ERIC Identifier: ED382157
Publication Date: 1995-05-00
Author: Komoski, P. Kenneth - Plotnick, Eric
Clearinghouse on Information and Technology Syracuse NY.
Seven Steps to Responsible Software Selection. ERIC Digest.
In the early 1980s, relatively inexpensive microcomputers came on the market,
the personal computer was selected Time magazine's "man (machine) of the year,"
and school administrators rushed to buy early generation Apple, TRS-80,
Commodore, or similar computers for their schools. Educational software was
limited, and what little there was consisted mostly of "drill and practice"
electronic worksheets. Teachers often selected software from catalogs, choosing
almost any software that remotely touched on the subjects they were teaching.
Often they were disappointed when the software arrived. Almost fifteen years
later, microcomputers in schools are no longer a novelty, but contribute
significantly in the learning process, and software selection is taken as
seriously as the selection of text books. This Digest will outline a seven step
process for responsible software selection.
STEP 1. ANALYZE NEEDS
The responsible teacher (or materials selection committee) should first
determine whether or not the computer is the appropriate medium to use to
satisfy particular instructional goals and objectives. There is always the
possibility that a careful needs analysis will result in a decision to use some
other teaching-learning strategy.
- Needs & Goals. A need is the difference between "where we are now"
(e.g. 60% of the students in the ninth grade score above minimum competence on
the state science test) and "where we would like to be" (e.g. 90% of the
students in ninth grade score above minimum competence on the state science
test). "Where we would like to be" is another way of defining a goal.
- Objectives. An objective describes "where we would like to be" in more
specific terms (e.g. 90% of all ninth grade students will exceed the minimum
level of competence on the state competency test administered in the second
semester of ninth grade). Objectives must include conditions under which the
desired behavior will be demonstrated and the criteria for measuring that
Educational objectives help us respond to needs by breaking them down into
attainable steps, making it easier to get from "where we are now" to "where we
would like to be." The educational objective stated above is a "terminal"
objective which must be broken down into a series of "enabling" objectives (e.g.
By October 31, 1995, all ninth grade students will be able to correctly identify
at least five out of seven minerals when shown them by the teacher.) Enabling
objectives identify specifically what behavior we would like the student to
demonstrate. For each enabling objective, the teacher (or materials selection
committee) should brainstorm alternative learning methods for achieving that
objective--direct student teacher interaction, self-instruction workbook,
videotape, computer assisted instruction, etc.
After considering the benefits and constraints of each learning method, the
teacher (or materials selection committee) should be able to make an informed
decision about which medium or combination of media will satisfy the identified
needs, goals, and objectives.
STEP 2. SPECIFY REQUIREMENTS
If a careful needs analysis determines that computer assisted instruction is
one of the methods that will be used to meet identified instructional
objectives, the teacher (or materials selection committee) should then specify
the requirements for the computer software. Factors to consider in specifying
requirements for software include: compatibility with available hardware; cost
(Will the school need multiple copies of the software? Will a site license be
necessary?); user friendliness; level of interaction desired; adequacy of
documentation; access to technical support via toll-free number; and of course,
direct correlation with the instructional objectives and curriculum requirements
identified in the needs analysis. Ellsworth and Hedley (1993) suggest that
educators should apply the following criteria within the context of their
objectives and the students' needs: content; instructional presentation; demands
placed on the learner; technical features; and documentation and management
STEP 3. IDENTIFY PROMISING SOFTWARE
If requirements are specified in detail, the teacher (or materials selection
committee) will have a good head start when it comes to identifying promising
software. There are many ways to identify promising software, and the
responsible selector should use as many of them as possible. Catalogs still
remain an important source for descriptions of software. Most district level
educational communications/media centers are on catalog mailing lists from
virtually all software producers and wholesalers. Software is advertised,
described, and often reviewed in magazines and journals found in school,
university, and public libraries. The Educational Products Information Exchange
(EPIE) produces The Educational Software Selector (TESS), a database containing
descriptions and reviews of thousands of currently published educational
Teachers who have access to the Internet can find out about software from
other teachers by joining a listserv. Posting a question such as, "I am an
eighth grade science teacher and I am looking for interactive software for a PC
environment that will teach my students how to..." is likely to bring dozens of
responses. Many listservs are archived on the AskERIC Virtual Library gopher
(gopher ericir.syr.edu) or WWW site (http://ericir.syr.edu). Directions for
joining a listserv may be found in the archives, or e-mail
AskERIC@ericir.syr.edu for more information on listservs.
