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Forum Unified Education Technology Suite
  Home:  Acknowledgments and Introduction
  Part 1:  Planning Your Technology Initiatives
  Part 2:  Determining Your Technology Needs
- The Needs Assessment
- Knowing What Resources
are Already in Place
  Part 3:  Selecting Your Technology Solutions
  Part 4:  Implementing Your Technology
  Part 5:  Safeguarding Your Technology
  Part 6:  Maintaining and Supporting Your Technology
  Part 7:  Training for Your Technology
  Part 8:  Integrating Your Technology
  Appendix A: Sample
Acceptable Use
Agreements and Policies
  Appendix B: FERPA Fact Sheet
  Appendix C: Web Guidelines
  Appendix D: Sample Security Agreements
  List of Tables and Figures
    Powerpoint Overview (700KB)
NCES Webmaster
Part 2: Determining Your Technology Needs (continued)

Knowing What Resources are Already in Place

In order to accurately define unmet needs, planners must first determine resources that are already available. Computers can be found in nearly all schools, universities, and libraries. Some were purchased, some are leased, and others donated. All of them consist of hardware and software, and most are probably networked. These may be available to administrators, instructional staff, and/or students. Another type of resource is people. Some people are quite skilled at using computers. Others may be adept at, but limited to, particular applications that are relevant to their day-to-day tasks. Finally, one resource that cannot be overlooked (especially its absence) is financial capability through which the organization can purchase hardware, software, networking equipment, and hire skilled staff or consultants. The following pages will clarify the resource identification and documentation process, starting with the technical aspects, but keep in mind, the concept of technology resources incorporates:

  • existing computers, including hardware and operating systems
  • peripherals, such as scanners and printers
  • software programs
  • networks and networking capacity
  • staff with assigned technology responsibilities
  • staff who are interested in helping out with technology
  • parents and community volunteers with technology "know how"
  • allocated budget funds
  • alternative sources of financial support
  • other current and potential sources for technology support

To a technology novice, distinguishing between computers, operating systems, memory requirements, processing speeds, peripherals, networks and other technical issues may seem daunting. While a basic breakdown follows, consider saving yourself time, aggravation, and intimidation by finding someone who can help you document the technology resources that currently exist in your organization.

Almost all schools, districts, and states maintain some kind of technology inventory, which should be the first place to look for information about the organization's existing capabilities and resources. A more thorough inventory lends itself to a more accurate assessment of existing resources. In the long run, any effort to inventory resources should serve as the foundation for an ongoing system of monitoring and maintaining information about the organization's technology-related resources. After all, access to complete and reliable information can save both time and money.

What Hardware Do You Have in Your Organization?

Hardware (noun): The parts of computer system that can be kicked.

Computer hardware is the equipment used to do the work (i.e., to operate programs and manage data). Hardware includes both computers and associated peripheral equipment:

checkmark "Computers" include desktop and laptop machines, but also extend to handheld computers (also known as Personal Digital Assistants or PDAs), mainframe machines, and other specialized computing devices.
checkmark "Peripheral equipment" includes anything connected to computers such as monitors, keyboards, disk drives, modems, printers, scanners, cameras and speakers, etc.

Other hardware in the school setting includes:

checkmark network devices such as routers, hubs, switches, access servers
checkmark communications support, such as fax-back and voice-mail resources in regular use by instructional and administrative staff
checkmark videoconferencing and other distance education tools, including satellite transmitters and receivers, cable-based receivers, and modem or codec-based video equipment
checkmark projection devices, from transparent and opaque projectors to video monitors
checkmark graphing calculators and other specialized computational aids

See Table 2.2 - Sample Hardware Inventory for further information.

Understanding Computer Characteristics

The fun (or confusion) starts when you finally begin to think about different types of computers. Computers are classified according to their storage and computing capacity, the number of users that can be supported, the variety of input and output options they offer, and their physical size.

The computer case (a.k.a. the system unit or console) contains the components of the computer system that enable data to be processed according to a series of instructions. The brain of the computer is called the central processing unit or CPU. The CPU processes instructions and manages the flow of information through a computer system. The speed of a CPU is measured in megahertz (MHz-millions of cycles per second) or gigahertz (GHz-billions of cycles per second). The numbers that follow a computer's name most often refer to the speed at which it works. The higher the number, the greater number of mega- or gigahertz, and the faster the machine runs. A few years ago, a machine that ran at 466 MHz was considered to be very fast for a desktop computer. Today's off-the-shelf computers commonly run at processing speeds of 2.2 - 3.2 GHz.

