Inventive Australia

Book review Know-how, the guide to innovation in Australia Interactive CD Rom published by Powerhouse Publications, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney NSW Macintosh/Windows RRP $99.95

What a lot of information ! Know-how, the guide to innovation in Australia CD-Rom has spanned a decade of 354 innovations in Australia. As a teaching aid for Design and Technology it offers a wealth of examples while also acting as personal research tool for students.
I tried it out on my high school son. He played the games first - they rated an OK, and did elicit some degree of thought on his part. The numerous examples were scanned while the case studies with video were looked at in greater depth. His vote? Pretty good for projects and interesting but a bit repetitive. Kids' interest is hard to hold!

Interactive education is a new field and as the tool itself matures and becomes easier to manipulate, the range of possibilities for its use will expand. Currently the products are a cross between encyclopaedia, testing tool and interest jogger. The magic cross over from "how does that work?" to "I understand now!" is difficult to define and even harder to plan for in a teaching tool. Know how tackles the encyclopaedia task and succeeds while hopefully jogging the students' interest to learn more.
The innovation and development of products is an area which has had a short history in Australia, where manufacturing is difficult and design is not rated highly. In educating Australians this tool is much needed, as it puts the innovation process into a format which allows for an overview of many different disciplines while drawing on Australian examples in a simple matter of fact way. We await greater educational emphasis on this real world subject.

A big hand for the organisers of the information. Collecting, formatting and collating this amount of material into a digestible and programmable pile is a feat in itself. The navigation through the CD ROM is straightforward with the bulk of the information grouped into two areas, Case Studies and Innovations, while a map and listing help with research. The screen tools are simple and obvious and act more like a database interface rather than an entertaining experience. You get a picture with a few sheets of explanation, study guides, an activity and some cross reference choices.

Criticisms? The graphic components and the general lack of polish in the interface. It could look so much better without sacrificing any of its functionality. It has a rough and ready feel and looks as if the task of structuring the information has taken over from much thought about the presentation. It did not however kill my computer, always a worry especially when installing multimedia; it also was fairly fast and precise. On the down side, during a simple software stress test the pictures did not show up in real colour and I learnt to stop and start the videos to turn the sound on. This I know is the software choice not the skill of the programmer.

Generally it is a good product, albeit rather rough around the edges, and should find an interested audience. Are there more Powerhouse CD Roms in the making? I hope so.

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