Before You Buy: Seven Criteria for Educational Software

If you’re thinking about incorporating new software into your classroom curriculum, it’s important to be sure you pick a program that fits the flow of your teaching style, meets your educational needs, and is adequately accessible for your students. But how do you know if any given software meets all those criteria? Below are questions from the top seven categories to consider before buying new school software.

1. User Friendliness
 How easy is it to start the program?
 Is there an overview or site map for the program?
 Can students easily control the pace of the program?
 Can students exit the program easily?
 Can students create their own paths through the program and develop their own links among elements?
 After first-time use, can students bypass introductory or orientation material?
 Does the program include useful hotlinks to Internet sites?

2. Inclusiveness
 Can students with hearing or visual impairments make full use of the program?
 Can students navigate the program by making simple keystrokes with one hand?
 Does the material avoid stereotypes and reflect sensitivity to racial, cultural, and gender differences?

3. Textual Material
 How accurate and thorough is the content?
 Is the content well organized and clearly presented?
 Is the textual content searchable?
 Can the content be integrated into the curriculum?

4. Images
 Is the image resolution high quality?
 Is the layout attractive, user friendly, and uncluttered?
 Do the graphics and colors enhance instruction?
 How true are the colors of the images?
 Are the images large enough?
 Does the program have a zoom feature that indicates the power of magnification?
 Does the program make effective use of video and animation?

5. Audio
 Are the audio clips high-quality?
 Does the audio enhance instruction?

6. Technical
 Is installation of the program easy and trouble-free?
 Are instructions clear and easy to follow?
 Is user-friendly online help available?
 Are technical support people easy to reach, helpful, and courteous?

7. Motivational
 Does the program capture and hold students’ interest?
 Are students eager to use the program again?
 Does the program give appropriate, motivational feedback?
 Does the program provide prompts or cues to promote students’ learning?

Try creating a list for each software program you’re considering obtaining and check out how they compare across the criteria above. Give each program a rating of “poor,” “fair,” or “excellent.” Make an asterisk next to any characteristics you consider “make or break” qualities. Which program comes out ahead?

Take the time to do your homework, and making a final decision should be easy and rewarding!

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