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Human Resources in Educational Technology

Humans are verbal animals. Once we learn to speak, we think verbally. Words are the units we use for processing information and experiences. The more practice students have with all aspects of language, the better their thinking and reasoning skills become.

Technology offers myriad opportunities for using language both individually and as a member of a community. From within our classroom walls we now have the capability to allow students to communicate with each other, with texts, and with anyone in the world who has Internet access. Students can be exposed to a richer variety of opinions, expertise, and creativity than ever before. Such exposure increases the chances that students will develop strong positive relationships and develop talents and strengths within themselves.

Mentors and role models may be absent from the homes and neighborhoods of some students. This reason makes it critical that we work to connect students with mentors and role models at school. Through technology, that task is easier than ever.

Locating Communication Partners

Start in your own community. Brainstorm with your students on groups or individuals in the area who may benefit from communication or who may have valuable skills to share. Some schools have partnered with local nursing homes where residents have access to a computer with email. The residents regularly email students with questions, answers, stories, and encouragement. Students feel that they are cared for, and they are caring for someone else. Other agencies for possible email/keypal partnerships include humane societies, children’s hospitals, and hospices.

Ask sister schools nearby or far away about email writing exchanges. Students can teach and learn about climate, customs, prices, culture, and more. Several Web pages specialize in joining schools together for telecommunications projects. Use the Internet booklet to check some of the Websites to evaluate how they can be used in your classroom.

Email communication has the benefits of being fast, free, stronger reading and writing skills, ability to attach most file types. Disadvantages include asynchronous (time-delay) communication, requires email software.

Beyond Email: Videoconferencing

Classroom videoconferencing is possible wth low-cost video cameras such as QuickCam, and videoconferencing software like NetMeeting and CUSeeMe. NetMeeting is a free product downloaded from Microsoft. CUSeeMe is a commercial product from White Pine Software. Both products require all conference participants to have the same software running on their computers. After installing the software, all participants connect to the Internet and start the videoconferencing software. One participant calls the other using their IP numbers (Internet Protocol, found by running Start-Run-winip.cfg). When all participants are joined in the conference, they can communicate using live cameras, microphones, chat boards, white boards, and shared applications.

Videoconferencing has the benefits of live, realistic communication, with the drawbacks of low-quality sound and video, and specialized software and hardware.

Web-Based Communication

Thousands of experts and professionals make themselves available on a regular basis to others looking for information or assistance. A short list includes doctors, scientists, language specialists, politicians, and performers. These individuals have Web pages where messages may be sent. The experts will answer on the Web page or via direct email. Search for "ask" or "ask expert" to find directories of such Websites. Students love direct communication with knowledgeable people and customized replies to their queries.

When experts cannot be found to help with an issue, chances are there is a local, state or Federal agency with the expertise to help. Web searches can connect you to Web pages containing email addresses for sending questions and concerns. Many students become political activists when they discover they can email their representatives and become involved in issues that concern them. The Internet provides a powerful voice to students who want to make positive change.

Student Action

Email is a way for students to send individual messages, but Web pages can be published by students who want to reach and influence a larger audience. Students become motivated by local events that affect them, and more motivated when they can be involved and make a difference. A group of high school students saved lives by helping the fire department update maps using the Web and electronic databases. Community groups are generally very willing to share their needs with students and collaborate on solutions.

Educational Software Evaluation

Almost all of the educational benefit of using computers happens using software. Much of the most useful software is bundled with computers and peripherals. However, some educational needs will not be met with standard productivity tools.

Your students need quality software that works easily and robustly in all stages of use. Choosing excellent software involves considering educational benefit, ease of use, attractiveness, cost, technical issues, and appropriateness. Tools exist to assist in software evaluation and selection.

Software Evaluation Guide

    1. Consider your audience. Know the grade level and developmental level of the students who will use the software.
    2. Determine the purpose of the software. Do students need tutorials, programming, reference, graphics tools…?
    3. List the content requirements. Decide between "General 4th grade curriculum" and "Rocks and minerals of South Carolina".
    4. Know the hardware of all users, and reach for the lowest common denominator. Software is designed for specific computer platforms, speeds, media configurations, and network connectivity. Software will have required hardware and optional hardware: check carefully.
    5. Have a budget. Decide how much you have to spend for what number of licenses. It may be more cost effective to buy bulk licenses, or partner with a neighbor school to save money.
    6. Prioritize your needs. You may find that no single software package meets all of your needs. Is multimedia more important than coverage of spelling, for instance?
    7. Search for the software that fills the bill. Check with other computer-using educators, read catalogs, browse the Web.
    8. Evaluate the titles that seem to meet your needs. Use a rubric. Request evaluation copies from the vendor, visit software preview centers, try the software where someone is already using it. See what other reviewers have said about the software.
    9. Shop for the best price. Check with several distributors. Call to ask about state or district contract pricing, or discounts.
    10. Purchase software using technology funds, donations from school or community groups, grants, or instructional materials funds.
    11. Test the software as soon as possible to be sure the package is complete and will work on all machines.

Software Review Sources


Only the Best, from ASCD, Alexandria, VA 800/933-2723


Technology and Learning, 800/607-4410;

Learning and Leading with Technology, 541/346-4414;

Web sites:

California Instructional Technology Clearinghouse;

Children’s’ Software Revue;

Ed Software Reviews;


Kids’ Domain Review;

Parents, Educators, and Publishers database;

The Review Zone;

School House Review;

SchoolNet Software Review;

Super Kids reviews;

Tech.LEARNING software reviews;

Software Publishers

Contact publishers individually to request evaluation copies of software. Check their Web sites to get information or download demo versions. These links bring you to directories of publishers.

Friends of FCIT link list;

Software Evaluation Resources

Evaluating Educational Software, including online evaluation form and links to publishers;

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