May 14 2014

Which Digital Media Are Worthy of Classroom Use?

Common Sense Media’s Graphite platform aims to help teachers ascertain the educational value of apps, games and more.

Finding great educational apps for classroom use is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Ask a teacher or instructional technology specialist for guidance — let alone a definitive source of high-quality, high-value content — and they’ll likely respond that “It really depends on what you consider to be educational.”

The Elements of Graphite

Graphite’s reviews and ratings are organized by:

  • Type (Apps, Console and PC Games, and Websites)
  • Subjects (Language and Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, Arts and Hobbies)
  • Grades (Pre-K–2, 3–5, 6–8 and 9–12)
  • Price (Free, Free to Try and Paid)

The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of loosely categorized and sorted “educational” technology products in online marketplaces right now. Separating the wheat from the chaff — that is, finding relevant tools that match teachers’ specific needs — can be difficult.

That’s why Common Sense Media created Graphite, a free digital media rating and review platform for pre-K–12 teachers.

Launched nearly a year ago, Graphite streamlines users’ searches for apps, games, websites and digital curricula that are both age-appropriate and enriching for students. The service’s nearly 1,200 products reviews and 3,000-plus teacher-supplied “Field Notes” provide important contextual and experiential information that help school leaders make decisions about which media-based learning resources to use in the classroom.

Digging Graphite

Reviews, by nature, are subjective. But Common Sense Media has developed a process and framework to give users a comprehensive overview of each product that’s derived from actually using it for educational purposes. Here’s how we do it:

  • Start with a highly skilled team. Our editors and 30-plus expert teachers from around the world were selected because of their strong education, technology and writing backgrounds. To ensure that every contributor provides the same type of feedback about the products they evaluate, we offer ongoing training in Common Sense Media’s learning approach and educational philosophy, which encourages students’ critical thinking and building concepts for the long term.
  • Rate and review with rigor. Editors and reviewers assess each product’s learning potential using a 15-item research-based rubric, as well as their own expert judgment. This systematic approach ensures consistency across ratings.
  • Draw on sound learning principles. Graphite’s learning rubric focuses on three key areas that research has shown make a difference in how students learn with digital media:

    1. Engagement: The product is engrossing, entertaining and well-designed.

    2. Pedagogy: The product challenges students to think critically and build concepts for the long term.

    3. Supports: The product adapts to different learning styles and integrates nondigital extension materials for students and teachers.

  • Invite all teachers to weigh in. A crowdsourced rating from teachers complements the editorial team’s rating and provides a richer picture of each product. Teachers also write Field Notes that detail how they use each product in their teaching — and how their students react to it.
  • Curate content smartly. Graphite bundles editors’ recommendations into Top Picks on an array of topics, including STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics), special needs, English language arts products aligned to Common Core State Standards and even empathy. This makes it easier for teachers, technology integrators and administrators to find what they’re looking for.

What’s the Point?

Our users have told us that they typically spend hours each week searching for digital media that meet their instructional needs. They’ve also reported that it’s especially difficult to test products that have price tags attached.

Our goal, therefore, is to present content in such a way that they can get to the “good stuff” — fast. Intuitive filters and search capabilities ensure that users can find what they’re looking for quickly — typically, in less than a minute. Anything that helps them ultimately helps students, and that’s really what it’s all about.