ERIC Identifier: ED250697
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Janello, Pam
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.

Software Evaluation for the Teacher of the English Language Arts. ERIC Digest.

Choosing effective software is not like selecting textbooks. Using the same strategies may waste both time and money. Outlined below are some of the questions teachers might ask to become as knowledgeable about evaluating software as they are about selecting texts.


Thoroughly examine both the program itself and the documentation--the written explanation that comes with the computer disk. Lack of documentation may mean that the person who produced the program did not organize it well or did not bother with explanatory material.

Reading the documentation should help answer some basic questions about how well the software meets classroom needs.

--Are the subject matter and the stated objectives of the program appropriate for your students?

--Is the software technically compatible with your computer equipment? For example, does your computer have the required units of memory? Can the machine be upgraded by purchasing additional memory chips?

--Does effective use of the program require color monitors or printers?

--Does the program need disk drives or cassette players? How many disk drives?


Load and run the program for the first of several trials. At first concentrate on three areas: Does the program carry out its stated objectives? Is it user-friendly? Is the structure pedagogically sound?

Identify whether the program carries out its stated objectives just as you would with a classroom text. User-friendliness may be a more foreign concept. Is the program easy to use? Are the directions clear, or is special technical knowledge about computers needed to make this program work?

In addition, examine the program for ease of operation. Ask the following questions:

--Does the program give instructions online as needed?

--Is the program menu driven? That is, do you start out with a page of choices, or must you read the beginning directions every time?

--Can you get out of the program before completing its instructional sequences?

--Can you return to the directions given early in the program?


Look at both the positive and negative feedback that the program gives for correct and incorrect responses. Is it appropriate and not condescending for the age level of your class? Field studies show that a simple "Okay" or "Correct" is often better than using the student's name and a string of superlatives.

Does the negative feedback help point students in the right direction? Feedback that says "Think!" is useless to students who thought they were thinking but still missed the answer. A more helpful feedback design is the corrective feedback paradigm (CFP). This system reruns missed questions through a questioning sequence at specified intervals to reinforce retention.

Avoid programs that will not let students out until they have answered five or ten or fifteen questions correctly in a row. Students who cannot do this are frustrated by their failure and quit.

Check whether the program keeps track of the student's work, giving some type of summary and evaluation at the end.


Consider the followng issues. Is the sequencing pedagogically logical? Does the program permit the student to interact--think, respond, wonder, predict--or to simply read an electronic workbook? The more interactive the program, the better.

Is the language too formal or too laden with slang? Is it so dependent on fad that it will be outdated in two years? Finally, do graphics and/or sound add anything to the program, or are they window dressing?


Force yourself to be a confused and/or slow learner during the second viewing. Consciously make the following mistakes:

--Hit the return key with no input. Can you do it three times, get the correct answer, and page on through or must you make an attempt to answer?

--Type in perceptually correct but literally incorrect answers (for example, misspellings, parts of names, or abbreviations).

--Type in a totally "off-the-wall" response.

--Hit the escape key; hit many keys simultaneously; randomly tap the keyboard.

The program is "bulletproof" if it is capable of handling accidental or intentional problems. If not, the program is sure to backfire on some students.

If you still like the program at this point, give it to several of your quick/bright and slow/unmotivated students. Their opinions, actions, and reactions will reveal much about the program.


Some publishers are unwilling to let you preview programs. Software development, especially if well-done, is expensive. Publishers lose money if they send out preview disks that are then copied and returned.

Allow for publishers' qualms when making arrangements for previewing. Send a letter promising that you will not copy illegally. However, insist on seeing real programs rather than shortened preview disks.

If publishers refuse to send the disks, ask for a sales representative to demonstrate the program and arrange time for your own evaluation. Another alternative is for several schools to jointly plan a software fair where invited publishers can demonstrate a range of programs.

Check publishers' policies on backup disks or multiple copies. You should be given either a backup disk or provision to make your own. How will the publisher handle your district's need for multiple copies? Is the publisher willing to negotiate a reasonable, nominal fee for additional or replacement copies for lost or damaged disks? What is the publisher's policy on returning software that for some unforeseen reason will not work?

The software field is relatively new. The copyright laws are ambiguous on computer materials, and business policies and practices are just being formed. Publishers and educators must jointly establish a smooth working relationship. Encourage publishers who are cooperative by telling colleagues and educators in other districts about them. Set up a network of information.

Teachers evaluating software should take advantage of general professional resources, like reviews of software from Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE) and MicroSIFT. Read software reviews and articles about the instructional use of computers in journals like LANGUAGE ARTS, ENGLISH JOURNAL, and COMPUTERS IN READING AND LANGUAGE ARTS.


Educational Products Information Exchange Institute (EPIE), 475 Riverside Drive, New York, New York 10027.

MicroSIFT, c/o Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 300 S.W. Sixth Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97204.

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