Educational Software for school and home
of Elements of the Form
software, teachers and parents need to understand the limits of using software
exclusively as a teaching tool. Software, or computer-based teaching, is
not able to make connections to what the student knows and deals with in
daily life. Teachers, parents, tutors and peers can do this if they are
involved with the learner as he or she interacts with the program. Think
back to the discussion of technology as a "tool" as mentioned in the first
chapter, and imagine that software, especially educational CD-ROMs, can
be a valuable tool when teachers and students use them together. The way
software or hardware is used and the structure surrounding the activity
has significant instructional value, beyond what just the software or hardware
includes. If we look at the research on the use of educational software
in the classroom, it seems that when kids use software they perform better
on basic skills and knowledge types of standardized tests, but no better
on assessments that measure application and evaluation of information.
Software works best when teachers and students talk about the experiences
and material being presented in the programs. Talking about this allows
you and the student to develop greater understanding and application of
the program’s information.
or rubrics for evaluating technology exist that are available across the
board. Most attempt to describe the technical aspects of a piece of software.
Special education teaching is not new to this process of finding techniques
for evaluating teaching methods. All teachers have strategies for determining
whether or not to use a technique, just as all professionals have ways
of determining if a product or process is right for them or their "client"
(in our case the student).
Teachers use all
sorts of strategies in determining if a technology product is right for
their student. Researchers from regular and special education have attempted
to create models for software selection over the past decade as more and
more software programs have been developed and marketed toward education.
For example, the following eight sources were identified by Malouf in a
study in 1989 as preferred sources of information by special education
teachers for selecting software for use with students with disabilities:
These all may sound
like preferences you would use today when selecting software. In fact,
it appears that not much has changed in the last decade with regard to
the way special education teachers select software titles for instructional
purposes. Researchers from both regular and special education continue
to create models for software selection.
talking with other
tryout with students
from evaluations or reviews
pictures of sample
screens from evaluations or reviews
school system lists
of recommended software
manual included with software
One model for
software selection described by Smith & Vokurka (1990) states that
teachers must begin the process of evaluating software by first examining
relationships between people and procedures. These include:
distinguish between the management process and the instructional process
for software selection. According to Smith & Vokurka "The selection
process must be grounded on the principles of functional utility of the
chosen software and not on the creation of ‘window dressing’" (p. 37).
They also suggest an effective evaluation instrument ought to be:
and analyze students characteristics
implement use of
As the research
in the area of software evaluation progressed throughout the decade, the
fundamental concerns of teaching and learning foundations have not been
disputed. For example, researchers such as Lahm & Nickels (1999) report
that it is essential for all teachers to have the knowledge of procedures
for determining if a software program or assistive device has potential
for a student or class of students. Often school districts have a particular
procedure defined for general software evaluation, but the specific learning
needs of students in special education may demand additional or adapted
procedures. The essence behind this process is the understanding that technology
will be matched to the student’s specific needs, with the goal of keeping
the student on target within the curriculum and moving toward meeting the
easily used by
organized in understandable
and legible format
to present a reasonable determination of the value of a program and short
enough not to discourage use
include a final
overview that at a glance indicates the evaluator’s recommendation.
by Moore (1990) identifies a variety of additional recommendations that
should be used by those who work with special needs students in the process
of evaluating software. Moore’s (1990) list includes:
program’s instructional soundness he states "unless you are an expert,
you may not be able to make that kind of an assessment, however, if the
program looks good on the evaluation criteria it will score well on other
counts as well" (p. 61). His evaluation criteria are fundamental and look
at these characteristics: (a) computer compatibility; (b) documentation
thorough, clearly written, and well organized; (c) focus on skills (d)
supplement or complement work; (e) appropriate for age, grade, & reading
level; (f) can it be customized; (g) design features — music, colors; and
(h) use of adaptive devices.
companies to acquire the product descriptions that correlate each program
to specific curriculum areas and academic levels
from the national organizations for special needs to have them help in
the identification of appropriate software that has been evaluated by "educational
software experts who know how to critically assess a software program"
Obtaining a working
copy of the program to preview it as well as review the documentation
one of the most important steps in the process of evaluating software is
for teachers to test the application by first using it themselves. You
may want to sit down with a student who understands his or her instructional
needs and carefully go through the process together while you both talk
about the software program. This idea of "talking out" while using the
software encourages the student to constantly evaluate their own understanding
in any academic procedure, but in particular with software this can encourage
students to analyze how well the program is helping them. Teachers and
students, in the process of evaluating software should sit together and
describe what they are doing, with phrases like "Let's see à it
looks like we are supposed to do this now", "How does this program help
us accomplish our goal". This gives you a good idea of how well the software
program really works and how well that student understands the directions
and processes of instruction.
