Website review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2020

KQED Learn

Civic discussion site encourages media literacy and deep thinking

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Based on 3 reviews
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Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Social Studies, Communication & Collaboration, Critical Thinking

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Pros: It's a great way for students to explore issues that affect them; the site encourages evidence-based discussions, youth voice, and media creation.

Cons: Teachers can't give feedback on the platform. Discussions could be better curated.

Bottom Line: This platform features excellent videos students will enjoy discussing, but teachers will need to prep students to make quality contributions.

Use KQED Learn to help students develop their voices and to responsibly discuss current events using credible sources. Topics such as "How Social Distancing Saves Lives" and "Is There a Potential Troll in All of Us?" 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 inform their opinions and cause them to favor some facts over others. When this happens, encourage students to explore citations and add their own. Teachers can bring the discussion offline using English and Spanish transcripts, giving students time to read and interact with the text before opening up the floor for a class discussion.

For a more social experience, have students communicate with students from schools across the country so that they can see the value in exploring diverse perspectives. Challenge them to critique or strengthen others' arguments by providing additional information and citations. It might be a good idea for students to use a writing feedback tool to ensure they're putting their best writing on display. Teachers should be aware that while they can delete their own students' comments, they cannot delete comments from others. So they'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 civic 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 KQED-produced Above the Noise videos that provide evenhanded and fact-based exploration of current events and high-interest topics. There's also a Youth Media Challenge section where students can create and submit media about political issues relevant to their lives and experiences. 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 get any necessary parental permission and make students aware of this before they post. This offers a perfect opportunity to discuss digital citizenship topics like civil discussion and managing your digital footprint. 

Disclosure: Common Sense Education features some of KQED's Above the Noise videos in our Digital Citizenship curriculum. This agreement was established after our initial ratings and reviews of KQED's resources.

KQED Learn has one of the better platforms to get students practicing evidence-based discussion, writing, and media creation. The Above the Noise videos provide great starting points for discussions, framing issues well and modeling evidence-based argument. Once on the platform, students -- for better and for worse -- are on their own. Since teachers can't post and give real-time feedback, there's a youth-centered, authentic environment for discussion, but the quality of discussion is mixed. Teachers will want to use classroom time, or other tools, to address effective discussion and argumentation skills ahead of time. It'll also be helpful to set students up with some fact-checking and sourcing skills before they participate -- or even read -- discussions. Otherwise, they may find themselves consuming or spreading false or misleading information.

While posts tend to be civil, many lack depth, rely heavily on opinion, or contain factually incorrect information. Quite a lot also use private Google docs. There's a process for reporting plagiarized, harassing, disagreeable, or vulgar content, but it might be helpful to add an option to report false or misleading information, too. Students can up-vote posts, but there might be a way to scaffold that process so that these up-votes better surface and privilege useful and well-argued posts. The platform also allows replies to posts -- encouraging ongoing dialogue -- but that kind of engagement seems rare. Students tend to post to fulfill a classroom requirement and then move on. In fairness, many of these downsides are more likely due to how teachers are using the tool vs. how the tool is set up.

One final thing that makes the platform both unique and tricky is the wide range of ages mixing together in discussion. Some teachers might question 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. Others might see this kind of mixed-age dialogue a necessary model for real internet discussion. While there are filters to search for content appropriate for middle versus high school, it would be nice if teachers could toggle the grade range of discussion that students see. Outside of the content appropriateness, some more built-in supports, such as text-to-speech tools, would open up the experience to more students.

Overall Rating


The videos are informative and interesting, and the design is clean and focused. Students might be quick to give their opinions on the platform, but dialogue seems rare.


Civil civic engagement is a cornerstone of any democracy, and this platform helps students participate in respectful conversations based on facts and credible research.


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. Transcripts in English and Spanish are helpful.

Common Sense reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Instructional Technology Facilitator

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Featured review by
Stacey C. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Monta Vista High School
Cupertino, United States
Excellent online format for interactive research. Teaches the steps of the research process in a fun and engaging way while allowing for multi-modal final products.
KQED Learn is an excellent site that promotes online collaborate while reinforcing the teaching of basic research skills. In addition, KQED Learn offers students the opportunity to create final products that are audio or visual in addition to the traditional written format. I appreciate KQED Learn because students were able to generate their own research questions focused on their own interests within the parameters of the assignment. I also felt that the final audio and visual products were exemplar ...
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