College Registrar Creates the ‘Yelp’ of Higher-Education Software

Education technology now has its own version of popular, user-generated review sites like Yelp and Amazon.

Mark A. Baker, associate registrar at Whitworth University, in Spokane, Wash., last week made public Software PhD, which is designed to allow educators and vendors to exchange frank, constructive views about education software.

Mr. Baker says the website was born out of his own committee work in researching and vetting software purchases at Whitworth. The work typically involved sales pitches from software-company representatives followed by emails and phone calls to colleagues at other institutions. He once talked with 10 different references for a product with a six-figure price tag, he says.

“It is really hard to sort out what you hear because everything is sparkling and glowing,” Mr. Baker says. ”You walk away hearing three different pitches, and think, ‘I have no way to differentiate between these at this point.’”

In recent months Mr. Baker realized that he was hearing the same questions about software products over and over again on email lists and email chains about education technology.

“Every week multiple schools will email the same sorts of questions,” Mr. Baker says. ”It dawned on me—there has to be a better way to do this. The thing that came to mind was Amazon, with their great review system. I think all of us have grown accustomed to looking at Amazon even if we are not buying there.”

Mr. Baker built the website himself, working on it on and off for about six weeks before going public last Thursday. He currently has no financial backing and no immediate plans to sells ads. Membership is free for education professionals. Monthly membership fees for vendors range from $19 to $195, depending on the desired presence and level of access.

He hopes that the revenue generated by the vendor fees will pay for the maintenance and growth of the site, Mr. Baker says.

Software PhD has two primary functions: rating software and discussing it. The rating section is organized in subcategories of education software such as development, curriculum management, and online learning. The discussion forum allows education technologists to begin conversation threads on relevant topics.

Users are each required to create an account and to identify their institution. Users do not have to identify themselves by name, although Mr. Baker says he sees transparency as a central pillar of the website.

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