ERIC Identifier: ED270102
Publication Date: 1985-12-00
Author: Taylor, Robin
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Microcomputer Courseware Evaluation Sources. ERIC Digest.
More than 10,000 instructional software packages have been published for
elementary and secondary schools--thousands in each major discipline. We know,
from magazine and journal laments, that much of this courseware is of poor
quality. Faced with such an overwhelming supply, how can you increase the
probability of purchasing good courseware for your school system?
THE SOLUTION: COURSEWARE EVALUATION
Fortunately, others have addressed this problem and have implemented a
solution: evaluating large numbers of courseware packages. Thus, your school
system can begin its task by identifying potentially suitable courseware through
the evaluations available from one or more evaluation projects. After verifying
that the content of some of the courseware is appropriate to your needs, you can
select these few programs for your own specialists to evaluate prior to
Not all sources of courseware evaluations are equally reliable. Before
depending on the conclusions reached by a particular evaluation service, learn
what you can about the evaluation methods and criteria it employs. It is
especially important that evaluations include:
--critical appraisal of content accuracy --in-depth consideration of the
appropriateness and effectiveness of the instructional strategies employed
--input from testing with students
Note, too, that some evaluation services also consider how closely a given
courseware package matches a state or local curriculum. This selection phase may
not yield conclusions that are valid for your school system.
USEFUL SOURCES OF COURSEWARE EVALUATIONS
Identified in this Digest are just a few of the most comprehensive and
readily accessible sources of courseware evaluations. Described below are
reviews available from two major courseware evaluation projects and those
published in two magazines. Also highlighted are two sources that identify only
high quality courseware (according to different criteria). Courseware
evaluations are also available through clearinghouses established by several
states and provinces, including Alberta, British Columbia, California, Florida,
Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah.
Probably the most thorough and consistently reliable evaluations are
published by the MicroSIFT project. Each courseware package is reviewed by at
least three professionals and tested with students from the intended audience
The synthesized evaluations include descriptions of the courseware
(objectives, prerequisites, content and structure, documentation, potential
uses), appraisals of major strengths and weaknesses, and a check against more
than 20 content, instructional, and technical criteria. The evaluation concludes
with a summary of the content; instructional and technical ratings; and an
overall recommendation statement (highly recommend, recommend use with little or
no change, recommend use only if certain changes are made, or do not recommend).
A modified format has been developed for science courseware that includes
descriptions of science processes and concepts and three additional content and
These evaluations (issued periodically in sets of 75 to 90) may be obtained
from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (call 1-800-227-3742, prices vary),
or through the online Resources in Computer Education (RICE) database available
through BRS (call MicroSIFT: 503-248-6800 Ext. 551). Some of the later sets
contain evaluations of courseware that has been revised since an earlier
MicroSIFT evaluation was published. Sets 15 and 16 will be the last sets of
evaluations to be published by the MicroSIFT project in the current form, but
the project will continue to collect evaluations and make them available through
the RICE database.
A comprehensive evaluation service is provided by the Educational Product
Information Exchange (EPIE) in cooperation with Consumers Union (CU). Each
Courseware PRO/FILE is synthesized from the reviews of two or more evaluators,
who have usually tested the courseware with students.
Every 3- or 4-page Micro-Courseware PRO/FILE and Evaluation contains a
lengthy description and evaluation of content, teacher and student use, and
management, often including photos of sample screens. Instructional design and
software design are also appraised under the general headings of goals and
objectives, contents, methods and approach, and evaluation and management. A
summary of the evaluation is provided on the first page, along with
recommendations to the producer. These are accompanied by overall ratings of
instructional design and software design (in earlier PRO/FILES) or a summary
recommendation (in more recent PRO/FILES).
Also published by EPIE Institute and Teachers College Press, Columbia
University, is TESS: The Educational Software Selector (1985 Edition, $59.95).
This guide includes review citations and an indication of whether a review is
Each issue of this magazine for teachers includes an entire section on the
instructional applications of computers. In addition to discussing how computers
can be used to help teach, for example, foreign languages or business education,
contributors to that section provide comparative evaluations of several relevant
courseware packages. The reviews, completed by a single evaluator, are not
detailed, but do provide a concise overview of each program's strengths and
weaknesses, along with seven ratings (instructional design, content,
appropriateness, interest level, ease of use, support materials, and overall
value). Also included are the publisher's comments on the evaluations, if
Every issue of this well-respected publication includes reviews of two or
more courseware packages. Each evaluation is provided by a single professional,
who judges the program against explicit criteria and who is required to test the
courseware with one or more students representative of the intended audience.
The prose evaluation reports consist of a detailed description of the courseware
package and a critical evaluation of its strengths, weaknesses, and potential
use. Publishers are given an opportunity to respond to the reviews.
For those who do not have the time to read hundreds of individual
evaluations, ONLY THE BEST is an excellent resource. In it, Mattas has
identified 113 programs that received the most agreement on high quality among
the 16 evaluation services whose courseware reviews she examines. A one-page
report is provided for each program.
Also included in ONLY THE BEST are brief descriptions of 189 "nearly
qualifying" programs and 13 more that Mattas considers "worth looking at." (For
courseware in these last two groups, you would certainly want to read one or two
more thorough reviews before making a decision to select any of the packages.)
Teachers/reviewers of the NEA Educational Computer Service examined 1,500
courseware packages from which they identified, as being of high quality, the
272 programs described in THE YELLOW BOOK. The descriptions provided for each
package are brief, giving an overview of the content and a summary of the
evaluator's comments and recommendations. Again, you would probably want to
conduct your own evaluation of any of these packages you consider.
Also identified in this publication are subsets of the 272 programs that are
available in versions for specific microcomputers, including many less popular
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Burroughs, R. (Ed.). ELECTRONIC LEARNING. New York: Scholastic.
EPIE Institute. EPIE Micro-Courseware PRO/FILES. MICROCOMPUTER COURSEWARE
PRO/FILES & EVALUATIONS. Water Mill, NY: EPIE Institute, 1982-1985.
Holznagel, D. C., & Weaver, D. W. COURSEWARE EVALUATIONS, SETS 1-16.
Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. 1982-1985. ED 226 765,
ED 234 772, ED 239 606, ED 245 666, ED 249 918, ED 260 710.
Lipsitz, L. (Ed.). EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational
Mattas, L. L. ONLY THE BEST: THE DISCRIMINATING SOFTWARE GUIDE FOR
PRESCHOOL-GRADE 12. Sacramento, CA: Education News Service, 1985. ED 256 294.
NEA Educational Computer Service. THE YELLOW BOOK: A PARENT'S GUIDE TO
EDUCATIONALLY SOUND COURSEWARE. Washington, DC: National Education Association,