Introduction

In 1987, standardized assessment practices for identification of students with Learning Disabilities (LD) were adopted by the California Community College system. This process has provided invaluable assistance in assuring that the unique educational needs of students with learning disabilities are identified and addressed.

In 1993, the HTCTU, in conjunction with a statewide team of Learning Disabilities and High Tech Center specialists from the California community colleges, developed a guide entitled Selecting Software for Students with Learning Disabilities. The purpose of this guide was to match appropriate computer-assisted instructional software to the learning needs of students with specific deficits.

For several years, this guide served its purpose well; however, as new software was introduced and old software discontinued, a need arose to update this guide to reflect these changes. As with the earlier version, the purpose of the updated guide is to provide instructors with information necessary to evaluate the content and instructional effectiveness of any software program relative to the needs of students with learning disabilities.

Although some specific software is identified, these programs should be viewed as prototypic examples rather than prescriptive recommendations. This guide is not intended to be a simple software “cookbook,” but rather as the next step in the ongoing process of learning to identify and use educational software in specific, instructionally effective and creative ways. It is a part of the process of bringing technology into the classroom and enhancing the learning process for LD students.

In consultation with California community college LD testing specialists, assessment information from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-III (WAIS-III), the Wide Range Achievement Test-3 (WRAT-3), the Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities and Tests of Achievement, and the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-II (WIAT-II) were identified as appropriate sources of information about learning deficits which could be matched to currently available software. These identifiable cognitive and achievement deficit areas have been used as the organizational framework for this guide. Each area has its own chapter which is divided into assessment and software sections.

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The Deficit Areas

The deficit areas were divided into two broad categories, cognitive and achievement:

Cognitive

Achievement

Broad Reading
Broad Math
Broad Written Language
PreReading

 

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Special Considerations

 The assessment section contains:
  1. brief descriptions of the specific measures used to assess a given cognitive or achievement area, and
  2. descriptions of the effects such deficits are likely to have on students’ academic performance and ability to function in a college environment.

 

 The software section contains:
  1. the instructional goals which the software must achieve in addressing the effects of the targeted learning deficit;
  2. a review of instructional considerations summarizing the wisdom, teaching experience, pragmatic skills and general working knowledge of the specialists who contributed to this guide and who have direct experience with assistive technology for the deficit area under discussion;
  3. a description of the software characteristics, e.g., instructional design, methodology, learning levels, information feedback, use of repetition, color, sound or graphics, needed to work effectively with a particular learning deficit. Note: in many instances description of the unique importance and use of a basic software characteristic is also included; and
  4. software examples providing specific titles of programs which demonstrate the characteristics of software required for a particular deficit area. Note: in some instances no single title meets all of the requirements, so a selection of program types, which together meet the requirements, has been assembled.

 

 Assistive software instruction and technology can be useful and effective teaching/ learning tools when incorporated properly into a larger array of instructional activities. Productive use of this software requires that the instructors have a clear understanding of specific instructional goals for students and how the software will support the achievement of all or part of those goals.

Effective use of software, in general, requires an in-depth knowledge of each software program. In focusing on a deficit area, the instructors may often select only a single exercise from a larger program or a series of programs, each of which meets some portion of the overall instructional goal.

Instructors should provide students with an explanation of the purpose of the software, help students implement learning strategies, monitor progress, and make adjustments in program parameters and instructional goals as needed. Effective use of instructional software engages both instructors and students in a mutually rewarding teaching/learning experience.

We are not suggesting that deficits can, or will be, “fixed” through the use of software. Neither are we proposing that software be casually selected and used on the basis of a single subtest score. Deficits to be addressed by software should be carefully identified through combinations of tests, subtests, and/or clusters

Computer software can provide highly specialized support for a wide range of students. We look forward to your comments and suggestions as you use this guide. The development of this text is an evolutionary process which will change as better technology becomes available and instructional methods are refined. We hope the revised edition of the guide will provide you with a useful tool for better utilizing the software resources you already have and for selecting new ones in the future.

 

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General Guidelines

Determining the appropriateness of software for any given student or group of students requires many of the same skills instructors already use in evaluating instructional resources such as books, slides, video, handouts and audio tapes. Although the perception exists that evaluating software is very different from evaluating more traditional types of instructional media, in fact, the processes have a great deal in common.

The following guidelines provide instructors with the “ideal” general characteristics of instructional software. It is important to understand that the probability of finding a single software program which includes all of these characteristics is unlikely. More commonly, as with other resource materials, instructors will use portions of several programs to meet their instructional goals. When evaluating and comparing software, the instructor might use the following questions.

Organization

  • Does the software provide a clearly defined set of goals and objectives and a series of activities or presentations which lead to their achievement?
  • Does each module or lesson focus on a particular topic, idea, or lesson?
  • Does the software provide an organizational structure that allows easy access to any exercise, example or instructional component?
  • Does the program provide clear and simple instructions for students and instructors on-line and in an accompanying manual?
  • Does the software provide a data collection mechanism that automatically captures pertinent information, allows for manual input, and displays, prints and stores (in graphs, charts and text) cumulative data showing areas of student progress and difficulty?
  • Does the program provide authoring components that are easy to use (for editing and entering new data)?
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Methodology

  • Does the software provide a broad perspective of different cultures through examples that include students and student interests of various ethnic and racial backgrounds?
  • Does the software provide a variety of instructional formats and/or methods that take into account diversity in student learning styles?
  • Does the software provide effective sequencing of information?
  • Does the software link the presentation of new information to evidence of success with previous learning tasks?
  • Are the quiz and review components linked to the program goals and objectives?
  • Are the vocabulary, sentence structure and content of the software appropriate to the age group with which it will be used?
  • Does the software provide relevant and up to date content material and exercises?
  • Is the feedback provided by the software meaningful? Does feedback about incorrect responses provide useful information about the type of error, how to make corrections and how to proceed through the remaining material?
  • Does the feedback support the learning process, promote further interaction with the software, and avoid using methods a student may find threatening, embarrassing, or intimidating?
  • Does the software provide options for automatic or manual progression or regression through the hierarchy of content, as well as a variety of presentation styles, based on student responses?
  • Does the software use graphics, sound, buttons, etc. in ways which enhance (not distract from) the program’s instructional objectives?
  • Does the program incorporate screen designs and text display that are dynamic enough to be pleasing to the student’s eye, sustain interest in the program and contribute to the instructional objective?
  • Does the software provide control options that allow the student or instructor to set graphic, text, sound and motion attributes, such as color combinations, size of fonts, volume, and playback features?
  • Does the program provide easy-to-use supportive materials and documentation for students and teachers such as manuals, activity sheets and handouts?
  • Does the program provide maximum compatibility with system software and assistive computer hardware and software?

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