Processing power and storage space seem to get cheaper every year. A visit to a computer sales website shows that you can purchase a desk top computer with 2.2 GHz processing speed, 512 MB RAM (expandable to 2.0 GB), and 160 GB hard drive space for about $1000.

Another key parameter affecting performance is the amount of Random Access Memory or RAM. RAM is the space in the computer on which information is temporarily stored while the computer is running. RAM is measured in bytes, where a byte is one number, letter, or symbol. One megabyte (MB) of memory is equal to 1,048,576 bytes (characters), which is approximately equal in size to a novel of average length. Software applications often drive the need for RAM. For example, a graphical arts package might not even work on a machine with less than 512 MB of RAM. Note, however, that not too long ago (e.g., three years), cutting-edge graphical arts software probably ran on 128 MB of RAM. Thus, when purchasing a computer it is important to anticipate the growing RAM needs of the software you expect to use. Many new computers have 512 MB of RAM installed by the manufacturer but are equipped to expand to up to 2.0 GB upon user upgrade.

Inside a personal computer is a hard drive (a.k.a., hard disk drive), which is a device used to more permanently store information, such as programs and data. Storage on the hard drive is also measured in bytes. Five years ago, a good computer might have had a one gigabyte (1 GB or 1,000 MB) hard drive. Most newer personal computers today have hard drives with more than 40-60 GB (i.e., 40,000 - 60,000 MB). Some off-the-shelf machines offer up to 160 GB (i.e., 160,000 MB) of hard drive space.

Software applications will not work if the operating system they require is not running on the computer.

The next significant attribute of a computer is its Operating System (OS). Operating system software contains the electronic instructions that control the computer and run the programs. Most are specific to a type of computer. Some commonly used operating systems include:

  • Windows - Windows is a personal computer operating system from Microsoft that has become a de facto standard for individual users in most corporate and residential settings. Some well-known versions of Windows include Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows Me, and Windows XP.
  • Macintosh OS - Mac OS is the computer operating system for Apple Computer's Macintosh line of personal computers and workstations. "The Mac" was the first widely sold personal computer with a graphical user interface designed to provide users with a natural, intuitively understandable, and "user-friendly" computer interface.
  • UNIX - Unix was the first open or standard operating system that could be improved or enhanced by anyone (i.e., it was non-proprietary), and evolved into a variety of versions before being standardized under the auspices of the IEEE as the Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX).
  • Linux - Linux is an open-source operating system that is derived from the Unix operating system and commonly is used to run servers.
  • OS/2 - OS/2 is an IBM operating system for the personal computer that was initially intended to provide an alternative to Microsoft Windows for both enterprise and personal PC users.
  • MVS - Multiple Virtual Storage (MVS) is the operating system from IBM that is installed on most of its mainframe and large server computers.
  • VMS - The Virtual Memory System (VMS) is an operating system from the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) that ran in its older mid-range computers. It was renamed OpenVMS and is now used on the VAX computer.

Just as hardware and software evolve, so too do operating systems. For example,
Windows 95 is no longer supported by Microsoft and Linux has derived as a common OS
from its roots as one of many derivations of the UNIX system.

The platform that a computer runs on is the hardware and operating system software together. Software applications will not run if the computer cannot meet its minimal processing requirements (i.e., RAM) with the appropriate operating system. Fortunately, some software is multi-platform capable, which means that it can run, for example, on computers using either Windows or Macintosh operating systems. Other applications, however, require that different software be produced for each different operating system.

Identifying Peripherals

A peripheral is any component that attaches to a system unit (i.e., computer), including a monitor, projection device, keyboard, mouse, modem, CD-ROM, DVD, printer, scanner, microphone, and speakers. Below is a list of definitions that may help to clarify the concept of peripheral equipment.

Monitor. A monitor is the computer display screen. Monitors can contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs) like common televisions or be "flat-panel" like newer generation televisions. Most monitors you see today display in color, although some of the oldest monitors may still exist and display in green or amber on a dark background. When purchasing a monitor, a key consideration should be the number of colors it is capable of displaying-the more colors displayed, the more realistic the image on the screen. Consideration should also be given to screen size, monitor size (flat or full console), resolution, and projection method (plasma, CRT, or LCD/liquid crystal display).

