9(1), November 1992, pages 57-58

Things to Consider When Evaluating Software

Molly Hepler

I have worked in instructional computing since 1972, the last 17 of those years at Conduit, a not-for-profit educational software publisher. In my various roles at Conduit, I have talked with and counseled countless teachers about instructional computing and instructional software. When teachers are contemplating how to integrate computers into their curricula, I recommend they consider the following advice.

Look Around

Find out how others are using computers in their classrooms. Visit nearby schools to observe how they have integrated computers. Include all types of schools in your tour; you can adapt ideas from colleges as readily as you can from preschools. The point is to immerse yourself in the approach to instruction that these teachers have adopted.

Your research should also include reading any of the journals dedicated to instructional computing. Most educational journals today include a regular column on computers in the classroom.

Finally, you may benefit from attending local, regional, and national conferences where you can connect with other teachers facing these same issues. Build a network of people who can both support and advise you.

Software before Hardware

Chose the software first, then choose the computer. As you investigate specific computers and software packages, don't let the allure of the machines distract you from your real purpose of reshaping the curriculum. Your first priority should be to define your curriculum. Then find the software that supports it. Choosing the computers to support the software you have chosen should be the final decision, not the first. Choose software that is adaptable.

Your ideas about how to use a software package in the classroom will change as you gain experience with the software and with computers, and as your students' needs and skills change. One of the most critical features of any software package should be its adaptability to your changing needs and ideas. Does the software include utilities that allow you to make changes? Can you create entirely new lessons? The software should be able to grow and adapt with you.

Support and Training

Plan for continuing support and training. Initially, integrating computers into your curriculum will take enormous amounts of time. hanging old habits is hard work. When planning time and budgets, be sure to include sufficient time and money for training, experimentation, and support staff.

As you gain experience using computers, your need for support and training will change. Instead of needing help saving a file from your word-processing program, you will want help figuring out how to insert a videodisc into a player so you can show your class the wonderful production of Hamlet that you've found. Create a framework that will support tomorrow's ideas.

Molly Hepler is Product Development Manager for Conduit in Iowa City, Iowa.