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i spySelection is a process of deciding what materials should be added to a collection.

In schools, your electronic materials choices should be based upon curriculum goals and matched with the hardware and software you already own. They should also meet a need that is not already being met through other means.

If you're focusing on purchases for a public library setting, consider complementing the school collection with selections that combine information, learning, and fun such as I Spy: Spooky Manison Deluxe.

readRead Insights into Evaluating Mobile Education Apps by Don Douglass (September 2010).

Read the following materials for children and young Selecting Software, Establishing Selection Criteria, and Software Purchase Considerations.

Selecting Software

From DVDs to mobile apps, it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz of educational software. “Bells and whistles” such as bright color, clever animation, and interesting background music don’t necessarily mean that a product will be effective in the classroom. These extras may distract the learner rather than focus on a learning goal.

Before you buy, determine whether the product fits your needs. Software producers often have useful information at their websites.

Needs Assessment

Living Books BoxBegin with a needs assessment. If you're focusing on increasing fluency in reading, consider interactive books such as Just Grandma and Me (shown on the left). These are available on DVD or as mobile apps.

What software do you currently own? What do you do with this software? Next, consider the units you are planning for the near future. What kinds of activities are you planning? What types of materials will you and your students need to accomplish the goals of your unit?

Do you already have other types of materials such as books or videos that will fit the need, or would the computer environment be more effective for the concept you are trying to teach? Where do you need additional software?

By exploring your needs, you’re better prepared to make informed decisions about software purchases. You’re also less likely to buy on impulse if you have a list of those areas where you really need additional resources.

Ease of Use

One important selection consideration often overlooked is ease of use. Software that is difficult to use is unlikely to be used in the classroom. Do you have the time to learn the package? By the time the students learn the package, is there any time to apply the package to the content area?

Features

Explore the features of each software package. For example, are there provisions for printing? What tools are provided for information searches such as menus and indexes? Can the teacher control options such as sound and language? Also determine whether the product is sold individually, in lab packs, network versions, and/or by site licenses to meet your building needs.

As you consider the purchase of a piece of software, look at all the products available. For example, if you’re exploring the animals of the rainforest, there may be many educational software packages on the topic.

Evaluate each piece of software individually and then compare them. You may find that one does a better job for the particular needs of your classroom. Often the software considered to be “best” overall may not fit the needs of your grade or interest level. In addition to quality, also consider the cost. Is it worth paying $100 for a piece of software you may only use once per year? Are there other uses for the software? One reason that creativity tools are so popular is their multiple uses. The same goes for reference resources like electronic encyclopedias. Get the biggest “bang for your buck."

Producers

Reading Adventures BoxAfter awhile you’ll get to know the popular educational software producers such as Broderbund, The Learning Company (Reading Adventures shown on right), Microsoft, DK Interactive Learning, Knowledge Adventure, Edmark, Scholasic, Sierra, and Tom Snyder Productions. The software developed by these producers often reflects their particular philosophy about the role of technology in schools. You may find that you like practically everything developed by one producer that shares your educational perspective. For example, Edmark is known for their special needs resources, so their software is particularly good for meeting individual needs of students.

Many producers such as Edmark provide free downloads so you can try their software. For example, you can download software to Make-A-Story about Kenya. Or, explore the VirtualLab: Electricity software. Some of these are full-blow packages and others are parts of CDs.

Go to Riverdeep's Edmark. Download and try a couple of their free downloads.

It's easy to get caught up in the marketing of educational software. Popular children's characters from PBS series, Disney, and children's books can be found on software. Try to focus on activities rather than on the glitz.

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Establishing Selection Criteria

Before you invest in a piece of software, try it. You may not be able to do an extensive evaluation on every piece of software, but it's important to at least preview the materials before purchasing.

At the lowest level, you may only have time for a general screening. By opening and exploring each option in the package, you at least get a feel for the program's capabilities.

It's better to spend some time with the software and use your professional judgment to determine whether it will really be effective in your classroom. Explore the quality of content, reading level, instructional strategies applied, and flexibility of the program.
If you have time, the highest level of evaluation is best. An extensive evaluation involves examining all aspects of the program from multiple perspectives.

Clifford BoxTake a software package like Clifford Learning Activities (shown on the left). Explore the program from the point of view of various students in your class, consider it from different teaching/learning perspectives, look at the technical aspects of the program, as well as the software's aesthetic qualities. Examine the screen design, program structure, and instructional approaches.

