ERIC Identifier: ED287259
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Elting, Susan - Eisenbarth, Janet
Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Selecting Software for Special Education Instruction. Digest
Microcomputers are found in special education classrooms in steadily
increasing numbers. How they are used depends in large part on the software
selected for instruction. The amount of instructional software used on a typical
school microcomputer is limited to three to four packages per machine (Blaschke,
1985). Teachers and administrators must decide which of the many products
available are best for the special education students they serve.
Educators make two basic kinds of decisions when selecting software. The
first is a program decision: "How will computers be used in the instructional
process?" The second is a product decision: "Is this product consistent with
PROGRAM DECISIONS/INSTRUCTIONAL OPTIONS
Courseware is the term generally used for microcomputer software that
supports direct instruction. Depending on the design and content, courseware can
reinforce previously learned skills, present new subject matter, or require the
use of problem-solving skills. To answer the question of how computers will be
used to support the instructional process, it is necessary to consider the
various options for computer-assisted instruction (CAI). CAI courseware is
typically classified in four categories: drill and practice, tutorial, games,
and simulation (Bialo and Erickson, 1985). Each format can be used effectively
with special education students.
Courseware that reinforces previously learned skills or concepts is called
drill and practice. It is the most common format, accounting for over half of
all software used in schools. With drill and practice programs, it is assumed
that the content of the lesson has been previously taught. The purpose of the
software is to provide practice and reinforcement. For many special education
students, repetition and reinforcement is a crucial step in mastering skills and
concepts. The computer is well suited to presenting the practice students need
while maintaining the attention to task that is so important for many
Two common features of drill and practice are branching and feedback.
Programs branch to easier or more difficult tasks depending on the student's
response to the problems presented. Feedback cofirms correct responses and
provides additional practice or explanation for incorrect responses.
Computer programs that teach new skills, concepts, or processes are called
tutorials. Tutorial programs should be carefully reviewed to ensure that the
content and presentation are appropriate for the learning style of the special
education student. New instructional content needs to be presented in clear,
logical, sequential steps. Examples and illustrations should be followed by
opportunities for learners to apply and test their understanding of the content.
A good tutorial package will include suggestions for follow-up or drill and
practice activities away from the computer.
Some drill and practice and tutorial programs have a built-in instructional
management feature that keeps track of student responses throughout the lesson.
This feature provides valuable information for teachers who plan and monitor the
student's individualized educational program.
Educational games and simulations are two kinds of problem-solving
courseware. They may be used to introduce new skills or reinforce previously
learned skills. Games use a contest format where the learner competes with the
program or with other students. Learners apply accepted rules and principles to
reach a goal. Simulations place students in real life situations where they can
test alternative solutions to a problem. Computer-based simulations are often
used to present situations that are too difficult or dangerous to recreate and
experience in real life. As students progress through the program they are
called on to make choices and deal with consequences.
Problem-solving programs require learners to use a variety of skills and
facts to complete the exercise. Feedback is usually informational. As the user
creates and analyzes variations of the problem, information is provided that
helps them to make better choices in subsequent trials. Problem-solving software
is usually designed for use by two or more students working together. This
feature can have academic and social benefits for handicapped students. Grouping
students with complementary skills or strengths can enhance/promote learning by
creating a peer-tutoring system.
In each of these CAI formats, the content of instruction is defined by the
program. Another option for computer-based learning is to use the computer as a
tool. Word processing and database programs are examples of the computer used as
a tool. Unlike courseware, the content is unspecified. Instead the tool program
provides a structure for organizing and manipulating information and the content
of instruction is determined by the learner. For example, a word processing
program may have features that permit the student with expressive language
deficits to organize and complete a writing assignment independently.
Once the purpose of computer-based learning has been determined, specific
programs can be reviewed and selected. To answer the question of whether the
product is consistent with curricular goals, it is necessary to determine how
decisions about specific products will be made. Taber (1983) suggests that this
process be conducted in two parts: external and internal. External processes
involve collecting information about products and their effectiveness from
outside sources. Perhaps the most useful information at this stage in decision
making comes from other educators. Courseware reviews in computing journals and
regularly published compendiums offer up-to-date opinions of new products. There
are several resource groups that develop and disseminate product reviews
specifically for special education. Information from these external sources
helps to narrow down the choices.
Internal processes are those conducted in a school or district and usually
involve a thorough examination of the individual courseware packages. The
purpose is to determine how well a product matches instructional goals.
Criteria, whether formal or informal, are necessary at this stage in the
process. Reviewing guidelines developed by others is a good way to determine
what questions to ask. Existing guidelines range from one-page checklists
developed by teachers to validated evaluation forms developed by a product
evaluation center like the Educational Products Information Exchange (EPIE).
Attention to both instructional and technical features of software are common
to most evaluation processes. Decisions about computer-based learning for
handicapped children should take into account the academic, physical, and
computer-use demands placed on the learner. These demands may be weighted
differently for different students. The academic demands of a program such as
reading or vocabulary level may be crucial in selecting software for students
with learning disabilities, while physical demands such as keyboarding may be
the deciding factor with physically handicapped students.
Instructional features generally include characteristics such as curriculum
match, learner objectives, soundness, accuracy and clarity of content, factual
and grammatical correctness, academic and physical appropriateness for target
learners, and support or supplemental activities. The goal in assessing these
features is to determine how well a product meets the instructional needs of
students. When evaluating drill and practice, tutorial, or problem-solving
courseware, content features are of primary concern.
Technical features are generally those that relate to the computer as medium
of instruction. The physical and computer-use demands placed on the learner are
of primary concern. Programs should be easy to use, reliable, and free of
programming errors. The presentation of information should be well placed and
the instructions clear. Feedback should be informational rather than judgmental.
Other characteristics to consider are technical quality, user control, and the
use of the computer's graphics and audio capabilities.
The goal in assessing technical features is to determine how well the program
uses the capabilities of the computer to present instruction. For most
instructional courseware, satisfaction with technical features is secondary to
content considerations. However, with tool programs like word processors,
technical features usually take precedence.
Selecting software for special education instruction is a complex but
important task. The software selection process should consider both program and
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bennett, R.E. "Evaluating Microcomputer Courseware: An Overview." SPECIAL
SERVICES IN THE SCHOOLS 1 (1985): 17-28.
Bialo, E.R., and L.B. Erickson. "Microcomputer Courseware: Characteristics
and Design Trends." AEDS JOURNAL 18 (1985): 227-236.
Blaschke, C.L. "Technology Trends in Special Education." T.H.E. JOURNAL 12
Taber, F.M. MICROCOMPUTERS IN SPECIAL EDUCATION: SELECTION AND DECISION
MAKING PROCESS. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children, 1983.
THE 1985 EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE REVIEW GUIDE, ICCE, University of Oregon, 1787
Agate Street, Eugene, Oregon 97403
THE EDUCATIONAL SOFTWARE SELECTOR (TESS '85) EPIE Institute, P.O. Box 839,
Water Mill, NY 11976
CLASSROOM COMPUTER LEARNING DIRECTORY OF NEW EDUCATIONAL COMPUTER SOFTWARE,
Classroom Computer Learning, 5615 West Cermak Road, Cicero, IL 60650
THE SPECIALWARE DIRECTORY, ORYX Press, 2214 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