December 18, 2014

Common Sense Media Unveils Graphite, New Review Site for Apps, Digital Content

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June 24 marked the debut of Graphite, a  free, online guide to digital learning products compiled by and for educators. Created by Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit, the new resource reviews and rates digital products, including apps, games, websites, and digital curricula for K–12.

Introduced June 24, during the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology and Education) conference in San Antonio, TX, Graphite supplements Common Sense Media’s existing resources for educators, many devoted to digital literacy.

Graphite’s editorial team evaluates each product using a rating system “developed by a team of experts in education and child development,” according to a press release. Users of the site can search concurrently within four categories: product type (apps, console and PC games, websites); subject (language and reading, math, science, social studies, art, and hobbies); grade (Pre-K to 12); and price (free, free to try, or paid). Products can also be mapped to the Common Core and other standards.

Educators can contribute their own feedback on the site, including field notes about how they use each product and what works best with their students.

What comes up is a mix of product “Reviews,” “Field Notes,” and “Top Picks” for any tailored search.

The reviews include basic product information along with a guide to the skills supported by a particular product (thinking and reasoning; logic; self-direction, etc.). But the main features, and what people may well turn to Graphite for, are the reviews’ rigorous “learning rating” and “teacher rating” for every product.

The learning rating, compiled by Graphite’s team, indicates the overall learning potential of a product as well as three individual ratings for student engagement, pedagogy, and support for those using the product.

The teacher rating is an educators’ evaluation of a product along with descriptive pros and cons. Graphite provides a detailed explanation of its rating and reviewing system here

Field Notes, written largely by Graphite-certified educators (“volunteers selected from a highly competitive pool of educator applicants,” according to the site) are user evaluations along with best-practice tips for classroom use.

Top Picks is pretty self explanatory: from a sample perusal, it’s a list of about six to eight top selections within any search combination.

Graphite is geared as a time saver for the 54 percent of tech-invested educators who spend an hour or more each week researching ed tech products, a statistic from a recent Common Sense Media poll conducted by Harris Interactive.

While 89 percent of teachers think educational technology helps students, only 18 percent use subject-specific content tools weekly; 30 percent use reference tools; 25 percent use teacher tools; and 14 percent use digital curricula, the survey found.

Funding for Graphite included support from the Susan Crown Exchange and a personal investment from Bill Gates, according to a press release. “There really is no limit to what teachers can do if they have the right resources,” Gates stated in the release. “A decade from now, finding and using the best content and technology will be as natural as opening a book. Graphite promises to be a big step in this direction.”

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