Let other people choose software for you?


Roger Frost on choosing software and offers something to think about when a school buys into a Managed Network Service


There’s no challenging advice from the top, and especially when it really does make sense. What they say is ‘Select the software that supports your teaching objectives’ and much of the time that’s what people do.

But I’ve a thing about advice and truisms: I don’t know what to do with them – not until someone turns them into questions.

It takes a question like “What’s your favourite piece of software?” to start to make sense of it. The answer to it - which is “For what?” is the trick to buying good ICT for school.

Based on what sells most in schools, an answer for favourite software might be Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, because here are some staples for ICT everywhere. Or ask around the primary schools and you find Textease (from Softease) to be an incredibly popular choice. It’s a writing and page layout package that very young kids seem to drive with little training.

Both Textease and MS Word excellent, so what objectives lead teachers to choose Textease from its seriously famous competitor ought to be worth looking at. Pretty soon you realise that ICT in schools generates a great list of ‘for whats’. Some of us say it’s to teach them about technology they meet in the world. Parents and the public are also in this group. Some say that children prefer these packages to pencils and felts so they work harder. Those teaching the wrong topic on a Friday afternoon fall into this group.

A curriculum subject teacher might take another view. For example, the tricky ideas of school physics need more than explaining - they need illustrating and experimenting with as if to prove them true. Fable’s most recent Forces and Motion, that won this year’s BETT award for best software, is for objectives like this. It is for the nitty gritty of teaching about displacement-time graphs, projectile motion and terminal velocity. Important too is that it fits the variety of computer hardware from single machines to computer suites that teachers have access to. It’s pure software models that children can use or teachers can demonstrate. It will not teach anything to do with ICT skills, but then teaching physics isn’t about ICT skills.

If there’s a message here, it’s that teacher’s choosing software is not unlike choosing textbooks – these things are bought to meet subject objectives and the decisions are local, departmental and often personal. I’d be happy to let others decide what colour my PC is and how fast its chips are. Choosing software is something else – software bundles and managed services are all about someone else’s objectives. If these meet yours you have been given a gift.

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