Review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2016


Slick course creator is full-featured, but lessons remain traditional

Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Absurdly easy to use, supports tons of media, and works instantly with other systems such as Google Docs, Office, and Prezi.

Cons: The lessons are still mostly walls of text and images with few discovery features, so it's largely a teacher-as-expert learning experience.

Bottom Line: A great option for putting your course materials online in a clean, attractive way, but don't rely on it for all your instruction.

As a tool to create a dynamically generated textbook (over a school year, for instance), Versal's pretty fantastic. In fact, if students could share course-editing permissions with teachers, Versal would be the ideal tool for this task. It's also a lovely place to stash lessons and documents for an entire course that students can access as the year goes on; giving the whole lesson book to students right up front so they can work at their own pace is always a solid idea.

In either case, given the unabashedly direct-instruction model that Versal promotes, teachers will still need to create interactive, hands-on, inquiry-based experiences for class time to make lasting learning happen. This is a phenomenal flipped-classroom model (read at home, do and discover in class), half of which Versal can easily facilitate.

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Versal is an online course creator that lets teachers create media-rich websites and lessons with text, images, videos, slide shows, and much, much more. Its drag-and-drop interface makes adding content remarkably easy, owing to a lack of fancy formatting options and a no-frills design (which is actually awesome for learning). And STEM teachers rejoice: There's an equation editor built right in. Lessons come out looking like clean, crisp blog posts –- in fact an apt comparison might be to call it Squarespace for education.

It's not entirely a one-way experience. Teachers can add in multiple-choice quizzes, categorization exercises, ordering tasks, and short-answer sections to make formative assessment a fully integrated deal. Versal's trump card over competitors might be that Google Docs, Prezis, Microsoft Office files, and much more can be embedded directly in lessons.

Are lessons created with Versal more engaging than textbook chapters? Absolutely. Incorporating media, formative assessments, and a multiplicity of digital content may indeed be a more effective way to present information than pages of text, but the jury's still out on just how much more effective. The overall mode of instruction is still an expert teacher summarizing facts to students, who must glean knowledge independently without any hands-on work. Further, the quality of lessons is entirely dependent on the creator's writing and media-gathering skills, to say nothing of the art and craft of lesson planning.

Versal's many gadgets open up lots of doors, but it still takes tact and practice to use them in a way most conducive to learning. It would be great if there were more ways for students to communicate back and forth with teachers and to do some interactive discovery learning.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

This online lesson creator lets teachers generate clean, well-organized, interactive course content in the style of traditional vertical-scrolling websites. It isn't the most engaging way to present content but certainly isn't the worst.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The lessons you can make are potentially better than textbook pages, with videos, slide shows, quizzes, and interactive commenting to add deeper content presentation, but learning is still a pretty didactic, one-way, read-and-remember affair.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Beyond just being ridiculously easy to use, the editor has tons of built-in examples and help sections, plus loads of user-generated content. For students, lots of commenting tools make asking for help from teachers or peers trivially easy.

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