Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Facilitate Online Discussions with Backchannel Tools

There are many Learning Management Systems out there, such as Google Classroom and Seesaw, that allow teachers to post information and questions. In return, students can make comments when prompted by the teacher. While this can be an engaging piece, it still doesn't feel very conversational. This is where using a Backchannel chat can be used facilitate discussions between your students either in the classroom or from a distance.

I know what you may be thinking... "Did he just say chat? As in a chat-room?" Yes chat rooms can have negative connotations with them, but when used correctly in an educational setting, they can be a safe discussion alternative. Two backchannel sites that I am going to suggest allow the teacher to create a virtual room that can only be accessed with a specific link shared by a teacher. This means that you have total control of who has access, keeping your students safe.

Why should I try a backchannel discussion with my students?
First and foremost I am not saying that these discussions should replace verbal discussions you have with your students. Giving students the opportunity to collect their thoughts and speak them verbally is a skill that is different then typing them out on a screen. However, occasionally using a backchannel has an advantage as well. These virtual rooms allow a teacher to save/print the conversations had with students. This gives the teacher a record of student participation within a content conversation, as well as leaves a record of the students understanding.

There are many backchannel sites out there, but two that I have used are TodaysMeet and Chatzy.

TodaysMeet is an easy to set up and use virtual chat room geared for classroom usage. After logging in, which it does allow you to login with Google, you are sent to a simple dashboard to set up as many rooms as you like.

After setting your room up, all you need to do is share the link with your students, and your class is ready to have a discussion. At the end of your discussion, you may save/print the transcript.

Chatzy doesn't advertise itself as an education site quite as much as TodaysMeet, however several of it's safety features make it great to use in your classroom.

You can add a password to the chat along with allowing or blocking several features for users. Chatzy also allows them to embed YouTube Videos or Internet Images if they wish. This could allow for some creative answers. These are features that could be turned on or off.

The beauty in these and other backchannel tools is the simplicity to them. These tools allow the students to focus on the conversation and not get too wrapped up in the bells and whistles that they are used to seeing in social media.

If you have a backchannel that you like to use, please add it to the comments below!