Chapter 3: Knowing What You Have|
What Application Software is Available?
If you have computers, you have application software programs that contain the electronic instructions for doing instructional and administrative tasks on the computer.
When we talk about software, we are referring to computer programs that work with your computer to help you perform specific tasks, such as creating a spreadsheet, creating a database, writing a report, producing a presentation, or creating a simulation for a classroom lesson. We have already spoken about Operating System software; now we need to discuss application software.
Understanding the Different Types of Application Software
Software that runs on an older computer probably will not work on newer machines. This is particularly important with instructional software that is used by many teachers.
Applications contain the electronic instructions that let the user accomplish specific tasks. There are three basic categories of application software commonly used in education settings: administrative, instructional management, and instructional.
Administrative software programs perform a wide variety of functions, including maintaining student, staff, and financial records, scheduling students, determining bus routes, and inventorying and checking out library books. There are utility software programs that help you manage, recover, and back up your files. Other commonly used administrative applications include:
Word processing programs allow you to type, revise, format and print documents quickly and efficiently. Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and Lotus WordPro are among the most frequently used, but there are (and were) many others.
Spreadsheet programs have efficient and accurate methods of working with numbers. These programs can be used to perform a wide variety of simple to complex calculations. They also offer charting and graphing capabilities. Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel, QuattroPro, and Visicalc are frequently used products.
Electronic Mail (e-mail) packages facilitate computer-to-computer communications among users in any location. Commonly used e-mail packages include cc:Mail, Outlook, Pegasus, Eudora, etc. Data base programs use the largest and most complex structure for storing data. These programs help you store large amounts of information (in a data base) and give you the capacity to search, retrieve, sort, revise, analyze, and order data quickly and efficiently. Instructional management programs are tools used by teachers to prepare for instruction and keep records. Some of these applications often used by teachers include gradebook programs or links to school, district, or state agency resources.
Instructional software typically contains programs that allow students to learn new content, practice using content already learned, and/or be evaluated on how much they know. Instructional software can also be used to supplement curriculum that does not use technology. These programs allow teachers and students to demonstrate concepts, perform simulations, and record and analyze data. Sometimes data base programs and spreadsheets are used within the instructional context to help analyze and present information. Additionally, World Wide Web browsers (e.g., Netscape and Internet Explorer) provide access through the Internet to a wealth of software tools that might be used in the instructional program.
Working With Applications Software
Information is also stored and read using CD-ROM or DVD disks. Because of their massive storage capacity, CD-ROMs and DVDs are also useful for storing large collections of data, such as complete encyclopedias. Software programs often come on CD-ROM or DVDs. CD-ROMs are now available in "read/write" form, meaning that they not only can store information that is to be "read" by the computer, but can also save information that is "written" by the computer. DVDs are quickly becoming the standard for viewing large amounts of graphical information, including movies.
Other popular storage devices are ZipTM disks and Super DisksTM. These are removable cartridges or diskettes that are able to store between 100 MB and 250 MB of data (compared to the standard diskette that hold 1.44 MB of data). While these types of disks are portable, just like 1.44 MB diskettes, their use requires the installation of a special disk drives.
Knowing the Currency of Your Software
Make a list of available software and characteristics such as platform, version, system requirements and usage.
You should always know the version and release of the software you are using because that indicates how advanced and up-to-date your software is. The version is the edition of a product. Each time a software developer makes major changes to the software, such as adding new features, the software receives a new version number. Beware of using beta versions (a second test version often distributed to a limited set of users on a trial basis prior to public release) of software. These releases often contain bugs, which are glitches that prevent the software from being able to perform all of its capabilities or affect its ability to function. The release number of a software program is usually changed when only minor changes or bug-fixes are done. Installing a higher version or release on your computer system is called upgrading your software.
There are several reasons why the version and release numbers are important. If you are using older software, you may find that:
When you put together your Needs Assessment list for administrative software (see chapter 2), make sure to include the desired software features, or capabilities offered by software that make it easy and effective to use. Features include:
Software in the Classroom
What do you need the software to do?
Sometimes, staff will want the latest, best, flashiest and newest version of a program. You must always keep the purpose of the software in mind. If the existing software meets the needs of the instructional program, it is not necessary to upgrade to the newest version. As the instructional needs change, the software can change as well.
Developing an Inventory of Software
Take inventory of your networking hardware, software and communicatios links, as well as any service providers who give you access to a network such as the Internet.
An inventory of software in use at all organizational levels should be kept. At the district and school levels, it is very important to remind staff that a license is required to use software. This is especially true in classrooms. When developing a software inventory, include the following types of information: