Graphite to Bring Independent Reviews to Education Technology

Following up on a suggestion made in a paper by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, non-profit Common Sense Media is launching Graphite, which aims to be the Consumer Reports of the education technology and media sector. Ki Mae Heussner of GigaOM reports that Graphite will serve as an independent review site that will allow teachers to access unbiased reviews of technology solutions for their classrooms for free.

Mike Lorion, Common Sense Media’s general manager of education, has set an ambitious goal for the project. Not only will Graphite look at various education-related apps available on the marketplace, it will also provide an assessment of various websites and web services targeting the education market.

On 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.

Although some product reviews are already available, by the time classes start again next fall Lorion anticipates hosting reviews for more than 650 apps and products on Graphite. By the end of 2013, he’s hoping to see that number grow to 1,000.

Common Sense Media is well-positioned to become the leader in this area thanks to its relationship with 50,000 schools around the country that already take advantage of their products covering topics from digital literacy to internet safety.

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.

The needs also change on particular teaching circumstances. An instructor might be dealing with only a handful of students one year, for example, and a full compliment of 30 or more the next.