What is the best way to review a piece of computer software?
Australian Landscapes was given to a mixed group of Year 7 students, working on a unit on arid desert environments, with the instruction to "Explore and get back to me". They didn't get back to me for quite a while, fully engrossed in what is a detailed and feature-packed program.
The section on Uluru that they looked at begins with an aerial photograph of the monolith and combines a series of data resources to accompany this. These cover such things as background information, climatic data, and students' activities, that cover both topographic mapping skills, group work and various other data interpretation tasks.
Of course, students are often more interested in the bells and whistles of a package like this and found it very intuitive to skip from photo to data to topographic map and so on. They rarely find themselves motivated, unless guided, to tackle the "activities".
The student activities provided with Australian Landscapes are really quite good and cover a range of ability levels. One of the highlights was the way in which the effort had been made to include skills development, rather than just interpretation, with pop-ups that explain how to describe locations and the different types of photographic views, to name a couple.
Australian Landscapes covers twenty-six locations around Australia from capital cities through to major features. The sections on Melbourne and Sydney are particularly thorough and could easily be used from junior through to VCE levels, particularly Unit 1 Place and Change and Unit 2 Living Conditions. The major features - from the Daintree through to the Gold Coast and mining locations such as Kalgoorlie - provide a wide range of urban and rural landscapes to investigate.
As with all resources, statistical data soon becomes out-dated but at present all statistics come from the 1996 census, meaning that Australian Landscapes is still valuable for comparing data. This, of course, could be supplemented with new data as it arrives.
One puzzling thing for me is the ability to provide both single and stereo images without giving a way of using the stereo images.
With the ability to combine information from a wide range of sources, aerial photographs, topographic maps, annotated statistical and data maps, Australian Landscapes is a resource that should find itself appearing in a large number of geography faculties.