Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 38 / JULY 1983 / PAGE 126

Courseware Report Card And Educational Software Directory

Sheila Cory

Just a couple of years ago, the greatest concern of parents and educators interested in the educational use of microcomputers was which computer to buy from the great variety available. Hardware selection was a major topic of discussion whenever the subject of computers came up. More and more, however, the questions posed these days relate to software selection. A number of schools and homes already have their computers and are trying to determine the best use of their machines.

Fortunately, some excellent educational software is now on the market. But parents and educators need to sift through an enormous amount of software in order to find what's best for their application. Educational software directories and evaluation journals have recently been developed to cope with this problem. This review looks at two of them.

Courseware Report Card

Courseware Report Card provides in-depth reviews and evaluations of both elementary and secondary software. Unlike many software review journals, it reviews software for more than one computer: Apple, Atari, PET/CBM, and TRS-80.

Selection of software to review is based primarily on software publishers' response to requests for review copies. A secondary source is software made available by teachers, software dealers, or educational media centers. To be of value to all people interested in educational computing, the journal covers a cross-section of subject area and grade level.

Most Courseware Report Card reviews are prepared by members of the editorial staff, all of whom are former teachers with experience in curriculum evaluation and design. A few of the reviews are prepared by non-staff members. These reviews are signed, and the qualifications of the reviewer are listed in the introduction.

Graded In Six Categories

The standard format of the reviews makes it easy to find information. A box at the top of the first page of each review highlights subject area, grade level, type of program (drill and practice, tutorial, or game), system requirements, price, and publisher's name and address. A box at the bottom of the page gives a letter grade (A through F) for performance, ease of use, error handling, appropriateness, documentation, and educational value. These two boxes, plus a short summary of the program, provide all the information necessary to decide whether or not to read the entire review.

The reviews proper begin with a description of the program, explaining exactly what the student sees as the program progresses. Screen representations and photographs make it easy to visualize what the text is describing. The "performance" section of the evaluation explores the overall quality of the program. Errors of punctuation in the text, problems with speed of operation, and sound that can't be turned off are examples of comments made in this section.

Ease Of Use And Error Handling

The "ease-of-use" comments focus on standardization of commands, use of menus in the program, and other programming possibilities that make the program as easy as possible for the user. How well a program accepts input from the keyboard is among the criteria evaluated under "error handling."

The value of the computer over other modes of instruction is addressed under "appropriateness." The editors take a firm position on the appropriateness of drill and practice software by having a policy of never awarding a grade higher than C to any software designed for drill and practice unless it is enhanced by additional features. (This view is not universally shared, but it is constantly discussed.)

Documentation And Educational Value

The paragraph of each review covering documentation looks at the books, pamphlets, and other hard copy provided to supplement the software. "Educational value," perhaps the most important of all of the evaluation components, examines whether the particular area covered by the software has any real place in the curriculum.

The evaluations included in Courseware Report Card are well written and complete. However, you must keep in mind (as the introduction to the journal states) that much software evaluation is subjective. There is room for disagreement, and you should make the decision of whether to use software with your students or your own children only after looking at the software from beginning to end yourself.

Apple, Atari, PET/CBM, And TRS-80

This review of Courseware Report Card is based on the first issue, dated September 1982. Course-ware Report Card/Elementary evaluated 22 programs, including 16 for the Apple, 11 for the Atari, seven for the PET/CBM, and seven for the TRS-80 (many programs are designed to run on more than one computer).

Courseware Report Card/Secondary also evaluated 22 programs – 18 for the Apple, eight for the Atari, seven for the PET/CBM, and ten for the TRS-80. Future editions of the Courseware Report Card promise to be quite interesting: software publishers will have opportunity to respond to reviews, and teachers and administrators will have a chance to hear corroborating or dissenting opinions. A forum for such a dialogue is a welcome addition for people excited about possibilities in educational microcomputing.

Courseware Report Card (five issues per year)

Educational Insights, Inc.
150 W. Carob St.
Compton, CA 90220
Elementary Edition $49.50
Secondary Edition $49.50
both editions $95
single copies $12.50

Educational Software Directory

The Educational Software Directory is designed to help educators determine exactly what software is available in their subject area. It can answer such questions as "How can I use the computer when teaching a poetry class?" or "Is there any software available for the PET that teaches grammar?" It tells what software is available, but makes no attempt to evaluate it.

The directory covers programs for grades kindergarten through 12 and includes all categories of educational software (except programs intended primarily for administrative purposes). Software selected for inclusion in the directory met a set of criteria: the software had to be usable for the grade level for which it was intended, the subject matter had to be appropriate to the learning environment and to the computer medium itself, and the listing of the software in the catalog had to be clear and complete. No software was actually examined in the process of compiling the directory; descriptions given in software catalogs were used instead.

Software listed in the directory includes general software (encompassing more than one subject), basic living skills, business education, computer literacy, courseware development (teacher utilities), fine arts, foreign language, language arts, library skills, math, science, and social studies. Each entry in the directory contains the program name, publisher's name, availability (which suppliers sell it), release date, grade level, hardware configuration required, storage medium (diskette or cassette), the computer language it's written in, price, availability of the source code (original program code), and a description of the program.

The value of this book results from the ease with which information can be found. Educational Software Directory is excellent. It has both a subject and a title index and cover markings to allow the user to locate a specific subject quickly. Addresses and the policies of publishers and distributors of educational software are also listed, making purchase of desired software easy.

Educational Software Directory
Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
P.O. Box 263
Littleton, CO 80160