Review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2018


A troll-free zone for student discussion and debate

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
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Pros: Fosters thoughtful discussion and debate. Can be used to discuss any question big or small.

Cons: Slightly complicated interface. Students might rely on it too much for future essays.

Bottom Line: This is a valuable platform for students to learn about social and political issues while practicing digital citizenship and argumentation.

The beauty of Kialo is its versatility. While it can function as a place for debate of societal or political issues, it can just as easily be used to debate character motivation in a novel or the ethics of scientific research, or to help a class make a decision about something as simple as a field trip. It's a good platform to teach the importance of reasoned, respectful arguments when trying to persuade others. However, most teachers will likely want to create a private discussion limited to students only rather than have students participate in public discussions. This would allow a focused discussion on a curriculum- or class-related topic where students can make all of the contributions and write alongside peers with similar abilities/sensibilities. This will also help teachers with assessment of student participation, considering things like:

  • Students' use of evidence and examples
  • Whether comments build on those of other people
  • Whether responses to other participants address their arguments directly

To help scaffold learning, teachers will want to pair the use of Kialo with explicit instruction on building arguments. Unfortunately, there aren't any classroom-focused resources on the site for this, but there are tons of examples from the public discussions to help model contributions. Teachers might also want to build a basic rubric for a "claim," which is Kialo's version of a pro/con paragraph supporting or critiquing a particular perspective. 

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Kialo is a free website designed to foster thoughtful debate and discussion of complex issues. Users can browse for and participate in existing discussions or create their own. These discussions can be made either public or private. Discussion topics run the gamut (e.g., from "Should there be trigger warnings in education?" to "Should the electoral college be abolished?"). Once they've chosen a discussion, users then choose their side -- pro or con --- and add their own opinions via "claims." Participants are encouraged to read other people's contributions and like them or add follow-up responses. To ensure meaningful contributions, Kialo offers two important features. First, discussion creators can moderate commenting (and accept/modify suggestions) so that new contributions stay on topic and remain respectful. In addition, when users try to add a new claim, they can see other similar claims below, to make sure that what they're suggesting is truly additive and not duplicative. It's not foolproof, but it does help prevent the repetition of the same arguments. Handy visualizations that appear alongside discussions offer a snapshot of how the argument is playing out and which claims are getting the most votes. 

Kialo has a lot potential as a learning tool, but it's dependent on a teacher's commitment to making it work. Kialo's discussions are shockingly civil, given the low expectations we all have from social media. While students could browse, learn from, and participate in these public discussions, the best use of Kialo is likely to be classroom-based private discussions. For these, a good prompt will help, but it isn't enough to make Kialo a learning tool. Teachers will need to help students recognize good arguments, learn how to use evidence (which is supported by Kialo but could be more effectively highlighted and privileged), and learn how to disagree without disrespecting other people's viewpoints. While there aren't supporting resources to help with this instruction, Kialo is full of existing discussions and comments that can be used as models for students. In fact, Kialo's snapshot overviews of contentious debates might become a key starting point for students when they're planning on a writing project. This could be a double-edged sword; on the one hand, it'll offer students readymade outlines, and on the other, it'll be tempting to just copy the existing arguments.



Overall Rating

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

The topics are all high-interest and feature useful visualizations. With a good prompt, students will be eager to participate in debate and discussion.

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

Students can learn how to participate in articulate, respectful discussion around complicated issues. They might also get some pointers on argumentation, but the focus is on debate, not instruction.

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

The site's extensive features will initially bewilder some. Luckily, there's pretty good support, including a hot spot-based tutorial that points out key features.

Common Sense Reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

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