Many new or computer-shy educators are wary about purchasing software that might not being the right match for their needs. However, there are many ways to learn about or test educational software prior to purchase, in order to assess its quality and applicability to your school’s needs. Here’s how:

• Previews. Many leading software developers and third-party vendors will allow educators to preview software packages for 30 days prior to purchase. Other developers or vendors require purchase or a purchase order, but promise a full refund for returns made within a limited time period. One caution: Often, preview copies come without the full features of the program.

• Online demonstrations. Software publishers often put scaled-down versions of their programs on the web and allow free downloads. It also might be possible to obtain the full program online for a test.

• Product reviews. Web sites and print publications review many of the hundreds of educational titles released each year. These reviews can provide important basic information, such as the grade level for which software is designed, the types of computers on which it can run, and the educator notes that accompany the software. Assessments of the package’s quality might be part of a review, but remember to ask yourself whether the reviewer has a vested interest in the product.

• Education associations. Some professional organizations, such as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (http://www.shop.ascd.org) and the International Society for Technology in Education (http://www.iste.org) will review and rate software.

abstracted from “Classroom Software: Preview Before You Buy”
Technology & Learning, November 2001, page 46