30th June 2006 at 01:00
Pete Roythorne offers some tips on assessing software

Once you become more confident with ICT, you'll find yourself faced with a vast array of classroom software to choose from. Being able to assess what is the most appropriate is crucial.

Here are some key areas to help you evaluate new software.

Don't go on price alone. Just because something is free doesn't mean it's not good, and just because it's expensive doesn't mean it's not poor.

On top of this, whizzy graphics and high levels of multimedia content are not necessarily a good thing, so don't be sucked in - it's easy to use this sort of thing to cover up what is essentially poor-quality content.

Find out what level of technical support is offered. Is there a telephone number or is it email only? How quickly do they respond? Email-only support can often be more effective than spending time in a telephone queuing system.

And don't forget to look at the licensing agreement, particularly if you want to run the software on more than one machine.

Compatibility is another big issue. Make sure any software you're interested in will run on your existing network and platform (Mac or PC).

From your pupils' point of view the following may not be an exhaustive list, but it should prevent nasty surprises.

l Accessibility - can children use the software? Is there the option to use a touch screen or switch?

* Age - is the target age of the software correct for your age group?

* Ability - Jis the software designed for your ability group, and can it be adapted to suit different ability levels? Will all your pupils be able to use the software with just a little training?

* Content - does the software explore the skills and understandings you require? Is it presented in a clear and uncluttered way that your pupils will be able to follow?

* Engagement - how motivating and engaging is it? Is there enough to keep pupils' attention? Is there a good variety of tasks to carry out? Generally, software should encourage users to reach specified goals and provide support for the learner in the form of prompts, reminders and positive feedback.

* Relevance - is it relevant to the curriculum?

What the software offers for the teacher is also an important consideration, and you'll need to look at areas such as: * Can you set up the program for specific tasks?

* Is there a system for recording student performance?

* Do you get a good teachers' guide?

* Are there worksheets or print-outs?

Finally, seek advice from other teachers; there really is no substitute for first-hand experience.

* Online Jargon Busters can help you at:

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