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Evaluating software.

The following is an excerpt from ail article which appeared in the October 1990 issue of Exceptional Parent.

To be really successful in your search for quality software, you'll need to gather information from a wide variety of sources. These include directories, guides, periodicals, information clearinghouses and - for those of you with modems - on-line information systems.

Many parents don't realize it, but most major software publishers will gladly sell their programs directly to the home computer user. ... The larger software companies generally produce informative catalogs that describe their product lines in detail and correlate each program they offer to specific curriculum areas and academic levels. Some publishers also prepare separate catalogs that focus on the use of their products by youngsters with special needs.

By using these various information resources, you will learn about many software programs that may be appropriate for your child's use. The review sources will help you identify quality programs. However, to be certain that a particular software program is right for your child, you must make your own critical assessment.

To evaluate an instructional software program, it's best to have a working copy of it so you can preview it on the computer screen and check out the program's documentation. Moreover, by having the program to work with, your child can participate in the evaluation. After all, the software is for your youngster, not you. If he or she does not respond positively to it, then it's unlikely that the program will achieve the desired results.

If you're lucky, you will have several local retailers with a good selection of educational software and a willingness to demonstrate their products. Otherwise, you will need to rely on product literature and information provided by a salesperson.

Whether you are buying from a retailer or from a catalog, here are some questions you should ask:

* Is the program available for your brand of computer?

* Does the publisher/distributor have a software preview policy so you can "try before you buy," or will your purchase money be refunded if you are unhappy with the program after you've used it?

* Does the publisher offer technical support? It's possible there will be problems with installing or using the program, and you'll appreciate the support staff's help.

* Is the program documentation thorough, clearly-written and well_ organized? Does it include a comprehensive index?

* Does the program focus on skills on which your child needs extra work? Does the program supplement )r complement work that your child is doing in school?

* Is the program appropriate for your child's age, grade and reading level? Your child should be able to read and understand the on-screen instructions and text.

* Can you customize or modify the program to tailor it to your child's specific needs?

* Does the program incorporate design features that you know will hold your child's interest, such as lively music or colorful graphics? Do the design features seem appropriate for your child? Programs with colorful graphics may not interest a child who has visual impairments; likewise, lively music will not interest a child who has hearing impairments.

* Can the program be operated with a limited number of keys or an adaptive device such as a membrane keyboard, joystick, mouse or scanning device? Can it be made accessible with the Adaptive Firmware Card or PC AID? If your child is physically challenged, the program should have this option. * Can the program display and print oversized text? If your child is very young or has visual impairments, large print will make the program easier to use.

* Can the program work with a speech synthesizer? The reinforcement of voice output can be very appealing to children and can enhance learning, especially for students with learning disabilities.

* Does the program encourage exploration and taking chances? Or does it stifle exploration by penalizing wrong answers or requiring a correct answer before the child can move on?

There are other questions that a reviewer could ask, particularly concerning the soundness of the program's instructional design. Unless your are an expert, you may not be able to make that kind of assessment. Chances are, however, that if a software program looks promising based on the above criteria, it will score well on other counts as well.

A FINAL WORD OF CAUTION

Although I am a strong advocate of special education computing, I am always quick to point out that it's very easy to overstate the benefits of using computers for at-home learning. Clearly, computer-assisted instruction has great potential for helping children with special needs to master basic academic skills and gain new confidence in their ability to learn. However, a computer should always be used in conjunction with other learning activities and should not be expected to carry the burden of teaching a child. Lively and meaningful interaction with friends, family and teachers is much more important to the social and intellectual development of your child.

That said, computers can and do make learning fun for children and can accelerate their mastery of new skills and knowledge. By carefully selecting software and by working with your child as he or she works with the program, you can be confident that your child will advance academically - and your computer will finally live up to its promise.

A technology resource directory with a listing of information clearinghouses, publications and a directory of commercial vendors listing companies that market computer hardware, software, adaptive aids and communication devices appeared in the 8th Annual Computer Technology Directory, 1991. See the Exceptional Parent Press ad on page 44 of the directory for ordering information.

Jack Moore is president of the OPEN ACCESS Publishing Group, which offers print and computerized information resources in many areas, including special education and rehabilitation. Moore, a graduate of the University of Maryland, lives outside of Warrenton, Va., with his wife, Debby.
COPYRIGHT 1991 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:educational software for home learning by handicapped children
Author:Moore, Jack
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:969
Previous Article:School access buyers' guide.
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