Consider all the ways the software could be integrated into your classroom. This type of evaluation takes time, but it will help determine whether it's worth the time and expense to purchase and integrate the software.

It’s best to use a formal set of criteria to examine all aspects of the software, but it’s worthwhile if you can only spend a few minutes exploring the features. Some technology stores provide areas for evaluation. In addition, technology conferences often provide exhibits and testing workshops. Many areas have educational agencies sponsored by counties or the state that provide collections of educational software available for checkout and evaluation.

You may not be able to personally evaluate every piece of software you purchase. In some cases, you may need to rely on the advice of others. One of your best sources of information is colleagues who teach classes similar to yours. You can also use journal articles and professional reviews.

Be sure to explore the website for the software package such as Tom Snyder's Decisions, Decisions. In many cases there's a wealth of materials that are helpful in integrating the package into your curriculum.

An easy way to evaluate software is by simply listing strengths, weaknesses, and possible uses. However, if you'd like to conduct a more formal evaluation consider developing a selection policy and software evaluation form. You'll need to consider both the content of the software, as well as the format and technical aspects.

Go to Software Evaluation Tool. Examine these resources for software evaluation.

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Software Purchase

There are many options for software purchase. Before you jump into a purchase explore the options. Ask yourself:

As you explore alternatives for purchasing software, consider the following options.

Suites and Grouped Software

In many cases, software is bundled together into suites or special purchase packages. For example, Macromedia Suite includes Dreamweaver, Freehand, Fireworks, and Flash among other software. Although you may not need all the software at the moment, it may be more cost effective in the long run. For example, Dreamweaver users quickly find that Fireworks is a nice companion for Dreamweaver. Grouped education software is also common. For instance, you might find a series of Reader Rabbit software at a special price. Electronic databases are often discounted the more features you purchase.

Education or Library Special Buy

Some companies provide a special software package and purchase price for individual copies. Before you buy, be certain that this software is fully functioning. Some educator packages contain fewer features or special restrictions. Sometimes the education edition comes with free materials such as lesson plans or school templates. If the functions meet your needs, this can certainly save you money.

School Pack

A "school pack" can mean many things. In most cases, the package includes multiple copies of the software CD. This usually means from 2-10 copies. In many cases, the pack comes with only one set of documentation.

Lab Pack

A "lab" pack is intended for use in a computer lab, so it generally contains from 10-30 copies of the software. Many times a system is available that provides better pricing for larger purchases.

Site License

A "site license" is intended for a particular building or district. Sometimes it allows installation and use of the software on any computer within a particular physical area. Be sure to make certain that the license applied to your need. For example, does it apply to the "portable classrooms" next to the main building. Or, does it apply to library branches as well as the main library. In some cases, the price is based on the total number of computers, students, or teachers in a school district. Also ask if teachers or librarians are free to take the computer software home.

Network License

A "network license" allows your organization to place the software on a computer network that can be accessed by any computer within particular parameters. Sometimes, the software is restricted to so many "simultaneous" users. In other words, you may have 200 computers in your building, but your network license may only allow thirty computers to use the software at once. Again, ask about restrictions before purchasing a network license. In addition, be sure the software will run on your particular network. In some cases network software can be slow, consider a trial that allows you to do some testing before committing to purchase.

Web Considerations

crayon physicsIncreasingly, software is offered over larger networks such as the Internet. Be sure that you check restrictions before opening any networked software to be accessed from the web. For example, are students allowed to access the electronic encyclopedia on the school computer from home? Can local patrons access electronic databases from their home computers?

Also, look for whether the publisher provides additional resources online. For instance Crayon Physics is a great software package that includes a blog and forums at the software website. They also have a way to subscribe to updates.

 

Apps

Many blogs are available that review mobile apps. Explore some of the following resources for ideas:

Trials

Trial versions are intended for software evaluation. In some cases the software is fully functioning but becomes unusable after a period of time such as 30 days. Sometimes, the program has some options such as printing or saving disabled.

If you've used a trial version of a software package on your computer, it's a good idea to uninstall the program before installing the purchased package.

Visual Thesaurus

Read a review of the CD-ROM software Visual Thesaurus from School Library Journal. Then, go to the Visual Thesaurus website. Explore to options for purchase. What are the pros and cons of each option?

 

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Adapted with permission from Chapter 5 in Lamb, A. (2006). Building Treehouses for Learning: Technology in Today's Classroom, Fourth Edition.

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