The Backchannel – my EdTech Fave

Our #tiegrad cohort shared out some tech tools last week during class. More importantly than the tools being shared were the conversations about how and why particular tools were chosen. I enjoyed hearing about great ideas grounded in strong pedagogy and purpose.

Some tools discussed included: Explain Everything (see tutorials created by Victoria Olson here), Padlet, Desmos, FreshGrade, and Wolfram Alpha.

I wasn’t sure which tools would be chosen by my other cohort members, so I prepared a list of my favourite resources. We quickly ran out of time, so I am taking this opportunity to share out my experiences with my favourite EdTech tool here.

For several years I have been experimenting with a variety of Backchannel tools to find the best resource for my students. My purpose in providing a backchannel in my classroom is to offer more opportunities for students to contribute their ideas, questions, insights and ponderings. A backchannel increases the potential for more participation. Backchannels allow for real time collaboration, even while a lesson unfolds.

I observed a massive increase in student participation in my lessons when I kept the backchannels open throughout the day. I “heard” from students who had not volunteered to speak in class previously – they would insightfully discuss topics through text, offer different ways to explain things, and answer questions posed in real time during lessons. Not every student is comfortable speaking in front of a crowd!

A few of the backchannel tools I have tried include:

  • Padlet: An online sticky note board – it allows you to upload videos, images links comments, almost anything. Works on every platform. It will also provide you with a quick QR code for your board – which is helpful if you project the “wall” and people can walk by and scan the QR to join.
  • Baiboard: an iOS app where you can create a private or public shared space. One feature that I loved about this app is the ability to create multiple “pages” to work on. For several lessons, I created prompts on a series of pages, and the students could reply to the ones that held meaning for them. Organizing the collaborative dialogue on multiple pages kept the conversations more synchronously aligned. This app would be amazing if you were able to open it up to other devices without requiring downloading an app.
  • Voicethread: a great tool for student conversation. You can use images and videos to organize and prompt deeper conversations.
  • A little dabbling with some of the tools listed by EdTech and Mobile Learning.
I post a quick QR code on several "Say Something" mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

I post a quick QR code on several “Say Something” mini posters around my room for quick and easy access to our Backchannel for the week.

My absolute favourite backchannel tool is TodaysMeet. This web-based tool allows for hosting a conversation (like a group text) where you can create a “room” that can be open for up to a month. The chat or texting format is easily recognizable by our students. The reason that TodaysMeet has become my favourite backchannel tool is because the teacher presence feels light. Although I create the room and I am “present” and monitoring the discussion, I observe my students genuinely interacting WITH and FOR each other – not for me. When a student raises their hand to speak in class, quite often they are awaiting some form of feedback  (even in a discussion): a nod from the teacher, approval of their ideas, or praise. In classroom discussions, I notice that many students direct their input directly to me – even if they are replying to the last student speaker, their eyes go to me, or they wait for me to “call on” who gets to comment next. An effective backchannel works for the students, it becomes their own space. Sometimes the conversations would extend far beyond the classroom walls and hours.

Three years ago I asked my students to reflect on how texting to a backchannel in class helped them. Here are some of their thoughts:

texting let us stay in contact throughout the lesson. Even though she was teaching us, we could write a comment and people would see it. Not: ‘we ran out of time, so we can’t do all of the questions and comments’

Instead of raising my hand all of the time or calling out, it helped me because I could easily write what I wanted to write and it would get sent and other people could see what I had to say and Mrs. James could see what I had to say

it let me express more of what I wanted to say, to say more of what I think

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on how texting to a backchannel can be used in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Grade 6 reflections on using backchannels for participation in class.

Using a backchannel has allowed me to formatively assess in real time. I am given an opportunity to see leadership from students who may not otherwise stand out. It opens a window into a collaborative and reflective learning environment that is usually hidden from view.

It takes time to find the right backchannel tool, and what works with one group of students may not work with the next group. It is important to find a platform that fits in with your class’s community and culture.

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One thought on “The Backchannel – my EdTech Fave

  1. Pingback: Don’t You Forget about Us | Solar Powered

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