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Learning Library Blog 7 sites that vet digital learning tools
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7 sites that vet digital learning tools

By Nancy Weinstein
January 19, 2019
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In today’s world, finding new ways to actively engage our students in the classroom is a near necessity. Yet searching for a specific tool can be time consuming. Most teachers create lists of cool things when they read about them, but even for the most organized, it can be tough to find what you saved at just the time you want to use it.

Below are several helpful sites that offer a broad selection of teacher-reviewed products so you can find what you need when you need it. Even with these sites, it might be hard to determine which is best suited for your needs. Upon closer inspection, however, they all take a distinct approach to their evaluations. Here’s a quick lowdown on the questions, and answers, you will want to consider in choosing your “go-to” site:

WHO writes the reviews? What are their qualifications? Are there multiple reviewers per product to ensure quality? Are students’ views considered?

WHAT types of products do they review? Apps and websites only? Or lesson plans and instructional strategies, too? Can it be your one-stop shop?

WHERE do you find the reviews? Is it easy to search by important criteria like age, subject and platform?

WHY are they writing the reviews? In other words, how does the site make money and could it impact objectivity?

WHEN are new reviews released? Are you learning about the best new tools available?

HOW does the site define what makes a good product? This might be the most important consideration and where you can find the biggest variation. Take time to understand the site’s criteria. Only you can decide if it matches your definition of quality.

ISTE Edtech Advisor

WHO: ISTE members review edtech tools, apps and resources on how well they support the ISTE Standards for teaching and learning based on their experience using them in the classroom.

WHAT: Reviews of apps, devices, curricula and other resources related to edtech for PK-12.   

WHERE: Tools and resources are sorted by grade level, subject, platform and type of tool. Users can also see which tools have earned the ISTE Seal of Alignment and which companies are ISTE conference exhibitors, sponsors or corporate sponsors. Reviewers and users must be ISTE members to access the site. 

WHY: The site is a member benefit for ISTE members.

WHEN: Reviews are added on an ongoing basis.

HOW: Evaluators answer five questions regarding their experience with the resource and then give a letter grade (A-F) for 10 categories. Some reviewers provide more detailed written feedback.

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Children’s Technology Review

WHO: Educators who have been trained using the site’s proprietary rubric do the rating. Children are consulted as part of the review process.

WHAT: Includes reviews of digital media products for children from birth to 15 years. Products include apps, websites, video games and electronic devices.
WHERE: The site has a database that is easily searchable by multiple criteria including price, age, academic topic, and platform, but you must be a paid subscriber to access all the filters and read the reviews.

WHY: The site makes money by selling access to its reviews and hosting conferences.

WHEN: New reviews and updates of existing reviews are sent out in a weekly update and published in the monthly newsletter.

HOW: Their educators use a proprietary rubric that has a heavy emphasis on effective use of technology and student engagement as well as instruction. Reviews are several paragraphs long and are given an overall percent score based on the company’s rubric. Readers can see the break-down of how the product performed across each of their five categories: ease of use, educational, entertaining, design features and good value.

Common Sense Education

WHO:  Common Sense Education editors oversee a team of freelance reviewers who use a research-backed, 15-point rubric that evaluates the learning potential of digital tools. Reviewers are edtech leaders, child development scholars, instructional designers, subject-area experts and school tech leaders.

WHAT: Includes apps and websites for classroom use. Educators can also add their own reviews but those are rated separately from the expert reviews. 

WHERE: The site has a database that is easily searchable on a number of criteria including platform, subject, grade, price, skills and purpose (curriculum, targeted practice, presentation, etc.)

WHY: The site is part of nonprofit Common Sense Media and has no advertising.

WHEN: Reviews are added on an ongoing basis.

HOW: Editors use a proprietary 15-point rubric that breaks down the evaluation into three main dimensions: engagement, pedagogy and support. Each product receives a rating and short explanation of the reason on the three dimensions and overall. Evaluators also address how teachers can use it, what it’s like and whether it's good for learning.

ISTE Seal of Alignment

WHO: ISTE reviews ed tech products and digital resources for alignment to the ISTE Standards. Every resource undergoes a rigorous review by a panel of education and standards experts to identify and recognize how it supports specific ISTE Standards. 