Again, the best
use of many educational software programs is when a group of students or
a teacher and student work together and discuss the use of the program
while they use it. One of the most important elements of the IEPs of many
special needs students include skills related to communication, be that
about mathematics, the written word, or about the weather. These communication
skills are core to a student's ability to function and demonstrate their
knowledge throughout their educational program.
|The software evaluation
form depicted below is designed to be a simple tool for you to use while
in the process of evaluating software. This form, also included in the
resource packet, is intended to be something you can copy and share with
other teachers, or with parents who are willing to evaluate software for
you. Using a "universal" set of standards when examining software will
make it easier to compare and contrast when selecting programs for use
in the special education classroom or by any teacher or parent who would
like to use software to support a student's learning or shore up a set
of underlying skills and sub-skills.
Software Evaluation Form
Name of Software:______________________________________________________
Hardware requirements (include RAM and ROM needed): _______________________
Content area for which the software is designed: ______________________________
Type of knowledge program addresses: _____________________________________
Process and type of instruction:
Rate items 6-14 with a score (5=excellent, 4=good, 3=fair,
2=poor, 1=unsatisfactory, 0=non-applicable) and a written description.
Drill and Practice
10. Clear documentation and good support: _____________________________________
Ease of Use (clear instructions, installation) independence
for students, and interface:
Age Appropriateness: ___________________________________________________
Active learning on the part of student (v. passive learning
Degree of open-endedness and flexibility: ___________________________________
11. Follows principles of learning
Matched to instructional level of students: ______________________________
12. Technical Soundness
Appropriate vocabulary: ____________________________________________
Ability to engage students: __________________________________________
Expanding complexity: _____________________________________________
Saves student’s work : _____________________________________________
Uncluttered, realistic graphics: _______________________________________
Consistent operation: ______________________________________________
14. Opportunities for transfer: ________________________________________________
Mixed gender and role equity:________________________________________
People of diverse cultures: __________________________________________
Diverse Family Styles: _____________________________________________
Name, price and publisher of the software.
In any evaluation,
it is important to not only keep track of the name, publisher and price
of the program, but the date that the evaluation was completed. Software
programs are available in so many formats, and the same titles are used
for very different programs. This basic information is essential to a useful
evaluation as a method to obtain the program in the future if it is selected.
requirements of the software (include RAM and ROM needed)
From a technical
standpoint, the simplest question with regard to choosing technology is
"Will it run on my computer?" The hardware requirements of any software
program need to be examined before one selects a program to evaluate. Computer
hardware will be discussed later in the chapter, but it is important to
keep in mind that many of the newest programs require state of the art
computers, with a great deal of storage space and a large amount to memory
to run at all.
RAM = Random
Access Memory, this is the additional memory installed on your computer,
not part of the computers hard drive.
ROM = Read Only
Memory, this is the memory on your hard drive.
3. Content area
for which the software is designed.
a program, the obvious method we all use is to look at the title and packaging
to determine what skills and content that program is designed to teach.
As with other products, you can’t always judge the product by how it is
packaged. As an evaluator it is your responsibility therefore to determine
if, in reality, the packaging is correct. In other words, does this program
focus on math (or reading or science or a foreign language) and engage
the student in effective mathematical thinking and learning?
to investigate the content area of the software is because often programs
that are designed to teach one area of the curriculum area are useful in
other areas as well. For example, Sim City, a popular software package
designed (as stated by the manufacturer) to be an experience in city planning
and organization (and used in social studies primarily), can be a great
tool in a social skills curriculum or in a math classroom. However, in
just as many cases, programs marketed to teach math or reading are simply
video games, with a few letters or numbers thrown in and no "instructional
4. Type of knowledge
addressed within program.
to selecting software within the appropriate content area, as an evaluator
you must also attempt to assess what type of knowledge the program is designed
to address. Beyond the content area of mathematics, what types of mathematical
skills does this program address. There are many ways to classify learning
outcomes from Gangé's learning hierarchy -- memorization underlies
concept learning which underlies principle learning which underlies problem
solving -- to the task analytic approach which involves breaking down a
complex task into its component or prerequisite skills. Special education
teachers have training to analyze an instructional objective and break
it down into the sub-skill and strategies that make up the larger instructional
goal. When designing instruction, special education teachers assess what
sub-skills and strategies the student already has and teaches to the specific
point where the student needs assistance. This is known as "precision teaching",
and is a common process that most teachers go through without even thinking
about it. When selecting an instructional activity for the student, the
teacher focuses his or her teaching on the level that the student needs.
