Disclaimer: The following post is merely my opinion. Neither EdShelf or Common Sense Media provided any input into the writing of these reviews. Perhaps you will have a different opinion than mine? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Post comments!
I love tech tools. I especially love tech tool directories. I’ve been using EdShelf and Common Sense Media’s Graphite more than any other. Today I’m going to take a side by side comparison of the two tools and see how they stack up against each other.
We’ll be examining the following aspects of each tool:
1. The presentation of the site – Is it easy to navigate?
2. Searching for tools – Do I have to know what I’m looking for or can I browse by subject/age/etc.?
3. Curating tools – Is there a way to save these tools for later?
4. Quality and layout of individual reviews – Who does the reviews? Do they actually help me when making a decision to use/purchase the tool?
5. Variety in directory – Is the directory thorough? Are there tools missing?
Round 1: Presentation of site
EdShelf: EdShelf shows the “Trending Tools” followed by some “Featured Collections” (we’ll discuss the Collections later…), followed by a stream of recently submitted reviews, and at the very bottom of the page, a subject category list of tool is listed. By clicking on one of these categories, you are directed to a page with various tools that are tagged with that category name.
- Pro: I love the ability to click on a subject – especially if I’m just browsing.
- Con: It’s at the very bottom so I feel some people would miss it. And some of the category names are repetitive, so there aren’t actually as many as it seems. Ex: “Lesson Plan”, “Lesson Plan Creator” and “Lesson Plans” are 3 different categories and they have different results. Bummer.
Graphite: By default, you are on the “Reviews and Ratings” page, but you can choose other areas of the site to explore, including “Top Picks”, “Meet Our Teachers”, “Get Inspired”, “Boards” (we’ll discuss these later), and “Blog”. Right off the bat you are prompted with search filters to narrow by type of tool, age range, and subject area. The rest of the page is filled with boxes of reviews, each featuring a screen shot of the tool. (I love pictures)
- Pros: All of the reviews note the type of tool (Website, App, etc.) and it notes whether the product is Free, Paid (and sometimes list the price), or Free to Try. It also lists the appropriate grade range and devices that the tool will run on.
- Cons: I wish the apps and websites were on separate pages or at least more distinguishable (different color or something).
Round 2: Finding tools
EdShelf: You are able to filter results by Price, Age, Subject, Platform, and Category. There are 30 subjects to choose from and more-or-less align to content areas (e.g., Geometry, Geography, Physics). The category option includes things such as “Bookmarking” and “Image Editing”. However, as stated above, while there are lots of categories listed, many of them are repetitive.
- Pros: The amount of filters make it easy to browse without having something specific in mind.
- Cons: No matter how hard I try, I can only choose one option from each filter. For example, if I wanted to narrow down to just the tools that are FREE or FREE TO TRY, I would have to perform two separate searches since I can’t choose both. The biggest issues relates to choosing the Age. The ages listed are actual single value ages. I would much rather search by age range rather than a specific age. Another bummer – you can’t organize the results (ex: by highest rating, etc.)
Graphite: You don’t have to go to a special page to begin searching for tools on Graphite. You simply click the filters (Type, Subject, Grades, and Price) located right on the main page!
- Pros: Instead of merely showing a list, Graphite’s reviews feature a screenshot, Learner Rating, Teacher Rating (if it has one), and a short description of the tool. I also love that it shows the price.
- Cons: Again, I wish the reviews for Apps v. Websites were distinguished a little better.
Round 3: Curating Tools
EdShelf: You can create a “Collection” to save tools for later. You can choose to make these collections Public or Private. A simple drag and drop feature creates a collection similar to a Pinterest board. You can also add your own annotations.
- Pros: Drag and drop is so simple! Once you create a collection, you can automatically print a list of URLs or a list with QR codes! (so stoked about that)
- Cons: You must have already reviewed the tools prior to entering the “Collection” screen. Although you can use the same filters as the search screen, you cannot click on the tool to read the reviews.
Graphite: Graphite allows you to create “Boards” to save your favorite tools. You can also view Boards of other educators. In order to create a board you must first find a tool, click on its review, and then click “Add to Board”. After you have created a board, it will be listed on your profile. If you click on the “Boards” tab in the homepage, it merely directs you to a list of recently created Boards (which is not very searchable).
- Pros: A very clean layout. Easy to read and of course – love the screenshots.