Projection device. A projection device does as its name implies-it allows users to view computer output visually. Technically, a monitor (see above) is a type of projection device, but there are other types of monitors as well. In fact, most people use the term "projection device" to refer to any piece of equipment that can project an image onto a wall or screen, including SVGA (Super Video Graphics Array), XGA (eXtended Graphics Array), and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) projectors.

Keyboard. A keyboard is used to type information and instructions into the computer. Most have number pads and function keys that make computer software easier to use.

Mouse. A mouse is a hand-held pointing device (used on top of a desk) that gives directions to the computer and moves a cursor or pointer around on a monitor screen. Some computers, especially laptops, have other tools such as "touch pads" and "eraser heads" that serve the function of a mouse.

Modem. The modem (short for "modulator / demodulator") connects a computer to a telephone line, cable TV system, or other communication network for sharing information remotely. Modems may be internal or external to the computer case. Modems send and receive information at different speeds. Faster modems transmit more data per unit time (e.g., bytes per second or minute). However, modem transfer can also be limited by the capacity of local telephone lines. When examining the needs assessment or technology plan, it will probably become clear that it is more efficient for an organization as big as a school or district to set up a network rather than rely upon multiple modems, each of which requires a telephone line to operate.

Printer. A printer translates signals from the computer into words and images on paper in black and white or color. Printer types include dot matrix, ink jet, laser, impact, fax, and pen and ink devices.

Scanner. A scanner is an input device that takes in an optical image and digitizes it into an electronic image represented as binary data. Scanners are used to create computerized versions of a photo or illustration. Scanners can also use "optical character recognition" (OCR) to digitize a printed page into an electronic word processing file.

Cables. Cables used to be collections of wires twined together to connect peripherals to a system unit. Now the generic term "cable" usually refers to "fiber-optic" cables, which are thin fibers of glass or plastic that use pulses of light instead of electrical charges to move larger amounts of information over the network at a faster speed than wire cables.

Switch. In the not-so-distant past (i.e., five years ago) a little box called a "hub" was the point at which computers were connected to the local area network. Today, we use smart hubs, called "switches," which are devices for segmenting networks into different subnets in order to prevent one network from overloading with traffic.

Router. As the name implies, this small computer sits between the outside world and the computers inside a local area network and distributes (or "routes") information coming in and going out. For example, when a message comes from the Internet into a school, the router sends the information to the computer that is supposed to receive it. The router is like a traffic officer giving directions at an intersection, sending data to the computer that requests the information.

Considering Furniture

Furniture is the one component that is most frequently ignored or forgotten when it comes to budgeting for new technology. but furniture is important for a variety of reasons, the most significant of which are security and comfort. Furniture should be receptive to both security initiatives (e.g., wires, bolts, locks, etc.) and ergonomic concerns (i.e., designed for utility and physical well-being and comfort).

Developing an Inventory

The quality of an organization's hardware refers to its age, speed, and capacity. Many older computers cannot be connected to networks nor use current software. While these should be considered obsolete, some may still have alternative uses and can be re-deployed (i.e., given a new purpose within the organization). In order to make the best possible use of existing hardware, however, planners must know what all of the current equipment is capable of. The technology inventory should contain the following information about each computer:

  • computer type (e.g., desktop, laptop, mainframe)
  • computer manufacturer, model, and characteristics (e.g., type of CPU, processor speed, amount of RAM, and size of hard disk)
  • current operating system
  • current software
  • peripherals and capabilities they support
  • intended uses (e.g., classroom instruction, correspondence, record keeping, accounting, graphics)
  • networking capability
  • location (e.g., building, room, and site)

See Table 2.2 for a sample hardware inventory.

Make a list of computer hardware, peripherals, and furniture that will facilitate future planning. Such a list will also ease insurance claims and general organizational management.

To What Extent is Hardware Present in Instructional Settings?

Planners must keep in mind that the mere presence of hardware in a classroom is not the same as the availability of computing resources. For example, knowing the percentage of classrooms with computers does not necessarily indicate how many students use them. Although direct assessments of actual use by students would be the most desirable indicator of availability, such a measurement is probably difficult to obtain. By declaring that equipment is available, planners concede that students, teachers, and administrative staff have access to, and can use the technology as necessary to enhance learning, teaching, and school management.

