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Author: Kristen Robinson
Title: The American Journey
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
April 1999

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Source: The American Journey
Kristen Robinson

vol. 2, no. 1, April 1999
Article Type: Software Review
PDF: Download full PDF [13kb ]

The American Journey

Kristen Robinson

The American Journey: Interactive Edition for Macintosh and Windows. Prentice Hall and Zane Publishing, 1998. $84.00

The American Journey was very easy to load and run on both Macintosh and IBM platforms. After a simple loading process, involving only a double-click on a Macintosh or use of the Autorun feature in Windows 95, the program automatically enters its Feature Presentation mode, which combines text and color images with music and narration. It was difficult to turn off the sounds, which may make the program difficult to use in classrooms, libraries or computer labs. The program's interactive and online features are also easy to use, and all aspects of the program are fairly easily navigable; the program could easily be used by computer novices. It is designed to be used by advanced high school or introductory college students, and it appears completely appropriate for those levels.

The American Journey is based on Prentice Hall's recently-released textbook of the same name. The introductory screen gives access to four chronologically-defined areas of the textbook, each of seven to ten chapters. The first section covers up to 1789; the second through 1865; the third through 1917, and the fourth through the present. The structure of the textbook is overwhelmingly chronological, but the authors are careful to explain both political and social history. Each chapter has its own Feature Presentation, which consists of a five to seven minute vocal and text overview of the chapter supplemented by pictures. After watching the Feature Presentation, users can access the full text of the chapter. Ideally, they would have to do so, but each chapter's Feature Presentation flows into the next chapter's Feature Presentation, encouraging a passive absorption of the general overview of the textbook's information. The text is easily navigable, in most cases. Many headings and subheadings are highlighted hyperlinks to related images and areas in the textbook. However, attempts to skip around the textbook's subjects or review chapter outlines can become overly complex tasks. Each chapter's topics are arranged alphabetically rather than in order of appearance, leading to a list of chapter topics that almost always begins with "Additional Sources." This alphabetical organization is odd in any textbook, but particularly in one with such a chronological organization. The textbook is good at explaining difficult terms; except for a few glitches, concepts that may be unfamiliar to users are highlighted hyperlinks that lead to a glossary of key terms and events in American history. The CD also contains an easily accessible and navigable dictionary for further help for confused users, and lists of books, websites and museums for users wishing further information on a particular topic.

Each chapter also contains a link to an image gallery with hundreds of photos, maps, charts and a few short compressed-video clips that further explain the information in the chapter. These are generally helpful, although several items have insufficient caption explanations. After reviewing the Feature Presentation, the text of the chapter and the images associated with it, users can enter Quiz mode to test their knowledge of the chapter. Each quiz is timed and consists of several multiple choice questions; users can select the number of questions they wish to answer. In Question mode, users can narrow the topics on which they wish to answer down even further, quizzing themselves on only certain parts of chapters. In Question mode, each quiz question provides a link to the parts of the chapter covering that question, in case users are stumped, as well as a link to the chapter index, an alphabetical listing of topics covered, and information on taking a quiz. In Quiz mode, these options are turned off. The CD also provides several suggestions for possible essay topics in each chapter and hyperlinks to the relevant information for each essay in the textbook.

An online guide provides access to more materials on the web. The website associated with the CD gives a list of learning objectives for each chapter, as well as more multiple-choice, true-false, and essay questions. There is also a feature that uses the user's choice of search engines to search the web for more texts or information about a particular person or event. The site also features a message board for posing questions about the material to other users. One final interesting online feature is the ability to set up an online course through Prentice Hall, allowing professors to conduct distance learning courses uses Prentice Hall materials without having to design their own website. Each professor can post a syllabus to the web for his or her students, allowing for personalization within the Prentice Hall format.

Every part of The American Journey attempts to be easily navigable, and many are. Each chapter has an index that allows easy and immediate access to any part of the chapter, although the alphabetical organization can be confusing. The glossary and dictionary also make it simple to find additional information about unfamiliar concepts. To accommodate users looking for specific information, the program also includes a word search function that quickly scans the text for any word entered, allowing users to quickly access all the information about any topic, from Fort Michilimackinac to Sojourner Truth to Watergate, scattered throughout the textbook. This is one of the textbook's most useful features, allowing for quick and easy access to information on a specific topic. Many sections of the textbook contain hyperlinks to related areas and images, as well, anticipating users' desires to find out more about a specific topic.

The American Journey: Interactive Edition is a fairly standard freshman-level American history textbook, but little more. It covers both political and social history and treats minorities and women with care and respect. To a dedicated learner, The American Journey is a gold mine of information and ways of testing one's knowledge. Even if not used to its full extent, the CD provides an excellent way of learning basic knowledge about American history. Sometimes its teaching style is a little too passive, especially when a voice reads the Feature Presentation material aloud, but that encourages students to take control of their own learning. The quizzes give them constant feedback on their knowledge of the material. The online distance learning features of the CD make it especially useful for extending the boundaries of the university. The CD seems more appropriate for independent learning than for classroom use, where an easily-transported paper textbook would probably be more useful to most students.

Kristen Robinson
University of Kentucky