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Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2015

Room4Debate

Iffy, uneven content limits debate site's usefulness and impact

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
9-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (2 Reviews)

Take a look inside

6 images

Pros: Kids and teachers can create free accounts and post debate topics to engage others in discussion.

Cons: Limited content is uneven, and there's no meaningful safeguard in place to keep debates here more civil than they are elsewhere online.

Bottom Line: A cool idea to engage your class in debates, but look elsewhere for higher-quality content and an easier-to-use interface.

Use the debates and discussions posted on the site for a lesson in research and possibly as "non-examples" or illustrations of ineffective arguments. The discussions' and debates' short format can be a way to challenge kids to crystallize their debate topics into a terse, simple statement. Have them work to shorten their topics and hone their language to get at the heart of the topic they want to discuss. 

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Editor's Note: The Room4Debate site is no longer available, and the URL now points to sexually explicit material.  

Room4Debate is a site for exploring, posting, and commenting on discussion-worthy topics. The site's homepage displays several recent posts from the site's "panelists," and users can explore all public posts via the site navigation at the top of the page. Select "Debates" to display a series of essays (submitted mostly by the site's creators) that explore domestic and international issues. Users can then comment on the issues raised in these essays. Choose "Discussions" to view 140-character prompts (followed by 150-character explanations) about an issue and then submit your own responses for or against that issue. Responses appear in two columns -- for and against -- below the topic's description. Pick "Collections" to see a series of debates and discussions related to a single topic (like Climate Change or Building a Strong Haiti), or pick "Categories" to view posts on the site by topic, like Arts, Education, Justice, or Politics.

Users can also create a free account using their email address or a social media account (Twitter, Facebook, or Google accounts all work). Users then can submit their own Debates or Discussions, tag them with a category from the pre-made list, add an image, add other tags to offer further description, and then add "panelists" for the conversation.

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The content and debates already on the site are pretty limited in accuracy and impact. Pockets of content here are strong: Some good content on Haiti surfaces issues kids might not have considered, and some (highly technical) questions about Web development might appeal to more tech-minded types.

That being said, there's really not a lot here, and good safeguards aren't in place (like dedicated moderators) to prevent debates and discussions from devolving into the same flame wars you might find elsewhere in comment sections or social media. Also, the panelists on the site's pre-made content have limited authority and don't make especially compelling arguments. Few cite credible sources or offer cogent arguments, and they don't offer models that students or teachers should emulate. Additionally, the debates and discussions that include back-and-forths are a little tough to read: It's hard to tell visually which post responds to which. Finally, the image search feature brings up some iffy content when you create your own debates and discussions, making this a questionable resource for the classroom. Though this is a great concept, teachers should look elsewhere for a rich experience to build students' debating skills.

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Overall Rating

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

The site's interesting to explore, but content (what little there is) is limited in depth and reliability.

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

It's neat that users can submit their own brief topics for debate and add themselves and others as "panelists" to post. Moderator features or detailed info on what makes a good debate would increase the learning potential.

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

Browsing is straightforward, but tagging and creation features can be hard to use and there's no FAQ or instruction page to help users along the way.


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

(See all 2 reviews) (2 reviews)
Featured review by
Sara J. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Fort Bend ISD
Sugar Land, TX
Forum for an electronic debate/Socratic seminar

What is so great about this forum is that it is a perfect model of people sounding smart while debating. The internet is filled with ridiculous and/or poorly written arguments. This really shows the proper way to disagree in a professional/academic/civilized manner. The only issues I see is that an e-mail is required if you want to participate and that at the time of writing this review there is not a large community. I think it is also a perfect place for people to publish opinion essays who are open to feedback on the topic.

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