Ponder (previously known as Parlor) is a social reading app that encourages students to interact with course readings and one another through built-in comments and visualizations. The site builds collaboration with a set of pre-written reactions so students can quickly and quantifiably add their opinions to course content. Ponder also lets students contribute their own web wanderings to the course readings and share resources with their peers. The site is currently being used as the social and participation level in online courses and as the digital element of blended courses.
Ponder primarily operates through a browser add-on for Chrome and the integration is very elegant. The use of a browser extension means students can read freely and add their content to the class site as part of natural browsing. Ponder’s canned comments, which are the equivalent of a Facebook "like" but for a variety of emotions, are actually quite canny and meaningful, and they seem well and equally used. In a recent demo, founder Alex Selkirk said that Ponder's team constantly evaluates the popularity of each reaction and has made many changes to the roster since the site’s debut. Ponder also asks users to add tags to reading content, increasing metadata on the site and improving content recommendations in and outside of class.
The site itself is a little busy and features a ticker-tape like count-up of classroom use that is not necessarily a bad thing in a site that effectively wrangles the chaos of web reading. Ponder’s pre-written reactions may not inspire critical thinking in the same way as a discussion, but enabling students to seek out their own course readings seems to fulfill this function without the burden of discussion reading for students and instructors.
A digital layer in the classroom too often brings with it an exponential increase in reading content. Ponder is the antithesis of the discussion forum, a digital native technology that works in harmony with the internet. The site effectively ranks, quantifies, and crowdsources the best content so students’ reading time is spent on the best resources, even if those resources are selected by their peers. The site also visualizes contributions to class which adds mild gamification to the course site.
The Bottom Line:
Ponder energizes the traditional reading list.
Image: Logo (via Ponder).