Vol. 1. No. 3 MR-1 March 1995
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The Swiss Family Robinson: An Island Adventure

Original story: Johann Wyss
Adaptation, illustration, and animation: Thelxiopi Kickham
Programming and effects animation: Dylan T. Gladstone
Vocals: Jeffrey M. Reilly and Rory Kelsch
CD-guide: Rory Kelsch and Thelxiopi Kickham
1993 Multi Dimensional Communications, Inc.: Pound Ridge, NY
Suggested retail: 59$ US

This is an interesting CD-ROM program produced by Multi Dimensional Communications as part of their "Talking Books Storybook" series. It tells the classic tale of the adventures of a 19th century family shipwrecked on an unknown island in the South Seas. Organized into twenty pages (screens) of illustrations and accompanying text, it includes music, sound effects, and animation. Users access the program by using the control panel located at the bottom of each page or by exploring the page with the cursor.

My overall impression of the program is a favorable one. Although not specifically designed to teach English as a Second or Foreign language, the program is used in my class to help university-bound ESL students improve their reading skills. The program's many built-in features supply contextual clues, thus assisting non-native speakers in their understanding of the passage. In addition, the sound-symbol correlation is reinforced since the text is both printed and spoken. However, the program's visual and audio creativity alone make it one that will perk the interest of almost any reading student.

The visuals are the most attractive feature of "Swiss Family Robinson CD-ROM." All of the graphics are computer generated, bright, multi-colored images. They include scenes of the inside of the jungle cottage, the family relaxing by a waterfall, and a sinking shipwreck. These graphics remain still pictures until their animated portions are activated by clicking certain points of the picture with the magnifying glass icon, which appears with a letter {A} inside to indicate that an animation sequence is located at this point on the screen. One criticism is that students must explore the screen for the graphics, but they usually learn quickly where the animation sequences are located in relation to the characters (animal or human) on the screen. They click on them out of habit or because they are clued by the text. For example, the following sample text describes the location of animated sequences:

Fresh coconuts were obtained by tossing dry, over- ripened coconuts which had fallen to the ground, up to the monkeys hanging in the branches. The monkeys, mimicking our behavior, had responded by plucking the fresh ones from the trees and tossing them back at us.[-1-]

By clicking the monkey or the man in the graphic, the animation sequence is activated and the two throw coconuts to one another. On average, each page contains 1-3 animated sequences.

Another positive feature of this program is the ease in navigating through it using the control panel functions. At the beginning of each page, a menu bar briefly appears at the bottom of the screen so the user is aware of its location. Moving the cursor to the bottom will cause the menu bar (control panel) to remain visible. When the "show text" button is clicked, the screen is shadowed and vocabulary items are highlighted in yellow. Moving the cursor to the highlighted word turns it into an icon of an open book; clicking the mouse reveals the word's printed and spoken definition. Other buttons allow the user to browse through the pages, change the volume, or quit the program altogether.

One possible drawback here, however, is the lack of information about using the control panel within the program itself. The func- tions on the control panel are fully described in the accompanying booklet, but separate instruction booklets are impractical in a CALL-lab setting where several students might use the same piece of software simultaneously or on a rotating basis. If students could access boxes from within the program which explained how to use the control panel, then this CD-ROM could be used without additional materials, either booklets or a teacher's explanations.

Finally the feature I very much like is the audio portion of the program. The music especially is well chosen, all of it instrumental and ranging from slow classical piano pieces to the quick tempo and jungle-like sounds of tropical locales. A different musical selection is heard on each page unless the voice option is activated and the text is recited.

The male narrator's voice is natural sounding, clear and distinct, if a little too rapid for most of my lower-level students. However, the narration can be repeated as many times as necessary since the control panel reappears after the text is recited.

I have continued to use this CD-ROM program in my intensive reading classes for lower level ESL students. Often they will return to work with the program later during non-class hours. Seeing words in context, hearing them spoken, and accessing an instant dictionary has provided my students with a great tool for learning to recognized spoken and written English.

Phil Plourde
Center for English a Second Language
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale


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