- Cons: You can’t add your own notes to the tools you bookmark. I am also having a difficult time searching through other Boards. Many of them only have 1 or 2 tools.
Round 4: Individual Reviews
(to make this round as fair as possible, I will be looking at reviews of Animoto)
Edshelf begins most of its reviews with a video. In this case, it shows a 1-minute Animoto promotional video through a YouTube player. (I am working on this at home, but this might be a problem for some if their schools filter YouTube.) EdShelf uses a star rating (out of 5) in three categories: Learning Curve, Pedagogical Effectiveness, and Student Engagement. It then gives a brief Description, Reviews, Pricing (with lots of details on the various versions), and Collections. There are currently 6 reviews for Animoto, but 4 of the 6 are from the same person? Yet again, they are all unique reviews (and quite helpful). From this screen you can directly “Add to Collection”. It also lists several “Related Tools”
- Pros: I love the related tools! And the details on the pricing page – awesome!
- Cons: The “Collection” tab doesn’t do that much for me. It is merely a listing of all of the Collections that include Animoto (there are 217 of them).
Graphite: *NOTE there are 2 separate product reviews – 1 for Animoto and the other for Animoto Video Maker (the app). For this review, I will be looking at the website review.
Instead of a video, Graphite includes several images from the product in review. Additionally, Graphite provides two ratings – Learning Rating and a Teacher Rating. Learner Ratings are done by experts at Common Sense Media while the Teacher Ratings are from teachers that submit “Field Notes”. The reviews feature the Price, Grade(s), Setup Time and Type (app, website, etc.). The reviews include Pros and Cons and detailed summaries of the product. When looking at “Learning Dimensions” (Engagement, Pedagogy, Support), there are individual ratings for each component as long with supporting evidence/descriptions. The page also displays related tools.
- Pros: The reviews are incredibly detailed. I love that the reviews are broken down into various components. I also love that a lot of the reviews include “How I use it”. The “Time to Set Up” is also great information to have.
- Cons: The reviews are incredibly detailed. (I know…) but sometimes I don’t have time to read that much text.
I hate ties! But I absolutely had to. I changed my answer a billion times and kept switching back and forth. I strongly prefer the look and feel of EdShelf; however, the quality and depth of the reviews on Graphite are by far superior. I feel like they both have their place. If I need a quick bit of information, I will probably use EdShelf. But if I need a detailed summary and examples of how a tool can be used, I would use Graphite.
Round 5: Directory of Tools
(to make this round as fair as possible, I searched all “Math” tools with no other filters applied)
EdShelf: 440 results. Results are shown as a long scrolling page with the ability to “Show More Results” if desire. When you click this, more results are added to the original list. (It took me a while for it to display all 440 results). The very last product listed is “Math vs. Undead” (an actual math tool). As a test, I searched for “Pic Collage” and “Math vs. Zombies” as those are 2 apps I have on my iPad. I found both.
- Pros: Lots of results and they are all actually about math!
- Cons: Can’t filter results by ratings. I also wish their was an easier way to view all results without hitting “See More Results” a hundred times.
Graphite: 223 results. Results are organized on pages with 10 tools per page. The very last product listed is “Shmoop” (a test prep website for a variety of topics). I also searched for Pic Collage and Math vs. Zombies. No results for either.
- Pros: You can sort by Last Updated or Price.
- Cons: A lot of missing tools.
1. The presentation of the main page – Winner: Graphite
2. Searching for tools – Winner: Graphite3. Curating tools – Winner: EdShelf4. Quality and layout of individual reviews – Winner: Tie5. Variety in directory – Winner: EdShelf
So…with both tools winning 2.5 rounds (?), I’m going to take a look at what matters most to me in order to choose a winner.
And the winner is….
I chose EdShelf for a few reasons. Overall, I like the look and feel (totally a personal preference). I have also found that it has a great deal more tools indexed. That is incredibly important to me because I want to stay ahead of the game (impossible…I know). I also really enjoyed the Collections on EdShelf over the Boards on Graphite (again..just personal preference). The Boards on Graphite really weren’t useful to me. When looking through a lot of the reviews on Graphite I found that I wasn’t reading them in their entirety merely due to the length. But what’s there is good stuff. Details. Examples. Lots of good stuff. I guess I just don’t have the time or attention span to read it all. So for now, until another tool comes out that I like better, I will be using EdShelf.