In an effort help educators make smart choices amid the deluge of ed-tech tools marketed to them, ISTE has partnered with a private company to create an online hub for teachers to review and post information on the quality of those products.
The ISTE Edtech Advisor is a searchable online site created by LearnPlatform that allows educators to share opinions about apps and other ed-tech tools based on their classroom or district-wide experiences using them.
The International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE, is one of the country’s largest ed-tech associations, with 20,000 members, and is perhaps best known for its annual conference. The review site is for members only.
The overriding goal of the project is to address a long-standing, vexing problem, said ISTE CEO Richard Culatta: K-12 officials too often make high-stakes decisions about buying ed-tech with little information about its quality. He wants more high-quality, peer-to-peer information available to educators right away. Rigorous research on ed-tech products is ideal, but it can take years for it to reach educators, Culatta said.
Too often “we’re putting technology into classrooms without data to support those decisions,” Culatta said in an interview. “We wouldn’t go out and buy desks without doing research. Why would we buy apps and software without having that same expectation?”
The Edtech Advisor invites educators to give digital tools A-F grades based on eight criteria: ease of use and navigation; the comprehensiveness and effectiveness of the features; the comprehensiveness and accuracy of the content; glitch-free technology; alignment with standards; impact on student learning and engagement; impact on teacher effectiveness and efficiency; and professional development.
While there are other online tools and platforms that rate ed-tech, many of them don’t offer the context teachers and administrators need to understand how well those tools will work in their schools and classrooms, argued Culatta. The Edtech Advisor, he said, is meant to “leverage the wisdom of the [ISTE community] to allow for better decisionmaking.”
ISTE does not decide what products are reviewed in the system; its members do. Users of the site can search for products and filter by subject and grade level. They can also compare multiple products on their criteria, and download and print charts with those criteria.
There’s also a “community” section on the platform that allows members to connect with each other and see which products they’ve graded. Companies can contact iste at firstname.lastname@example.org to see the reviews written about their products. In its fact sheet on the platform, ISTE says it hopes the reviews can be used for”product improvement and that this platform can be a conduit for deeper relationships between vendors and their users.”
The EdTech Advisor tool was launched this summer. Last month, ISTE and LearnPlatform said it would expand their partnership and give ISTE members a 10 percent discount for members and their districts using the company’s platform.
Among its other services, LearnPlatform, a company based in Raleigh, N.C., contracts with districts to give them data on how much the ed-tech tools they be are actually being used, and what impact they’re having on student achievement.
ISTE has made similar arrangements with private companies to secure discounts for its members on pricing, when it finds a tool it thinks will benefit them, Culatta said.
Through the partnership, LearnPlatform hopes to attract “any district that wants to save time, save money, and improve outcomes,” said Karl Rectanus, the company’s CEO, in an interview. Those districts end up “understanding what they’re paying for.”