Helpful Technology

When judiciously applied, the technologies listed below can help with some of the most tricky problems in Harkness classrooms, including those related to discussion dynamics and participation, student preparation, and assessment.

Discussion Tracking with Equity Maps

Price: $1.99 for the standard version and $9.99 for premium.

Gathering data about participants and their contributions is an important first step toward achieving better balance and focus in Harkness discussions, and Equity Maps was designed precisely for this purpose. This app, which is only available for iPad, allows users to quickly set up a digital representation of their classrooms (avatars around a table) and easily track (by tapping avatars) and record their class sessions. Users can track a range of metrics, including length, frequency, and type of contributions and use this data to better understand discussion dynamics.


Tech-based Exit Slips

Price:  Free

Exit slips are a formative assessment tool which teachers can use to monitor student comprehension and attitudes.  They include a small number of questions - usually no more than 5 - and are completed and turned in as a sort of "ticket to exit" at the end of class. Brookfield & Preskill (2005), for example, use Critical Incident Questionnaires (CIQ) at the end of the final class of each week. This slip includes 5 questions:

  • At what moment in class this week were you most engaged as a learner?
  • At what moment in class this week were you most distanced as a learner?
  • What action that anyone in the room took this week did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone in the room took this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What surprised you most about the class this week?

They then base a certain number of activities in subsequent weeks on responses to the CIQs. 

Other exit slips focus more on content and have a summative aspect. For example, teachers wishing to add another dimension to their assessment of discussion, could use an exit slip to pose a question related to the current topic and require students to cite the content of the discussion in their answers. 

Traditionally, exit slips were pieces of paper, but nowadays there are numerous free, easy-to-use technologies which streamline this process:

Google Forms: With Google Forms, you can choose from a variety of question formats (multiple choice, short/long answer, etc.) to create assessments and share them with students via email or web link. Students' responses can be viewed in a variety of formats, including Excel. 

Slido: This polling software allows you to create events (in this case, a class session) and to share polls (or assessments here) with participants. The free version works fine for creating exit slips.


Collaborative Annotation

Price: Free

Student preparation and engagement with texts before class is essential in Harkness courses.  Typically students prepare alone at home, but annotation software can add an element of collaboration to this work, increasing student engagement with assigned materials, and starting the collaborative meaning-making process even before students share the same physical space.  

Collaborative annotation software allows students to open a shared, web-based version of a text and to comment on it, ask questions, highlight passages, and post links, among other things. These comments, questions, highlighted passages, etc. can, in turn, be used as the basis for in-class discussion.  

There are numerous open-source software options:



Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. Wiley.