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Enabling dialogue through technology

In this article, learn how technology tools can be used to enable and support dialogue in the classroom.

In this article, researchers Vic Cook and Paul Warwick from University of Cambridge and teachers Tristan Igglesden, Sarah Boggis, Debbie Chadwick, Sarah Makepeace and Catherine Davis explore how a micro-blogging tool can be used to develop dialogue and collaboration.

Dialogic pedagogy

Talk is a natural tool used by teachers to encourage learning, through direct instruction, questioning and broader discussion. But not all communication is dialogue. Dialogue requires all participants to be open to others in the shared exchange of ideas. Dialogic teaching takes place when classroom talk is deliberately utilised to help students to develop their higher order thinking. A recent study by the Education Endowment Foundation found that dialogic pedagogy led to an average of two additional months of progress in Year 5 English and science lessons (Jay et al., 2017).

A dialogic pedagogy is typified by extended student contributions and the co-construction of knowledge (Mercer et al., 2017), with students and teachers sharing and evaluating ideas, building ideas collectively, reasoning, providing justifications and elaborations, and using evidence to support arguments.

Using technology to support dialogic pedagogies

There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates how technology can enhance productive classroom dialogue in a number of ways (Major et al., 2018). For example, the collaborative functions of Google Classroom (a free, cloud-based learning management system) can support dialogue in classrooms. These include Share and Comments functions, which allow users to collaborate in the creation of digital media. Users generate lasting digital artefacts, allowing dialogues to take place over a sustained period and at a pace controlled by the learners.

Talkwall, meanwhile, is a free, web-based micro-blogging tool developed by the University of Oslo, specifically designed to engage students in collective classroom interaction. It aims to encourage genuine ‘thinking together’, as students are easily able to share, and build upon, each other’s ideas. Using Talkwall, a teacher formulates a question or a challenge, before students, usually following collaborative discussion in groups, post messages (via a computer or tablet, for example) to a shared ‘wall’ (typically on a large classroom screen). These messages can be interactively arranged in different ways. The use of hashtags and a short message format (a maximum of 140 characters) help to promote the identification of key concepts and the condensing of information. Student ideas are immediately visible to all members of the class, which enables students to engage with, and build upon, ideas from others beyond their own group, whilst also allowing teachers to give immediate feedback on students’ responses.

Ground rules for talk

Mercer (2000) has stressed the importance of establishing and respecting ‘ground rules’ for productive classroom talk. Boggis et al. (2018, p. 17) identified their classes’ top six ground rules for talk, across their English, science and geography classrooms, when using technology to support dialogic approaches:

  • Show respect to everyone in the group by being mindful of body language, eye contact and tone of voice
  • Listen to everyone’s point of view
  • Strive to reach an agreement where possible but accept it is also fine to disagree
  • Question others by asking ‘Why do you think that?’
  • Explain your point of view by backing up your ideas with reasons
  • Try to make the conversation flow by building on each other’s ideas.


Boggis S, Chadwick D and Makepeace S (2018) Learning to talk. The Journal: Cambridge Teaching School Network: Research and Development: 16–19. Available from Saffron Walden County High School.

Jay T, Willis B, Thomas P et al. (2017) Dialogic Teaching: Evaluation Report and Executive Summary. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Major L, Warwick P, Rasmussen I et al. (2018) Classroom dialogue and digital technologies: A scoping review. Education and Information Technologies 23(5): 1995–2028.

Mercer N (2000) Words and Minds. London: Routledge Mercer N, Hennessy S and Warwick PT (2017) Dialogue, thinking together and digital technology in the classroom: Some educational implications of a continuing line of inquiry. International Journal of Educational Research. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2017.08.007.

This article is an extract from a longer article published in Impact, journal of the Chartered College of Teaching

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