The above are but a few sources for identifying promising software. The more
precisely the requirements are specified in Step 2, the easier it will be to
screen out those products that are least likely to meet the user's
specifications and the easier it will be to focus on more promising products.
STEP 4. READ RELEVANT REVIEWS
After a list of promising software has been identified (using the suggestions
outlined in Step 3), the teacher (or materials selection committee) may be able
to narrow or expand the list by reading relevant software reviews. It is very
important to realize, however, that reading reviews should not take the place of
previewing, described in Step 5. Software reviews may be found in educational
journals, some of which may be identified by searching the ERIC database using
appropriate descriptors (e.g. software, selection, evaluation, elementary,
secondary). For example, Heyboer and Mayo, in the January 1993 issue of "Teacher
Magazine," describe 12 computer software programs available for elementary and
secondary math and science classes. Evaluation services such as EPIE, subscribed
to by many school and public libraries, provide a database of selected software
evaluations and reviews. A visit to the library is an important part of
responsible software selection. Keep Step 1 (Analyze Needs) and Step 2 (Specify
Requirements) in mind as you read the reviews. It is also important to note the
audience upon which the review is based. A software program may have received a
poor review because it was tested with a different audience than the one you
have in mind. Reviews are important screening tools when used as part of the
entire selection process.
STEP 5. PREVIEW SOFTWARE
The most effective way to judge whether software is appropriate or not is to
observe students as they interact with the program. Are the educational
objectives achieved when the student uses the program? The responsible teacher
should not purchase software without previewing it with his or her own students.
Preview as many programs as you can find that appear to meet your selection
criteria. Some software vendors will allow free preview of an entire program.
Some vendors will provide a free demonstration disk containing a subset of a
larger program. Some vendors will not allow preview without a purchase order,
but will allow the teacher to return the program within a specified time limit
with no financial obligation. In some situations, a teacher may be able to
borrow a program from another teacher for preview purposes. As a general rule,
if there is no way to preview software with your own students--avoid that
STEP 6. MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS
After potential software has been previewed, it is time to make
recommendations for purchase. The responsible software selector should be able
- select the most desirable software after a systematic evaluation of all
alternatives in terms of educational objectives and constraints;
- establish a quantitative method for rating each alternative against the
selection criteria established in Step 2;
- evaluate the relative importance of each selection criterion, (i.e.
previewing should probably be rated relatively high in importance); and
- create a written record outlining the reasons why a piece of software is
recommended or not recommended for purchase.
For software that is recommended for purchase, teachers should include
suggestions for optimal use that might have become apparent during the preview
period. The written record, including the quantitative rating scale and the
selection criteria, should be kept on file for future reference.
STEP 7. GET POST-USE FEEDBACK
After software is purchased and used with students, it is important for the
teacher to determine the conformance or discrepancy between all of the enabling
objectives specified in Step 1 and the student performance actually obtained
using the chosen computer software. The teacher should keep records on the
relative extent to which each objective is met or not met. Objectives not met
may be addressed by some other software program or by another teaching/learning
method. Post-use feedback can be a significant help to a school's systematic
process of software selection, purchase and use. The accumulation of user
feedback, including anecdotal experience on the part of both teachers and
students, will naturally serve to improve future needs analyses (Step 1) and all
succeeding steps in a constantly improving software selection process.
Best, A. & Mathis, J. (Eds.). (1993). "The
1993-94 educational software preview guide." Educational Software Evaluation
Consortium. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education. (ED
Broderick, B. & Caverly, D.C. (1993). Techtalk: Choosing and purchasing
software. "Journal of Developmental Education," 17(1), 40-41. (EJ 469 271)
DeLaurentiis, E. C. (1993). "How to recognize excellent educational
software." New York: Lifelong Software, Inc. (ED 355 932)
Ellsworth, N. J. & Hedley, C. N. (1993). What's new in software?
Selecting software for student use. "Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming
Learning Difficulties," 9(2), 207-211. (EJ 465 250)
Heyboer, K. & Mayo, C. (1993). Software to swear by. "Teacher Magazine,"
4(4), 22-23. (EJ 461 943)
The Educational Software Selector (TESS). [Machine-readable data file].
Hampton Bays, NY: Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE) (Producer and
This ERIC Digest is based on a manuscript "Seven Steps to Responsible
Software Selection" submitted to ERIC/IT by P. Kenneth Komoski of The
Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE) and was prepared by Eric
Plotnick, Assistant Director, ERIC Clearinghouse on Information &