What We’re Doing and Why We’re Doing It 2018-07-16T17:24:12+00:00

What we're doing and why we're doing it.

Part 1 – Preparing Students for Life.

Since Socrates first sat in the Agora of Ancient Athens, teachers have championed the power of learning through dialogue. In the digital era we have also come to understand and embrace the many educational benefits of online discussions. Parlay combines the best of both of these traditions into a powerful blended learning methodology and software tool for the modern classroom. We call it the “Flipped Discussion”. The goal of the Flipped Discussion is to help students learn four fundamental skills that they will need to succeed in higher education, the workforce and nearly all aspects of their lives:

In a world full of misinformation and increasing computational power, our capacity to analyze, question and evaluate ideas will set us apart from computers and give us the tools we need to uncover the truth.

The ability to effectively communicate our ideas (both verbally and through writing) gives us the power to inform, influence and inspire others towards a common goal. The act of communicating also helps us organize our thoughts and better understand what we think.

Listening to understand (not just to respond), is perhaps the most important life skill. Listening is a demonstration of compassion, genuine curiosity and a willingness to compromise.

No individual is perfect. No idea is perfect. Constructive feedback helps us establish a foundation of honesty and trust in our relationships. This mutual commitment to improvement and reflection is necessary for both personal and professional growth.

Part 2 – Breaking Down the Flipped Discussion.

The process outlined below is a simple walkthrough of the 4 steps that take place in a Parlay discussion. Our software application has two core discussion modules, Online RoundTables and Live RoundTables, which are used to support this pedagogical framework. These two activities are designed to compliment one another, but they can be (and often are) used independently. Every feature and activity in Parlay has been carefully thought through, tested, implemented and refined in classrooms over the past two years. Of course, we still have a long way to go, but here’s the basic premise:

Key components and activities:

It all starts with a great discussion prompt. Teachers can browse from Parlay’s library of RoundTable discussion prompts or create their own. Our prompts use the flipped classroom approach – providing students with multimedia resources like articles and videos that connect their education to the events and ideas shaping our world. We cap off each prompt with one or more higher-order thinking questions. These questions encourage students to think critically, complete their own independent research and formulate their own unique opinion / argument. Parlay’s discussion prompts follow best-practices from educational researchers at top institutions around the world. 

Research on great discussion topics and the effectiveness of the Flipped Classroom apporoach:

Harvard Business School – Questions for Class Discussions

Stanford University – Designing Effective Discussion Questions

The University of Toronto – Flipped Learning Pedagogy Overview

Key components and activities:

After receiving the invitation to the RoundTable each student reviews the assigned material on their own time. Then they must submit a unique response to the prompt before joining the conversation. This crucial fist step helps teach independent research skills, increases student choice and accountability, as well as ensures each RoundTable contains diverse ideas.

Research on the benefits of asynchronous online discussions:

Cavana, M., 2009. Closing the circle: From dewey to web 2.0. In: Payne, c. (Ed.), Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education: Progressive Learning Frameworks. Igi Global, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA, pp. 1–13.

Meyer, K. A., 2003. Face-to-face versus threaded discussions: The role of time and higher-order thinking. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 7 (3), 55–65.

Key components and activities:

Next, students join the online conversation where they answer constructive feedback questions and build on each other’s ideas. Optional “secret identities” can be assigned to make the discussion more open, inclusive and fun. Teachers can also configure their own unique rubrics, assess individual students and provide personalized feedback for continued improvement over time.

After reviewing the material, grappling with the ideas independently, organizing and articulating their thoughts, as well as giving and receiving meaningful feedback, your students will be fully prepared for a fruitful and lively face-to-face discussion.

Research on benefits of anonymity and structured feedback in online discussions: 

Identified Versus Anonymous Participation in Student DiscussionBoards 

John Hattie & Helen Timperley: Visible Learning and Feedback 

Validity of Peer Grading Using Calibrated Peer Review in a Guided-Inquiry, Conceptual Physics Course 

The Effects of Facilitating Feedback on Online Learners’ Cognitive Engagement: Evidence from the Asynchronous Online Discussions

Key components and activities:

Finally, the class engages in a Parlay Live RoundTable. This is a face-to-face discussion activity that takes place inside the classroom, where students practice oral communication and listening skills. Parlay’s Queue System helps reduce student anxiety around ‘cutting in,’ making the discussion more orderly and giving every willing student the opportunity to participate. Students can also take private notes to show their thinking if they don’t yet feel comfortable speaking out loud. Finally, teachers assess student contributions in real time, encouraging more substantive and focused participation across the board.

Research on benefits of class discussions:

John Hattie – Visible Learning – “Discussion” is #7 Influence on Student Achievement

Using Socratic Seminars to Aid Comprehension

Part 3 – What are teachers saying?

Parlay is the new kid on the block. To learn how we can improve, we regularly talk to and survey teachers to see how we’re fairing in achieving our goals in helping to facilitate more meaningful, measurable and inclusive discussions. Here’s what we’ve found so far:


% of teachers

agree that Parlay improves critical thinking compared to other tools and methods.

% of teachers

agree that Parlay leads to meaningful new insights about their students’ learning.

% of teachers

agree that every student has a voice when they use Parlay in the classroom.