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Load 'Em Up: The Best Software in the Education World!

Technology Center

Are you looking for the best software to use in your classroom? Are you stymied by the number of choices available? Are you having trouble distinguishing between great software and great marketing? The members of the Education World Tech Team reveal their picks for the best software programs for classroom use. Included: A chance to add your comments and/or recommendations to a list of the Best Software in the Education World!

Each year, school districts require teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum in more substantial ways. As a result, many teachers suddenly find themselves in immediate need of software programs that are both educationally valuable and instructionally appropriate. The search for such software can be a daunting task for teachers who have limited technology experience. Even tech-savvy educators may find themselves overwhelmed by the number and variety of available choices.

The Best Software in the Education World!

Click a category below to learn which software programs our Tech Team members recommended and how they rated the quality, performance, and usefulness of each!

* Productivity Software

* Presentation Software

* Curriculum Software

* Keyboarding Software

* Web Authoring Software

* Concept-Mapping Software

* Classroom Management Software

* Reference Software

In addition, software is often expensive, and mistakes can be costly. How do you know -- without actually purchasing a particular piece of software -- whether you're looking at a great program or great marketing?

We asked the Ed World Tech Team!

THE PROCESS EXPLAINED

First, we asked our Tech Team members to recommend the programs they considered best for classroom use in each of eight categories. Those categories are
  • Productivity Software: for word processing, creating spreadsheets, and managing graphics.
  • Presentation Software: for creating visual presentations, usually slide shows.
  • Curriculum Software: for playing games and doing activities related to specific educational content.
  • Keyboarding Software: for teaching keyboarding.
  • Web-Authoring Software: for creating and posting interactive Web pages.
  • Concept-Mapping Software: for using and creating graphic organizers.
  • Classroom Management Tools: for doing such classroom management tasks as grade keeping, lesson planning, and attendance taking.
  • Reference Software: for such common reference tools as dictionaries and encyclopedias.

THE RATING PROCESS

Then we compiled a list of all the programs recommended and asked Tech Team members to evaluate them based on the following criteria:

Installability:

  • Are installation directions clear and accurate?
  • Does the program install completely in a reasonable amount of time?
Usability:
  • Is documentation clear and accurate?
  • Are required computer skills grade-level appropriate?
  • Is content error-free?
  • Are screens well designed and easy to read?
  • Does the program require few or no additional plug-ins?
Performance:
  • Is the program bug- and error-free?
  • Does media load correctly and in reasonable time?
  • Are video and sound clear and accurate?
  • Are hyperlinks accurate and reliable?
  • Is navigation intuitive?
Usefulness:
  • Does the program meet educational objective or reliably perform required tasks?
  • Are content and/or tasks performed grade-level appropriate?
  • Does the program maintain user interest?
  • Does the program extend student learning and/or save time?
Support:
  • Is technical support easily available and generally helpful?
  • Are peripheral materials provided?
  • Is a comprehensive Help tool available?

Tech Team members rated each program they were familiar with on a scale of 0 to 5, with 5 being the top score. Ed World totaled, averaged, and rounded the scores. The final ratings are displayed in a comparison chart provided for each software category.

As you look at the numerical ratings in the software comparison charts, keep in mind that the number of times each program was rated was determined by the number of Tech Team members who were familiar with that program. Some well-known programs, for example, were rated by eight to ten reviewers, and a few less well-known or newer programs were rated by a single reviewer. (We've indicated with an asterisk those programs rated by a single reviewer.) So the final scores, although mathematically accurate, are not necessarily statistically correct. They are, however, based on our experts' opinions and, therefore, provide an excellent starting point to help you evaluate individual software programs and choose the one that best meets your own needs.

Of course, the more times each software program is rated, the more statistically reliable our ratings will become. We hope you'll contribute to the ratings' reliability by providing your own scores, using the same criteria and the same 0 to 5 scale our experts used!

Add Your Vote!
If you would like to add your rating to theirs, or if you want to rate and review another software program's suitability for classroom use, e-mail me at lstarr@educationworld.com.
Finally, we've awarded a Gold Star to the software program we judged to be the most highly recommended in each category. Gold star winners were determined by considering each program's total score along with the number of recommendations submitted for the program and the tenor of reviewers' comments about it.

WHAT DID THEY SAY?

Those comments -- also available on the pages devoted to individual software categories -- are often as revealing as the ratings!

Technology coordinator Jennifer Wagner, for example, provided a summary of her top picks across categories, telling Education World, "If I could pick only two pieces of software, I would pick -- without hesitation -- Microsoft Office Premium Version and Kid Pix Deluxe. I could teach the entire year with these programs and be 100 percent content.

"If I could add five more," Wagner continued, "I'd choose Inspiration Software because it's fun to use, Where in the U.S.A. Is Carmen San Diego? because kids learn while playing, Creative Writer 2 because it makes word processing so much fun, Encarta Reference Library because everyone needs an encyclopedia on disk, and Zoombinis Logical Journey because the zoombinis are so cute!"

School Webmaster Fred Holmes also added his tips for choosing quality classroom software. "When selecting software," Holmes noted, "the main things teachers need to look for are ease of loading, ease of use, and clarity of instruction. Ask around and see what other teachers are using, talk to area businesses and see what they use. (Remember, you are training future employees for some of them.) But mainly find a program that does what you want and makes you feel comfortable."



The Ed World Tech Team

The Education World Tech Team includes 40 dedicated and knowledgeable educational-technology professionals who have volunteered to contribute to occasional articles that draw on their varied expertise and experience. The following Tech Team members nominated their favorite software for this article:


 

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2001 Education World

10/24/2001



 

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