A ‘Consumer Reports’ for ed tech: Common Sense Media launches reviews site for teachers

Does the growing world of education technology need a Consumer Reports of its own? That question got a bit of attention last fall when two business school professors proposed the idea in a paper for the nonprofit Hamilton Project (at the Brookings Institute).

Well, regardless of how difficult some think it might be to build an independent reviews site for ed tech that actually works, the industry is getting one as of today.  On Monday, the nonprofit Common Sense Media said that it was launching Graphite, a free online tool for teachers that evaluates and rates a wide range of learning apps, games, websites and other digital tools.

“We’re trying to get to a place where teachers can not only find what’s good in the world of 100,000 education apps that are on in [Apple’s] (s AAPL) App Store or Google Play (s GOOG), but also look at the sea of websites that are out there that are educational,” said Mike Lorion, the nonprofit’s general manager of education.

GraphiteScreenShot6On Graphite, teachers can search for digital tools by grade, subject, platform, price and other variables and then view comprehensive reviews and ratings for each one. In addition to including reviews from Common Sense Media’s own editorial team of former teachers, the site enables teachers to contribute their own evaluations with the technology. Each review page also includes the key standards supported by that particular ed tech tool.

By the time the new school year starts this fall, he said, Graphite should include reviews for more than 650 apps and the goal is to reach 1,000 by the end of the calendar year.

Given Common Sense Media’s independent nature and pre-existing relationship with more than 50,000 schools that use its curriculum on digital literacy and internet safety, the non-profit is well-positioned to succeed with this kind of online resource for teachers. Teachers are already familiar with the organization and would likely value the unbiased perspective of an independent evaluator.

But several other startups and companies already offer teachers services for discovering and rating ed tech tools. The Imagine K-12 startup EdShelf is about two years into a website that provides user-submitted reviews on ed tech products, EdSurge offers a “community-driven” database of ed tech tools in addition to its regular articles on ed tech news, and both Apple and Google maintain sections of their app stores for teachers.

Also, as a couple of ed tech entrepreneurs told me last fall, even though the idea of an independent evaluator is promising, it could be difficult to effectively implement. Not only could it be tricky for evaluators to keep up with constantly iterating developers and new product releases and updates, the reviews may not give enough details related to the specific classroom circumstances in which a tool is effective. Class size, students’ familiarity with technology and other variables can determine whether or not a particular app or website works and product reviews don’t always provide that level of granularity.