The Common Sense Education team is constantly searching for the best tools for digital teaching and learning. Our experts have rated and reviewed more than 3,000 (and counting!) apps, websites, and games for their learning potential. Through all this, we consistently come across new tools that are unlike anything we’ve seen before. The innovation happening in the edtech world is a big part of our inspiration and motivation to keep reviewing.

But our main motivation is keeping you—teachers—informed about the latest tools for digital learning. Brand-new products come onto the market all the time, but they aren’t all created equal—some are clearly more “finished” than others. Of course, some developers release early versions of their products to get feedback from new users. While many of these digital tools are just fine for classroom use, others may be unfinished, unpolished, or simply not appropriate for kids’ learning.

So, from alpha to beta and beyond, what are the key traits we look for in a quality edtech product? Here are 12 questions our education editors ask that can help you identify classroom-ready digital tools.

1. Have teachers’ and students’ actual needs been taken into account?
Can the tool be used in a variety of classroom settings or scenarios? Have teachers’ practical considerations (time, funding, logistics) been considered? Does it seem like actual teachers were involved in the product’s design and development? PocketLab meets teachers’ needs by making devices that are portable enough to take anywhere and more affordable than traditional equipment.

2. Does the tool support active, experiential learning?
Are kids immersed in the learning experience? What can they do to connect learning to other areas in their lives? Will they stay motivated to continue learning and exploring? A tool like Minecraft: Education Edition does a great job of reeling kids in and empowering them to learn.

12 tips to help you identify classroom-ready tools

3. Can students get constructive feedback, advice, and helpful hints?
Look for tools that offer students the right amount of help without muddling or complicating the experience. For example, Khan Academy makes it easy for kids to access help and hints in multiple ways and formats.

4. As a teacher, can you get clear, actionable data on student performance?
A dashboard is key, but look for one that doesn’t overwhelm with too much information. The data you get should offer a clear pathway toward student improvement. For example, LightSail offers robust data that’s still easy to use in personalizing students’ learning.

5. Does the product support a diverse range of learners?
Will kids with different cultural or linguistic backgrounds or learning styles have access to the content? Does the product have built-in tools to help struggling readers, English-language learners, special education students, or kids with learning differences? A site like Newsela reaches all learners by providing high-interest, nonfiction texts that can be adjusted to individual students’ reading levels.

About the Author:

As senior manager of education content for Common Sense Education, Jeff Knutson works with the editorial team to rate and review digital media for learning potential as well as developmental appropriateness. Knutson comes to Common Sense and Graphite with more than 10 years of classroom experience. He taught high school English, including classes for beginning English learners, where he employed the latest tech tools in his daily teaching. From tablets in the classroom to microblogging assignments and digital-citizenship lessons, his aim was to increase engagement and learning for all of his students, especially those who struggled.


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