 Many types of resources are reviewed including digital curriculum, courseware, assessments, games, learning programs, professional development programs and post secondary programs. 

WHY: ISTE is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide educators and education leaders with reliable and credible information about how various ed tech resources contribute to effective digital teaching and learning. Resource vendors pay for the opportunity to be reviewed so they can share the information with their users and better contribute to more informed decision making. These vendors are committed to providing high-quality pedagogically relevant digital learning products and seek validation through ISTE.

WHERE: ISTE posts on its website information about each resource that is reviewed and includes basic product information as well as specific alignment review findings and product recommendations. 

WHEN: New seal awards and review findings are posted regularly but not according to any pre-determined schedule.

HOW: All review findings are based on the products’ ability to support and promote specific digital learning outcomes as described by the ISTE Standards. The three types of ISTE Seals specify the way in which the users meet the standards, such as whether the resource supports technology readiness or has users apply digital learning skills for proficiency or mastery of the ISTE Standards.

Mindprint Learning

WHO: All products are evaluated based on the company’s 30+ point rubric by certified teachers, learning specialists or child psychologists. At least two evaluators look at every product and most products are tested with children.

WHAT: Includes apps, websites, video sites, board games and toys. Also includes learning and study strategies written by the company’s learning specialists and child psychologists.

WHERE: The site has a database that is easily searchable by academic topic, cognitive skills, interests, age and product type. Users must register for free to read the reviews.

WHY: The company makes money selling a proprietary online cognitive assessment. Students who take the cognitive assessment are given specific product recommendations and learning strategies best-suited to their learning profile.

WHEN: The company adds new products on a regular basis. Users can search for newly added products.

HOW: Mindprint’s teachers use a 30+ point rubric that is inspired by Universal Design for Learning standards and the written review also takes into consideration how a student learns best. Users can find products that are most or least suitable for students with specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses, including attention, working memory, complex reasoning and long-term memory (the same skills measured on the company’s proprietary assessment). Users can read a multi-paragraph review, see how the product performed on each of the criteria in the company’s rubric and read reviews from other Mindprint users.

Participate Learning

WHO: The site has a combination of community-sourced reviews and reviews from experts that have been vetted by Participate Learning. The experts vetted by Participate are all educators and evaluate products based on the company’s own rubric. There is no criteria for community members to post and share collections.

WHAT: The site includes reviews of apps, websites, videos, ebooks and OERs.  

WHERE: Reviews are searchable by grade, academic topic, product type, and if applicable, Common Core standard. Search results feature a collection of recommendations from two community members followed by products that meet the search criteria.

WHY: The company is funded by private investors.

WHEN: New collections are posted regularly by community members.

HOW: Each product includes a brief paragraph review and is rated on a scale of 1-30 on three categories from the company’s rubric: educational content and function, features and production value, and enjoyability.

Teachers With Apps

WHO: A team of writers, each with expertise in a specific area of education (speech, math, reading, language, etc.) review apps. Every app is field-tested with a cross-section of students and teachers as part of the review process. Some reviews explain where it was tested.

WHAT: A focus on apps but includes websites and sometimes games.

WHY: The site makes money from developers who pay for advertising, consulting fees for feedback on apps, accelerated reviews and sponsored posts.

WHERE: Reviews are posted in reverse chronological order of completion. There are separate sections for special needs and teacher tools.

WHEN: New reviews are posted regularly but not according to any pre-determined schedule.

HOW: The text-based reviews are longer than most, written in a blog-type format, including screenshots. The site tells who wrote the review, since each reviewer has a slightly different style.

Still uncertain? Perhaps the best way to pick your favorite site is to read the review of a product you’ve already used. Do you agree with their write-up? Do they share your sensibilities? If so, then you probably found a site that you can use going forward. If not, perhaps try another on this list. They all have their strengths and, except for one, they are all free. 

In addition, here are a few other sites where teachers post their app reviews, often as a list of “Top Apps for…” Most of these sites are advertising-supported and are not updated as frequently as the company websites above.

Nancy Weinstein is the founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning. She started Mindprint while a stay-at-home mom with her two daughters. She has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BSE in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania. She works with an expert team of child psychologists and learning specialists.

This is an updated version of a post that originally published on April 7, 2016.