Thursday, September 1, 2016

Get Funky with a Backchannel

Get funky with what now?

Okay, you're probably asking "What's a backchannel?" A backchannel is basically just a space where people carry on discussion in the background of a task. For example, Twitter is a common backchannel during major cultural events. Sporting events and award shows often feature hashtags where people will chime in with thoughts about big plays, funny commercials, or the biggest snubs.

So how does this apply to the classroom? 

Maybe you are working with a group on one task and other students are busy with independent tasks. You want students to work independently, but also have a way to collaborate or ask you a question if they need. So how do you deal with this? Backchannel!

Maybe you want to facilitate student collaboration on a group task while you're watching a video on YouTube. You want students to carry on discussion and respond to questions as the video plays, but how do you have students talking and watching at the same time? Backchannel!

My favorite backchanneling tool for students is Today's Meet. If you've ever been in my classroom or in one of my teacher workshops, you have probably seen Today's Meet in action. It's simplicity combined with minimal setup time for teachers and students make it a big time winner in my book. So, how do you get started with it?

First of all, Today's Meet is free and does not require logins or accounts. You can create an account if you want to keep track of all the rooms you have created. In reality, all you really need to do to get started is create a room. From the main page type in your room name and how long you want to keep it open. BAM - room created.


You can direct your students to your  Today's Meet channel by putting your room name after the Today's Meet url - in this example mine is www.todaysmeet.com/FirstHourELA. Once in, you'll want to get everyone settled in with a nickname or a handle. In my class we always do first initials, but later on in the year we'd allow nicknames. It's fun. To create a nickname, just type the name you want in the "nickname" box and click join. Chatting is as easy as typing your message in the "Listen" box and clicking "say". Be careful, like Twitter you only get 140 characters to get your thought out.


Depending on how you use it, the backchannel can be structured very differently. If you are having students use it to follow along with a video, you might post a question for them to consider and have them structure their answers to go along with the question. I use a Q1/A1 structure to keep everything organized.


You also might set it up to be a place for student to ask questions or come to you for clarification on assignments while you are working with other students. It's a good structure to have for working with small groups. Just let students know you'll get to questions as soon as you can. I also tag them with "@" so they know who I'm responding to.



You should also encourage students to respond to each other and have questions that facilitate a dialogue between students.


Really like what happened in the backchannel? Save a transcript with the Room Tools at the bottom of the screen. Great for formative assessment tools or artifacts to share with parents.


Is this something you can use in your classroom? Start backchanneling with Today's Meet today! I'd love to hear about other backchanneling tools you like - please share them.

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