Some education organizations define an “instructional computer” as a computer that is accessible to, and used by, students during activities under an instructor’s supervision. Computer capacity and speed does not factor into the identification of instructional computers as long as the equipment meets the curriculum needs of instructional staff.

Possible Indicators for Assessing Hardware Capabilities

  1. Are classrooms and other instructional settings equipped with hardware?

    1. What percentage of classrooms or instructional settings house one or more "instructional computers"?

    2. What is the average number of modern computers in a classroom or other instructional setting?

    3. What percentage of classrooms or instructional settings house one or more multimedia computers?

    4. What is the average number of multimedia computers per classroom or instructional setting?

    5. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with one or more computers connected to the Internet?

  2. Are other technologies present in classrooms and other instructional settings?

    1. Is communications support for instructional staff available? (E.g., telephone access; voicemail in regular use for instructional support; and fax or fax-back capabilities in regular use?)

    2. Is two-way videoconferencing or other distance education technology available in the school building?

    3. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with two-way videoconferencing capabilities?

    4. Are graphing calculators used in at least one course in the high school setting?

    5. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with graphing calculators in regular use?

    6. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with broadcast video receiving equipment (cable-connected monitors)?

    7. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with projection devices?

    8. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with dedicated printers?

  3. Is hardware available for use by students?

    1. What is the average number of students per "instructional computer" in classrooms or other instructional settings?

    2. What is the percentage of students without regular access to computers in school?

    3. What is the percentage of students with access to computers only in computer laboratories (i.e., outside of regular classroom setting)?

    4. What is the average number of students per multimedia computer (dedicated to student use) in classrooms or instructional settings?

    5. What is the percentage of students with regular access to multimedia computers (dedicated to student use) in classrooms or instructional settings?

    6. What is the average number of students per Internet-connected computer (dedicated to student use) in classrooms or instructional settings?

    7. What is the percentage of students with regular access to Internet-connected computers (dedicated to student use) in classrooms or instructional settings?

  4. Is hardware available for use by teaching staff?

    1. What is the percentage of teaching staff with access to a computer for instructional use?

    2. What is the percentage of teaching staff with their own dedicated computer at school?

    3. What is the percentage of teaching staff with their own dedicated multimedia computer at school?

    4. Are teaching staff allowed to take school-provided computers to their homes outside of school hours?

  5. Is hardware available for use by non-teaching staff?

    1. What is the percentage of administrative or support staff with their own dedicated computer at school?

    2. What is the percentage of administrative or support staff with their own dedicated multimedia computer at school?

    3. Are administrative or support staff allowed to take school-provided computers to their homes outside of school hours?

  6. Is hardware capable of linking users to networks and the Internet?

    1. What is the percentage of classrooms or instructional settings with one or more computers connected to a network?

    2. What is the percentage of instructional staff with access to dedicated computers connected to a network?

    3. What is the percentage of administrative or support staff with access to dedicated computers connected to a network?

    4. What is the average bandwidth over which access to network and Internet resources is provided?

Note that “instructional setting” can mean more than classrooms. Instructional settings include regular classrooms and computer laboratories, but also any other setting in which instruction routinely takes place, such as “pull-out” rooms for remedial or special education. Media centers (what used to be called libraries) might be included, as might specialized laboratories or rooms dedicated to distance education. It is even possible that some instruction might take place off-campus and therefore be included as an instructional setting, especially in the case of laptop loan or grant programs.

The presence of multimedia computers is an important indicator of technology capability. These computers allow a user to display images, video, and sound as well as text, and therefore create opportunities for learning from a variety of media resources, or from resources that use these capabilities simultaneously. Depending on the subject matter and teacher preferences, these experiences can expand student horizons and help them to develop useful skills and forms of expression for later in life, allowing them to compete on a global scale.

Computer-based curriculum planning and instructional management are much more likely to occur when teachers have computers dedicated exclusively for their use. Similarly, it is important to know if teachers have access to portable (i.e., laptop) computers, because their work will often be done at home after the school day. Decision support systems require computer use as well. School leaders and staff need computers to run data management systems which, in turn, can have a great impact on decision-making and, ultimately, student care and performance. Providing technology to support instruction but not school management may limit the overall promise of technology use within an organization.

