During the second Covid lock-down in the UK, I was running online lessons — something which I had never done in the 16 years since I joined the teaching profession and not something I covered during my training. Whilst it was hard work upskilling myself to run lessons like this, I really enjoyed finding ways to deliver the content to my classes and engage students in discussions and debates when they weren’t in the same room as each other.
Religious Studies and Philosophy are subjects that come alive through student discussion and debate, so finding some way to do this remotely was a priority for me. I find most of my best teaching resources on social media and when I saw a post of “a great free site that students can use to debate online,” I had to try it.
Any resource I chose had to be quick and easy to set up and use. I was already staying up on my laptop past midnight most evenings getting the lessons themselves prepared for online teaching — the site had to be intuitive or I wouldn’t be able to use it. The same goes for the students, with many on a single phone or tablet screen without a PC to run complicated setups or a second screen to look at whilst engaging with a site.
Kialo Edu turned out to be just that.
I used the site first with my A-Level students for essay planning on topics such as Kantian Ethics, The Problem of Evil, and Medieval Islamic Theology. Once I realised how successful it was, I introduced it to my GCSE students to debate Gender Equality in Religion, The Trinity, and Christian Pilgrimage.
My use of Kialo didn’t end when the school buildings re-opened as I realised this was going to be a fixture in my debate toolbox for good. While I mostly use the tool for debates during online revision sessions, I’ve also used it in class with older students on their phones and in computer rooms with younger classes. For these students, I would do this by preparing the lesson through covering content around the theme, e.g., arguments for the existence of God, and set the classes off when I feel they are ready to have the actual debate.
For this, it has been great to circulate the room and see what students are writing and how they are preparing for their answers — what resources from that lesson they are finding the most useful and how they may support each other with what to write through discussion.
I initially enjoyed using the site because it does so much of the hard work for me as a teacher that it lightens my load. However, the main reason why I continue to use the site is because the students themselves have told me how much they love it, and how useful they find the debates being recorded in this way.
Top reasons why I love using Kialo Edu
- Students who may not speak in class, or even want their name to show up on the chat in our virtual meetings are more likely to join in.
- You can “see” the debate with the sunburst.
- It records how many claims and counterclaims students have made.
- It is really simple to set up, and students can instantly access a discussion.
- It is possible to have anonymous discussions where I as the teacher know who has made which claims but the students themselves aren’t aware. For some students, this has really helped them to get involved as they don’t feel their peers are going to judge their responses unfairly.
- You can model your points as you type for the students to see.
- You can post the debate as a link for people to either join in with, or just to view.
When I received a message from a student late one evening apologising for the hour and asking politely for the links to the debates we had done for her revision, I knew then how powerful it was for her, and I said I didn’t mind the email at all. Whilst I would have happily trawled through lesson resources if needed, sending her the Kialo link took seconds, reminding me again of how simple and effective the site is.
There are many more functions of Kialo Edu that I am yet to discover and what I love about Kialo as an enterprise is how open they are to suggestions from teachers for the site to be more and more user-friendly for us. So my advice to any teacher considering using this is to just have a go, and let Kialo know how it goes!