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Online software

Educational software has been around for over 30 years now. In that time we have progressed from graphics that were just made by letters and numbers to programs now with rich graphics and that can really measure student progress in a multitude of areas. My current district has made a big push the last several years to move all software possible to online software.
We are now down to just a few titles that are CD/DVD based. These are mostly in the areas of music, art, and special education due to the size of the programs. Below I answer some of the questions that I get from educational administrators:

Why the move to online?

It allows us to differentiate instruction while also extending the school day. Since many of our resources are online, we send out letters to parents and try to show them the importance of the software. We encourage them to access these resources after school and also during the summer. These online resources have also become part of our curriculum in almost every area.

What do you look for in instructional software?
This can be a laundry list of different criteria but it can be summarized into a few short areas:
1. Data- Does the software have some kind of data component that a teacher and/or admin can track the student’s progress? The more detailed the data, the better.
2. Graphics-Although this is not as important as the data, the graphics should be such that it engages the child. They also should not detract from the overall learning.
3. Navigation- This cannot be overstated. Navigation of the software for both the teacher and the student should be easy and intuitive. Many programs fall down in this area. The navigation should also be uniform from screen to screen. For example, if there is a save button, then it should always be in the same location, color, and size from screen to screen.

But with online software, you usually have to pay a recurring cost. Is it worth it?

At first glance this might seem like a big negative but it is actually great for a school district. When a vendor knows that you could leave and they will lose your business, they are more willing to listen and also make changes. Those changes also don’t have to be bundled with many other changes but could be released in a very short time frame. You are also using your money wisely because you are not paying for the purchasing and burning of a CD as well as shipping. You are only paying for content. Also, Vendors are usually flexible with pricing and can have several different pricing models.

What are some other benefits?
1. Your computers will run quicker and will be easily replaced if something does happen. This is due to less software on the computer.

2. It is easier for your tech department to manage since they are really managing plugins and nothing else.

So what should we watch out for?
1. Not all browsers are created equal. Most educational software will work on the mainstream browsers. However, some do run a bit better in one browser over another.
2. Plugins- make sure the tech department knows the technical requirements of the software.
3. Web based versus Web enabled- MAKE SURE you ask this question and that you understand the difference. Web based means that all the functionality and computing power is done on the Web (this is what you want in most cases). Web enabled means that there is some kind of software that you have to install on your machines. This usually has to do with graphics or audio. This usually slows down the roll out of the software and also takes away one of the main reasons to go online- extending the school day and allowing for parents to see what their child is learning.
4. Internet pipeline- You want to make sure you have enough bandwidth to handle what you are purchasing. Again, a close relationship with the tech director is important so that these requirements can be adhered to and that they can help insure success.

Although moving online is inevitable as the educational software industry moves in that direction, making it a smooth transition for your school district is key. Feel free to share your own lessons or pointers as you comment.

James Yap and Teresa Ivey

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