Potential Data Elements for Maintaining Information
about Hardware Resources

For each computer, server, or associated peripheral equipment:

  • general information: CPU ID code; brand and model; CPU serial number; school/district inventory number; machine type (workstation, desktop, laptop)
  • vendor name; vendor address; vendor contact number
  • location information: building location ID code, if fixed location; assigned primary user ID code, name, user type (student, instructional staff; administrative or support staff)
  • CPU processor chip
  • random access memory (RAM) size
  • hard drive size
  • operating system
  • network connection characteristics (standalone, LAN, wired WAN, wireless WAN); network address (IP or MAC address)
  • internet access (none; dialup modem, bandwidth); wireless (bandwidth); DSL/ADSL (bandwidth outbound); cable modem (bandwidth); fractional T1, T1; DS3, OC3, ATM/Frame relay)
  • warranty/support package expiration date
  • technical support entity
  • technical support entity address
  • technical support contact number
  • other components in system (monitor; printer(s); DVD; CD-ROM; floppy drive; Superdrive; ZIP drive; network card; video camera; other installed cards). For each:
    • serial number
    • date purchased; date installed
    • cost
    • warranty/support package expiration date
    • vendor name; vendor address; vendor contact number

For other (non-computer) equipment:
  • equipment types (sample list): graphing calculators; electronic whiteboard; videotape player/recorder; DVD player; transparency projector; computer screen projector; opaque projector; cable system monitor; room monitor; two-way videoconferencing system; other equipment (specify)
  • brand and model; serial number
  • vendor name; vendor address; vendor contact number
  • date manufactured; date purchased; date installed; cost; source of funds
  • network connection characteristics, if any (standalone, LAN, wired WAN, wireless WAN); network address
  • warranty/support package expiration date
  • technical support entity; technical support entity address; technical support contact number


What Software Do You Have in Your Organization?

Identifying the presence and use of hardware is a necessary part of assessing technology in schools, but it is just the beginning. The next step involves determining which software applications are being run on the equipment (and to what extent are they being used).

When we talk about applications software, we are referring to programs that work on a computer to perform specific tasks, such as creating a spreadsheet or database, writing a report, producing a presentation, or creating a simulation for a classroom lesson. In addition to applications software and operating system software, we are also counting information retrieval and management applications that have become critical to a school's mission, including: electronic mail and communications technologies, Internet and Web access technologies, software needed to securely transmit data, and other security-related applications.

Understanding the Different Types of Application Software

Applications software contains the electronic instructions that allow a user to accomplish specific tasks on computers. There are two basic categories of application software commonly used in education settings: administrative and instructional.

Software that runs on an older computer probably will not work on newer machines. Even if it is still able to be used, it may not be supported by its manufacturer and should be considered obsolete (although not necessarily worthless).

Administrative software performs a wide variety of functions, including maintaining student, staff, and financial records, scheduling students and classes, determining bus routes, and tracking library book use. There are also utility software programs that don't perform tasks specific to an education setting, but enable file management, back up, and recovery. Other commonly used administrative applications include:

  • Word processing programs allow a user 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 provide efficient methods of working with numbers. These programs can be used to perform a wide variety of simple or 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) programs facilitate computer-to-computer communications among users within or outside the organization. Commonly used e-mail packages include cc:Mail, Outlook, Outlook Express, and many others.
  • Database programs offer the largest and most complex structure for storing data. These programs help a user store large amounts of information (in a database) and provide the capacity to search, retrieve, sort, revise, analyze, and order data quickly and efficiently. The most powerful database programs operate primarily from servers, and require technical staff for support, development, and maintenance. Others with more limited capabilities can be operated by the end user on a laptop or desktop PC.
  • Instructional management programs are tools used by teachers to prepare for instruction and maintain records about lessons and performance. Some of the applications most frequently used by teachers include grade book programs and links to school, district, or state agency resources.

Applications can support core administrative functions, including:

  • capital improvements (building and grounds)
  • financial (accounting, budgeting, payroll, human resources)
  • food services
  • inventory control
  • library services (cataloguing, circulation)
  • network security (firewall, filtering, secure data transmission, Acceptable Use Policy enforcement)
  • student materials (purchasing, inventory)
  • student records management (attendance, assessment, grading)
  • teacher records management (attendance, assessment, certification)
  • transportation

Instructional software includes 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 database programs and spreadsheets are used within the instructional context to help analyze and present information. Additionally, World Wide Web browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer and Mozilla) provide access through the Internet to a wealth of software tools that might be used in the instructional program.

