Creative Amnesia

Inventing the digital future

Software evaluation for Humanities purposes

Posted by giorgioguzzetta on 11 September 2012

I have been asked to write some evaluation report on the software I am considering to use in my project, sort of a review of the reason why I am considering it or discarding it, to keep a record and for future use. I am new to this kind of job, so I did some research online to see if I could find some sort of guidelines about what to put in there and I found this mail, Evaluating Humanities Software, in the Humanist mailing list that seems to be interesting. Here is the questionnaire drafted by Matthew Wall who was “trying to develop a set of testing and evaluation criteria appropriate to software for humanities disciplines in higher ed” while at Swathmore College:

0. Definition (feel free to skip this one if you have nothing to say). Is
there any characteristic or set of characteristics you feel could be used
to “define” humanities software?

1. Quality: what are the hallmarks of quality in humanities software?
What’s “good” software in this area? How do you know what good software is?

(Possible areas of interest to you might be: user interface elements,
appropriateness of content in software, content issues vs. general task
performance, ease of adaptation of the software to your curriculum,
replacement of the “old” way of doing things vs. addition of new
capabilities you never had before, use of software as supplementary to, a
replacement for, or an enhancement to the curriculum)

2. Evaluation: Do you employ some sort of evaluation technique for software
you use in courses? How is it unique to the humanities, do you think? What
criteria do you use to evaluate humanities software? What would you like
built-in to the software if it were available?

(Possible areas of interest or comment: quantitative measures, “games” or
built-in tests, how students benefit from it, how much time you save, how
you measure student achievement, what non-quantifiable benefits you
perceive, how you decided whether to keep using a piece of software after
you’ve been using it for a while, and so on)

3. Permanence of benefit: When you use or design a piece of software or an
on-line exercise, how important is it that the item be re-usable? For how
long should different types of programs be useful?

(Some things to consider: repeatibility of use of a particular program, use
between classes, use outside of class, use from year to year, use as
curriculum changes, use as faculty come and go, availability of software to
students, and so on)

4. Curricular issues: What do you think are the important curricular
issues, in your experience, in using software in humanities courses?

5. Examples: What are some of your favorite examples of good, bad, or ugly
software intended for undergraduate humanities courses?

(To consider: what has been good or bad and what effects you look at to
judge that, particular features you like, things you worked on yourself vs.
products, content which has been applicable to more than one course,
techniques of analysis or presentation you liked or disliked, and so on.)

6. Ideals: What are some characteristics of an ideal piece of software for
the humanities?

(what would be included in your ideal piece of software, the best most
useful thing you could imagine at this point to help your teaching?)

I will use this as an initial draft for my report grid, although I am aware that he mail was sent in 1993 and probably there is more recent and more useful stuff on the subject that I could use.  Also, in many ways we discuss this several times in the past year, but I am trying to create summarise those discussions into some sort of evaluative grid. So if anyone knows essays or blog entries or whatever else that might be helpful, or has some more thoughts about it, feel free to comment. It would be very helpful.

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