A Checklist to Evaluate Education Software

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    Evaluating Education Software: A Seven Point Checklist
    (including for Using Digital Ink as with a Tablet PC)

    Here’s an updated draft of a checklist for evaluating education software. It is part of my larger project of outlining learning and related theories for software developers. Parents and teachers may use this checklist as a guide for selecting software to fit a learning objective. Developers may use this to guide the design and promotion of their products.

    I assume education software offers something to increase learning. Based on that assumption, I try to determine “who can learn what, how, and why.”

    This checklist complements the common sense questions users ask, such as “Does it increase learning?” “Do I like it?” “Can I afford it? “Do I want it?”

    1. Assumptions about the Software Packaging
    It states prerequisite skills required to meet specific learning objectives.
    It describes specific learning objectives.
    It describes the empirical base for the learning theory.
    It names the learning theory used to construct the education content.
    It provides a way to read more about the empirical base for that theory.

    2. Software Format
    The software is compatible with Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and updates or other state of the art digital ink operating systems.
    The software can be used with the operating system on your computer.

    3. Content and Processes to Learn
    The subject matter or process to be learned is specified.
    The packaging states the process or content code developers use to show a learner how to use that code.

    4. Specific Learning Criteria
    It leads to measurable learning.
    It counts something to demonstrate that learning occurs.
    A stated criterion is met to assert that learning occurs.

    5. Learning Theory
    A named theory explains “learning.”
    The theory is grounded in empirical behavior studies.

    6. Mediation Required
    Learners can use the program successfully without a manual or external human support.

    7. So what? So a student learns something from the software.
    It clarifies a difference this learning makes in the life of the student.
    It states benefits learners obtain by using this software.

    Why Bother with a Checklist?
    A checklist permits systematic description of software most likely to maximize learning rates by users of specific content.

    A relatively small number of software programs use a technically consistent, coherent, empirically derived learning theory or set of instructional theories.

    As a result, education software may appear appealing to a learner, but the content leads to less learning than possible. Other programs may appear unappealing to an educator, but, according to empirical evidence, they will likely lead to superior learning rates.

    This checklist identifies (or more likely allows users to infer) learning principles and priorities used to say something exists as education and not entertainment or some other kind of software.

    Thank you for your comments. They will help me clarify points that might have special interest to you in the next checklist draft.

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    Robert Heiny
    Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in [I]The Encyclopedia of Education [/I](1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for [I]TuxReports[/I].com.