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Pros: Captures visual and audio data to better assess discussions.
Cons: The larger the group, the harder it is to keep track of speakers. Tracking is limited to one group at a time.
Bottom Line: If used delicately, this is a potentially eye-opening tool that can help teachers modify discussions.
Teachers can use Equity Maps to build students' communication skills: active listening, restating, responding, respect. It'll work best in small groups. Train students to take on the role of group observer; they'll be responsible for tracking the discussion via the app but not talking. After discussions, the group observer can share feedback (perhaps after consulting with a teacher). This role can rotate around the classroom until everyone has had a chance to be both a participant and an observer. Alongside these sessions, teachers could discuss the importance of developing good communication skills, being inclusive, and being mindful that your voice is only one of many that deserve to be heard. To model this learning process, teachers might have a student observe them teaching a lesson, tracking direct instruction vs. student discussion.
The data available may provide some useful insights into how equally students participate and whether or not the balance favors certain student identities, personalities, or affiliations. Since seeing these trends or even biases in real time is a challenge, the tool could do a lot to reveal patterns that lead to more self-reflection. However, to make use of this data, teachers must put in some time up front to create the right markers and to be aware of what they're measuring and why. It's also important to take time to see how patterns evolve over a few sessions, and to make sure to not be judgmental of students. Poor interventions could further stifle discussion. In this way, Equity Maps is most useful as a reference for thoughtful and kind intervention that takes more into account than what's on the app.
Equity Maps - Chart Dialogue is an iPad and macOS app that enables teachers to track speakers and behaviors during small- or large-group conversations. Teachers choose from a limited number of seating configurations and add participants (male, female, or nonbinary options) who populate the room (via names and symbols like you'd see on a restroom door). Teachers can drag and place these icons in seats. Once everyone is seated, teachers tap Record to start the session, and tap the symbols as students speak. Each tap draws a line or curve to the next participant, allowing teachers to see the flow of the discussion, including who's oversharing and who's being left out. Buttons at the top of the screen allow for tracking things like silence, chaos, teacher talk, media, and more. There's also a chance to add notes in case there's something from the discussion worth revisiting.
The Premium version has a Checknotes feature that lets teachers track positive behaviors, such as redirecting dialogue constructively and citing references, as well as negative behaviors, like going off topic and interrupting. At the end of each session, teachers can play back the recording and view individual and group data about the conversation.
Equity Maps can be a novel way for teachers to track and better assess students' group communication skills and habits, but teachers will have to be consistent and build in time to reflect on what the data says. Teachers will also need to be patient and thoughtful with using the data. Is a talkative student dominating discussion, or just overeager? Is a quiet student feeling silenced, or just someone who takes a lot of time to process and needs an opportunity at the very end to speak up?
Still, mindful and well-structured use of Equity Maps could help students build valuable self-control and self-awareness skills. Students should be made aware that they're being recorded, given appropriate expectations, assured that this is being done in a nonjudgmental way, and offered concrete ways to improve based on what teachers observe. Unfortunately, this kind of support isn't offered, so it'll be up to teachers to test and develop best practices. For instance, students in younger grades might practice taking turns and not interrupting others, while older students learn about reflective communication, clarity, and conversational patterns. Teachers could offer lessons on these skills and then host discussions, with Equity Maps, to give students practice time and feedback.
Smaller groups will likely be a better fit until students learn the nuances of how to have a productive, respectful discussion. As students learn and practice new skills, it'll get easier to track who's saying what when the group size increases. One caveat, however: It's easy to get so distracted by tracking the conversation that you stop listening to the conversation's content. For this reason, it'd be ideal to have a student, classroom volunteer, or teaching assistant run the sessions while teachers facilitate.