Review by James Denby, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2020

Kialo Edu

A terrific, troll-free zone for structuring student discussion and debate

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
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.
7–12
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Pros: Fosters a variety of useful participatory skills. More organized than a discussion board. Easy to filter individual student contributions.

Cons: A dizzying amount of features, functionality, and menus. No rubrics or rubric feature.

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

The beauty of Kialo Edu is its versatility. Though it's possible to create public discussions, most teachers will opt for private discussions and organize students into mixed ability groups (teams) to ensure that different viewpoints are equally represented. Kialo can function as a place for debate of societal or political issues, but it can just as easily be used to discuss character motivation in a novel or the ethics of scientific research, or to help a class make a decision about something as simple as where to go on a field trip. Students can even use Kialo to organize and visualize their ideas and arguments for essays, presentations, projects, and live debates. Most of all, though, it's an ideal platform to practice having reasoned, respectful discussions and making arguments with reasoned evidence and analysis. 

Teachers should consider focusing their instruction and assessment on skills beyond the pros and cons contributions. For instance, teachers can encourage students to get active in the comments nested within each pro or con. It's here that students discuss individual contributions or provide sources to further establish or debunk claims. Focusing on this layer of detail will help students see how claims must be backed up -- and that moderation is an important part of healthy online discussion.

Teachers will appreciate the many different forms of formative or even summative assessment that Kialo makes it easy to use. Teachers could develop a set of rubrics that look at 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

Thankfully, it's easy to filter each student's individual contributions to see where and how they've participated, to jump to those specific contributions, and then provide feedback in context.  

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Kialo Edu is the educational companion to Kialo, a free website designed to foster thoughtful debate and discussion of complex issues. Kialo Edu has been designed specifically for classroom use and allows teachers to create debates accessible only to their own students. More importantly, teachers can organize students into teams so that they can research, plan, and organize their ideas for an ongoing online debate. If you have multiple groups or sections, it's easy to duplicate the discussion/debate in order to have smaller group sizes.

Once the debate or discussion is created, students can join without an email address (no personal information to give). Then students post claims (pro or con) and can either respond to each other's posts or add new claims. Each of these claims can have further claims nested within, and students and teachers can add comments to claims. As a teacher, you can moderate the discussion and provide feedback to students about their ideas, the structure of their arguments, or even the quality of their research. Handy visualizations offer a snapshot of how the argument is playing out and which claims are getting the most votes. Features like impact voting can help students see how effective their claims are.

Kialo Edu is a highly useful tool for helping students develop skills essential for civic participation. Students must use critical thinking skills to evaluate information and social and emotional skills to understand different points of view. Students also must back up claims with reasonable evidence to convince others involved in the debate of the veracity of the claim: a tremendously valuable skill that begins in elementary school and carries through all the way to 12th grade. Teachers can also easily create discussions that extend beyond traditional arguments, using the platform for fun conversation or even as an outlining tool for essays. 

While almost every LMS offers discussion forums, Kialo Edu's interface is far better-suited to organizing and assessing ongoing discussions of contentious issues. The site creates an environment for students to share ideas, validate sound arguments, and really "listen" to each other -- something lacking in a lot of social discourse online. The visualization and nesting of claims also clearly models how arguments are built, and the clear tracking and filtering of individual students' contributions makes it easy for teachers to get a bird's-eye view of the full spectrum of student participation.

Currently, Kialo focuses just on offering the platform for having discussions, so teachers will still need to scaffold the experience with curriculum and rubrics that help students recognize good arguments, use evidence, and disagree without disrespecting others' viewpoints. It'd be great if Kialo offered supports for this in the future. It'd also be interesting if students could add media -- along with links -- to claims. Still, as it stands, Kialo Edu is an easy-to-recommend and incredibly well-thought-out platform that teachers will find useful.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Use it well and it'll be fun; teachers can create debates or discussions for any subject or topic ranging from the political to the whimsical. The design is complex but elegant and easy to use.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

It's a private, well-organized, and detailed platform for learning how to have responsible, well-evidenced discussion and debate. 

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

To take advantage of Kialo Edu's many features, teachers will need some time, but luckily the site gives teachers great support to get up and running. There are ample ways for teachers to assess student contribution and learning.


Common Sense Reviewer
James Denby Educator/Curriculum Developer

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