Working with Applications Software

Software programs and information are usually stored in files (electronic versions of manila folders) inside the computer on a hard drive or outside of the computer on diskettes (formerly called floppy disks) or, perhaps more likely, on CD-ROM (compact disc-read only memory) or DVDs (digital video disks). A disk drive is used to read the information stored on a disk, CD, or DVD.

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 not only can they store information that is to be "read" by the computer, but can also be used to 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 Zip TM disks, Super Disks TM, and portable USB storage such as the PenDrive TM and JumpDrive TM. These are removable cartridges or diskettes that are able to store between 32 MB and 2 GB of data (compared to the old-fashioned diskette that held 1.44 MB of data).

Knowing the Currency of Your Software

Users should always know the version and release of the software they are using because it indicates how advanced and up-to-date the software is (or is not). 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 relying upon beta versions (a second test version often distributed to a limited set of users on a trial basis prior to public release). 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. Most significantly, older editions of software may not recognize files created in newer editions of the very same software. It may also be difficult to get documentation or support for older versions. Moreover, software that runs on an older computer quite likely will not work on newer machines. This is particularly relevant with instructional software. While getting the most up-to-date editions may be alluring, ensuring compatibility between software and hardware is more essential.

Developing a Software Inventory

As with hardware, it makes sense to collect and maintain an inventory of software in use within an organization. When developing a software inventory, include the following types of information:

  • name and manufacturer
  • date of purchase
  • version
  • function
  • computer or network on which the software currently resides
  • operating system on which it runs
  • location of software (server or PC)
  • number of licenses held by the organization for multiple users

Each piece of application software should come with documentation describing the following information that is also useful to record:

  • type of computer or the operating system with which it can be used
  • CPU processing speed requirement
  • amount of memory (RAM) needed
  • amount of hard drive storage needed
  • other requirements

See Table 2.3 for a sample software inventory.

Possible Indicators for Assessing Software Capabilities

  1. Do instructional applications support teaching and learning standards across the curriculum?
    1. Is there an existing plan for aligning instructional applications with applicable learning standards?
    2. What is the alignment rating for each application?
    3. What is the alignment measure for each standard?
    4. What is the percentage of applications aligned to teaching and learning standards?
    5. What is the number of approved instructional applications in regular use, by subject area, grade and type?
  2. What percentage of instructional applications support basic computing skill development?
  3. Does the organization have appropriate software and systems to support primary administrative functions?
    1. Are applications available to support core administrative functions?
    2. Are decision support tools available to administrators?
    3. Are decision support tools available to teachers and curriculum planners?
    4. Are decision support tools available to parents and the public?

Commercial Sites Rating Software Alignment to Standards: An Example

Cambridge Development Laboratories has developed, which is designed to help administrators determine whether software complies with state curriculum standards. The site's proprietary search engine allows educators to describe the software and Edumatch finds it for them. Users can then see precisely which standards, down to the substrand level, are addressed by each piece of software and how every piece of software fits into each school's needs, by subject and grade level. For more information about this service, visit

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Applications in Use

Standards for educational technology applications are currently being developed. There are already many databases available that offer thousands of reviews on popular instructional software and other educational technologies. Technical coordinators and other evaluators need to develop criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of products beyond "best-of-breed" determinations. The situation is more problematic for the evaluation of administrative software and applications. Standards for such applications do not exist, or at least represent an entirely different framework. Thus, schools and districts need to evaluate administrative software in terms of functional effectiveness (i.e., Do they accomplish the goals they are intended to accomplish?) rather than relying upon external sources for standards and reviews.

Evaluating Web-based Products and Services

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has formed a Standards Development Board to address a broad range of areas in which educators can judge Web-based products and services. The Standards for Web-Based Education Products and Services, Guidelines for K-12 Educators includes eight areas of consideration:

  • content quality
  • educational support
  • equity
  • technology support
  • correlation to standards
  • effectiveness
  • privacy/safety
  • user friendliness

For more information, visit (PDF 70 KB)

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