Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2019

KQED Learn

Student discussion forums encourage media literacy and deeper thinking

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.
6–12
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Pros: It's a great way for students to have a voice on issues that affect them; the site encourages evidence-based discussions and media creation.

Cons: There are some privacy concerns, and since only students can post in the discussion, teachers have no way to give feedback on the platform.

Bottom Line: Thought-provoking videos and questions foster critical thinking, reflection, and interaction among students.

Use KQED Learn to help students find their authentic voices as they discuss current events from credible sources. Topics such as "Could You Become Addicted to Playing Video Games?" and "Should College Be Free?" will engage students in conversation, and the details provided in each video offer a starting point for forming arguments. With guidance, students can become aware of how their own biases may inform their opinions and cause them to favor some facts over others. When this happens, encourage students to find balance by exploring the citations present and adding their own in order to explore the nuances of topics being discussed. Teachers can bring the discussion offline using English and Spanish transcripts as well, giving students time to read and interact with the text before opening up the floor for a class discussion.

For a more social experience, arrange to have students communicate with students from schools across the country, furthering the notion that we all benefit from diverse perspectives. Challenge them to critique or strengthen others' arguments by providing additional information and citations. It's a good idea for students to use a writing tool such as Grammarly, in this case, to ensure they're putting their best work out there. Teachers should be aware that while they can delete their own students' comments, they cannot delete comments from others. So you'll want to provide consistent reminders to students about the rules of engagement and also monitor posts for appropriateness and tone.

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KQED Learn is a free discussion and media creation platform for middle and high school students. Students join with a teacher-provided email and class code, and while teachers can access resources and view student responses via the dashboard, only students can post content. Discussions begin with Above the Noise videos based on current events or high-interest topics. These videos provide an introduction to each topic and frame the discussion, focusing on credible information and a balanced view of the issue. Included with the videos are transcriptions in English and Spanish and a glossary of terms, with new topics added biweekly. Several resources are provided, including Google Slides Investigations that teach students about reliable sources and media creation. There are also documents that contain tips for dealing with inappropriate content, standards alignment, and guidance for structuring written discourse. 

Each student's first name, first initial of last name, city, state, and school are displayed in the responses, so teachers should make kids aware of this before they post. Also, although the discussions are civil by and large, many lack depth, rely heavily on opinion, or contain factually incorrect information. The platform addresses being an upstanding digital citizen and has a process for reporting inappropriate, abusive, or vulgar content, but it might be helpful to add an option to report false or misleading information, too. 

There's a pressing need for resources that teach students online communication and information literacy skills. In this light, KQED Learn has the right idea, providing kids with a safe space to engage with relevant topics, practice evidence-based civic engagement, and hone their writing and media creation skills. However, without the ability for teachers to give real-time feedback, they'll need to commit to addressing certain skills in the classroom. For instance, teaching students rigorous fact-checking skills before they post or respond is imperative. Otherwise, they may spread false or misleading information, which may go largely unchallenged. 

It's questionable whether sixth and seventh graders should be interacting with 11th and 12th graders, especially when it comes to more anxiety-inducing topics such as gun control and teen suicide. It would be nice if teachers could employ filters so that students only see discussions posted by students one or two grade levels apart. Also, more built-in supports, such as text-to-speech capabilities, would enable more users to participate fully in the discussion. Finally, since some responses lack depth, the ability to up-vote posts and replies might help keep the more serious discussions in the spotlight and encourage kids to deliberate more before posting.  

Overall Rating

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

Students may be quick to give their opinions, but they may not engage enough to provide evidence or refer to factual information. 

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

Civil civic engagement is a cornerstone of any democracy, and teaching students to have respectful discussions based on facts and credible research is a worthy goal.

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

While students are encouraged to engage in written discussions and create media, the tools for guiding students could be a bit more tailored to accommodate different learning needs.


Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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