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Pros: Student activities (read-respond-share-discuss) pave the way for productive class discussions that deepen student understanding.
Cons: The "live" discussion functionality requires students to do a lot on devices while having a discussion.
Bottom Line: A great tool in any subject or topic for teachers looking to make discussion a central part of their classroom.
Parlay provides a clear set of steps for students: Read the prompt, write a response, incorporate peer feedback, and participate in a discussion. These steps provide a good setup for productive class discussion and dialogue. Often, enough time is the crucial missing piece in a class discussion. It can take a big chunk of time just to get students into a back-and-forth flow, where they're beginning to find nuance and contradiction in each other's ideas. Parlay helps address this challenge: If you use it asynchronously, and assign all steps -- except for the "live" discussion -- outside of class, students can enter class ready to jump into the RoundTable discussion right away.
Because it's flexible, Parlay also allows you to design the RoundTable in a way that best fits what you're teaching. You can use it to emphasize key concepts in a unit or project, or as a summative assessment to evaluate learning over a longer period of time. Class discussion is a key part of deepening student understanding in both of these situations, and RoundTable topics can be expanded or narrowed to fit with either. The comprehensive feedback options and class analytics are also helpful for honing how you design discussion topics throughout the course of the year.
A final consideration is to start slowly with the live discussion component. Active listening -- which includes looking at the person who's talking-- is essential for engaging, productive, and responsible class discussion and dialogue. In Parlay, students are asked to do this, but they're also asked to do multiple things on their device: check their notes, jot down their thoughts, and respond to people who have "tapped in." Doing all this at the same time will be challenging for many students, so it may be helpful to limit what students need to do on the device during the live discussion. Consider just having them use their notes, and not the Tap In functionality, so that they don't have to switch back and forth. Or consider requiring them to close their devices or turn them over when they're not checking their notes, so that they can fully focus on the person talking.
Parlay is a comprehensive discussion platform that allows students to interact with each other and their teacher, both virtually and in person. To begin, teachers select a RoundTable topic from the Parlay Universe to assign to students. The Parlay Universe includes collections of topics -- supplied by Parlay and by teacher users -- that span both academic and nonacademic subject areas. Some examples include Sustainable Development Goals, Topics of the Future, Journalism and Media, and World History.
Each RoundTable topic within a collection includes an essential discussion question as well as modifiable content that students must respond to. The content within the RoundTable topic can be multimedia or text-based, and can be edited or supplemented however the teacher likes. Almost all existing RoundTables already include some form of multimedia content and discussion questions. Once a RoundTable has been assigned to the class or to individual students, students review and respond to the prompt, engage in peer feedback via comments, and then join a "live" discussion.
Teachers have the option of making students anonymous to each other: The platform includes "secret identity" functionality, where students create characters for themselves, with descriptions and avatars. For Social Studies and History RoundTables, this allows teachers to assign historical figures to students, and to have students create their profiles based on research they do. Their responses also could be from the perspective of that historical figure. When teachers are reviewing student comments and responses, they can toggle back and forth between a student's real name and secret identity.
In the final step, where students have a "live" discussion, they physically sit in a Socratic circle with their devices and use their responses to have a discussion. When students want to speak, they click the Tap In button in the platform and identify what type of comment they want to make ("new idea," "challenge," "build on," or "question"). Their icon then appears in the center of the circle on the device. When there's a "natural pause" in the discussion, students can begin making their comments. While they wait, a student's icon remains in the circle and the rest of the class knows they are waiting to make their comment. Multiple icons can be in the circle as people wait to speak. Students can vote for people who are waiting to be the next one to speak, or they can "like" what someone said by clicking on the person's icon.
Parlay also includes an exhaustive assessment tool for teachers that allows them to easily track, score, and respond to both student-written responses and students' participation in the discussion. Teachers are able to see analytics on both quantity and quality of student participation, and the platform provides suggested feedback based on the type of topic and how other students have responded. The assessment tool also provides robust class analytics so that teachers can track how classes grow over time, including visual representations of each discussion that provide insight into how balanced they were and what depth of knowledge they reached.
Parlay really nails the steps that students need to take to deepen their learning and become complex thinkers. They need engaging and challenging content, regular feedback from both peers and their teacher, and dynamic discussions where they're pushed to think through their initial assumptions and conclusions. Parlay enhances a teacher's ability to provide these experiences consistently to students by offering engaging and flexible content, integration with student information systems, ready-made feedback, and powerful analytics.
However, classroom discussions -- like student learning in general -- are also dependent on social and emotional well-being and a strong classroom community. Students need to feel some degree of emotional safety and trust before they'll share authentically, challenge each other's ideas, productively respond to those challenges, and manage convergent and divergent dialogue. Some of the live discussion elements of Parlay are problematic when it comes to this. For example, allowing students to vote on who should Tap In next -- regardless of how long people have been waiting or how often they've already spoken -- could lead to students feeling excluded or even disrespected in the conversation. Also, the fact that students are asked to do multiple things on their device during the discussion (review their answers, jot down notes, respond to people waiting to "tap in," "tap in" themselves, etc.) could lead to people not feeling heard and to a discussion that never gets beyond students simply taking turns talking, rather than dialogue that builds and challenges. In other words, some of the dynamism that is essential to a good class discussion might be lost.