's very easy to use. The “tear-off” menu, which can be moved to a convenient screen location, provides nine buttons for one-click access to the most frequently used functions. You can find specific words or phrases, use an index to locate topics, backtrack through previously viewed topics, and see a list of the last 40 topics visited. You can also browse backward or forward through the current book, open the table of contents, switch to another book, or get help from the online documentation.
      Ten tool buttons give you quick access to many of the multimedia features, such as lists of maps, images, audio clips, and animations. One button provides a limited hypertext feature by showing you a list of all associated topics in Columbia Quotations or the encyclopedia. Other hypertext touches include “hot” words within text—any colored, solid-underlined word also acts as a button. Click on it to jump to a related topic. Click a word in color with a dashed underline to jump to a definition or additional information in a pop-up window.
      When I sit down to write, I first open MS Bookshelf, then I reduce the full screeen to an icon at the bottom of the screen. Next, I open my Windows word processor. When I need to consult MS Bookshelf, I can reduce the size of the word processor document screen, then click on the MS Bookshelf icon to open its window and access its resources. It takes only a few clicks to move back and forth between word processor and Bookshelf. If it's appropriate, material from Bookshelf can be highlighted, then copied and pasted into the word processor document.
      A word of caution—this is the place where I got into trouble—not all the material in MS Bookshelf can be copied and pasted directly into an external document. I managed to blow up the program by trying to copy a photograph of Abraham Lincoln into a WordPerfect document. Unfortunately, I hadn't saved the document immediately before the attempt, so I lost everything back to my last save. Until you are sure this will not happen to you, save your original document before you try to cut and paste.
      MS Bookshelf includes a well-organized and well-written CD-ROM sized manual. The manual's short 20 pages testify to the product's ease of use. Almost every distributor carries MS Bookshelf at a discount, and you will also find it bundled with CD-ROM drives and multimedia hardware upgrade kits. This is a first-rate product for the school library and any classroom, especially ones in which a process approach to writing is used. MS Bookshelf is also an excellent product for the home, where curious children will appreciate its entertainment value and adults will gain easy access to an immense amount of information at a low price.

      Frank Betts has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

      Learn More

      ASCD is a community dedicated to educators' professional growth and well-being.

      Let us help you put your vision into action.
      From our issue
      Product cover image 194049.jpg
      Realizing the Promise of Technology
      Go To Publication