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It takes a real expert to wade through the hype and hoopla to find quality educational software. An expert, after all, is a person who knows the difference between the extraordinary and the mundane. A wine expert can pick out vintage wines. An automobile expert knows which cars are gems and which are duds.

You can easily become an expert at selecting quality educational software. The really good news is that you don't have to know beans about what goes on inside the computer to do this. All you need to do is ask three simple, but critical, questions.

1. Do I need a computer to do this?

When you are looking at a program, reading a brochure, or listening to someone who is trying to sell you a product, ask yourself if a computer is really necessary. Much of the software available that's designed for the classroom doesn't do anything that couldn't be done just as well with a conventional book or a blackboard and chalk. Just putting educational content on a computer doesn't improve it. Even if someone adds silly graphics like dancing bears or a fake teacher.

2. Am I learning anything?

If the software passes the first test and the computer is actually doing something interesting and new, decide if this is an effective way to learn. Many useful and important programs don't necessarily meet this learning test. If possible, try putting yourself in the role of the student and see how the software performs.

3. Will this help me teach?

Finally, decide if this program can help you be a better teacher. If so, you have discovered a gem and have truly become an expert at picking out the good stuff. If the program doesn't happen to match your teaching goals, tell others about your discovery. They will thank you and think that you are an expert. And they will be right.

When you ask these questions, you will immediately begin getting better information because you will be focused on the important issues. Ask a software sales person these questions and you will either see a very embarrassed sales person or you will start getting information you can use instead of just the platitudes and claims. Keep these questions in mind when you are reviewing or considering a product, and your newfound expertise will make short work of cutting through the manuals and the hype.

Don't be deceived by the simplicity of this approach. These three questions are your guide to identifying the software that only you and other experts are quick to notice and appreciate. Understanding this makes you a member of the growing fraternity of those who are creating, discovering, and contributing to the continuing evolution of technology that serves people.

These are the same critical questions that I and many creative software designers ask about our own work. The perspective we gain helps us focus on creating interactive learning environments that are unique to personal computers. 

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