How to choose educational software for your school

Teachers go crazy for educational software. I’ve witnessed this first hand. As I sell educational software for EvaluNet, this obviously encourages me.

The crux of the matter however, is that there are too many schools out there who have too many educational software products that they just don’t use – either because they don’t have time, or because they don’t know how, or because the software is no longer relevant. There are many different types of educational software products that fit into completely different categories, namely:
  • Revision and consolidation
  • Curriculum delivery
  • Skill development
  • Assessment and testing

So how do you go about selecting software that brings value to your school? The first and most important step is to identify the needs of the school and the goals and limitations of your computer centre. As a teacher, the most important questions you should ask yourself are:

* What are the needs of our learners and teachers?

For learners, needs could include:

- improving literacy and numeracy skills
- improving learning and concentration ability
- improving spatial skills
- improving knowledge and understanding of the curriculum

For teachers, needs could include:
- decreasing the time spent on marking
- increasing the quality of lessons
- streamlining the teaching/learning process
- engaging learners on an interactive level
- diagnosing problem areas
- assisting with behind-the-scenes planning and admin

* How many computers do we have available?

This will help you select suitable software based on your average class sizes and the number of computers you have in your computer room.

* What is my budget?

Knowing this upfront will save you a lot of time in determining what you can and can’t afford. There is no point in spending time evaluating a product that costs tens of thousands of rands when you only have a few thousand available.

And to a lesser extent:

* What types of software have our learners and teachers already enjoyed? (e.g. activity based, adventure based etc.)

Asking yourself these important questions and acquainting yourself with the true needs of your school (both learners and teachers) will go a long way in ensuring that you buy educational software that becomes an investment. When evaluating the suitability of educational software based on your school’s needs, think about the following:
  • Does this product fill an educational need? Can you name the need?
  • How do you intend using (implementing) the product?
  • How many teachers are going to use it?
  • Do the teachers possess the necessary competencies to use the product?
  • How much training is required, and how will the teachers be trained to use the product? Do they have time to be trained? Are they willing?
  • Is it a product or a service that you are buying?
These questions are taken directly from Kobus van Wyk’s post “Does a software package add volume or value?“. The Teacher’s Monthly did a follow-up survey based on this post to enquire whether or not teachers and principals feel that the educational software they are using is adding value to their school. The results can be viewed in our article “Survey shows computers come second best“.

Another important factor to consider (especially in the South African school environment) is:

* How much time does a learner need to spend using the product in order to benefit and see positive results?

The unfortunate reality is that large class sizes, and limited computer resources means that at most schools learners are only exposed to a computer for about 30 minutes (40 at best!) per week. The principle is simple: if you want a child to be a good reader, he needs to spend time reading. If you want a child to grasp a specific concept in Mapwork (Social Science), he needs to spend time practicing that concept.

So, where does “computer time” fit into your school’s timetable? How big a need is ICT integration at your school? What value do you place on computers and educational software?

For me, educational software that is good, is educational software that fulfills the needs of your learners and teachers, and the goals set forth for your school computer centre.

Author: Adrian Marnewick

Originally published on The Teacher's Monthly.

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