The same process must be used when selecting a software package.
to think about type of knowledge is to use Bloom's taxonomy. Most teachers
are familiar with this way of breaking down types of skills and it is easily
understandable by others. In the cognitive domain of Blooms Taxonomy there
are six categories which are considered hierarchical so they are usually
referred to as levels of intellectual objective ranging from Knowledge
(lowest level, example: recalling information) to Evaluation (most complex
level, example: using previous learning to determine the worth or merit
of problem). Higher level tasks subsume tasks at the lower levels, so if
students are engaged in a synthesis task, the student must also demonstrate
all the other tasks below it.
||1. Reflex movements
||2. Basic fundamental
5. Skilled movements
and type of instruction
and Practice, Simulation, etc. (other….)
piece to consider about any software package is the process and type of
instruction. The process and type of instruction of a software package
is the method used to engage the user. This can include discovery learning
where students actively explore, question and try out their ideas to develop
further knowledge and information. It is important that the process and
type of instruction match the students needs otherwise the software cannot
provide an engaging or learning experience for the student.
6. Ease of Use
(clear instructions, installation) independence for students, and interface
How easy is
it to load the program, start the program, run the program and use the
program? Will the student be able to run the program independently? Are
instructions clear and available? If a software program does not provide
clear instructions for installation or use, or is difficult to use the
software program will probably not be able to meet the needs of the student
and therefore not be an effective technology tool for the student. Evaluating
the software first on your own or with a student will help you identify
if the program can be used independently and successfully.
7. Age Appropriateness
What age level
is this software designed for? Consider the vocabulary used, graphics,
layout and design. You want to make sure that the software package is age
appropriate to the age and level of your student. This can be a problem
for all students. For example, with older students many remedial software
programs are targeted toward younger students and so are seen as ‘babyish’
by older students. A program can not be as beneficial or successful toward
meeting a students needs if the student is unable to relate or connect
to the level of instruction.
8. Active learning
on the part of student (v. passive learning behavior)
When you are
evaluating any software package how are you the user being engaged? Does
the program engage you mentally, physically, and emotionally? Or can you
simply point and click your way through the program, not having to actively
participate and interact with the software? Research shows the more time
a student is engaged in active learning time the more knowledge and understanding
9. Degree of
open-endedness and flexibility
How much flexibility
is there for the student in using the program? Can the student create their
own original creation or are their defined templates the student has to
use? For example, software applications like Storybook Weaver versus HyperStudio.
Both are popular programs that allow students (or any user) to create their
own story or presentation. Due to the lack of individuality on the part
of storybook weaver, we push students those less and less by means of intervention
(fading) the amount of help a student needs to complete a task.
10. Clear documentation
and good support
Is the software
documentation clear? Is technical support available that you can contact
to take care of problems with the software? How and when is the technical
support available? If support or documentation is available, but you can’t
locate those materials or you can’t understand the documentation then you
can not use the software as an effective learning tool.
principles of learning
• Matched to
instructional level of students:
the technical aspects of the software, are the animation, colors, and sound
vivid, enticing and appropriate? Is the layout and design consistent, so
students are able to find their way around the program? Watch out for graphics
or color schemes that are distracting because they may be counter-productive
for students — drawing their attention away from the material and away
from an active learning environment. Does the program allow the student
to save their work, or save their place so they can come back and resume
at a later time? Depending on the student and their needs this may be an
important feature for some students and not for others. Can you print pages
from the program…are they readable? Also look at:
Does the level
of instruction match the age and level of the student?
Is the vocabulary
appropriate for the age and level of the student? If the vocabulary is
either too difficult or too simple the student may be turned off to engaging
or using the program.
• Ability to
that the students are engaged with the software, you don’t want them to
get bored working with the software.
Are their different
levels of difficulty within the program? Once a student has mastered a
desired level, can the student be challenged with further application of
the subject matter?
• Saves student’s
and role equity — Is the software free of gender or role biases?
People of diverse
cultures — Are there any assumptions being made within the software about
what the user would or would not know based on their background or neighborhood?
For example, some children may not know what a "subway train" is, is this
Styles - For example, does the program assume that all children are living
in homes with two parents?
examines the degree to which the program provides students with an opportunity
to apply the skills they have just learned to another setting. A math software
program should not just provide skill and drill, it should present how
those skills would be used in a more "natural" setting. For example, student
should not only be presented with practice on identifying coins, but on
how to count back change.