What is a backchannel?
A backchannel is a digital conversation running concurrently with a class activity. It creates an outlet for students to engage in class discussions in a variety of ways. A backchannel does not replace classroom discussions but enhances them for all students.
Why use a backchannel?
You can use a backchannel to capture your students' curiosity. Use a backchannel to ask your students what they are curious about, what makes them skeptical, or if they have a burning question about the content. You could even use the information your students provide to help guide personalized projects based on students' interests, resulting in authentic learning opportunities
Use a backchannel to connect the conversation. Students become more engaged when they have to monitor the backchannel while in class. You can keep it running at all times, or you could consider pausing in class to check in with the backchannel as a group. Encourage students to answer other students' questions; once they are teaching something, you know they know the concept!
Use a backchannel to create ubiquitous opportunities. When students are asked to communicate over multiple modalities, they are able to develop their thoughts over time and engage in authentic learning. Learning is then no longer tied to a desk in a brick and mortar classroom; students can learn and contribute at any time.
What tools can I use to start a backchannel?
There are so many tools out there that you can use to create your own backchannel. I'm only going to highlight a few below and link you to them directly. These are tools I've used to create a backchannel in my classes, plus they are free!
*click on the images below to visit the websites directly
Below is also a great infographic from the Langwitches Blog explaining backchannels in even more detail as well as some helpful websites for your own reference.
So, how do you use backchannels in your classroom? Please leave a comment below!
10 Ways to Use Backchannels in Your Classroom
The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice
Five Platforms for a Classroom Backchannel Chat
Consider how you are engaging your students both in and out of the classroom. These three recommendations are only a few of the variety of ways you can support your students' ownership of their own learning. Do you have ways that you engage your students that you have found successful? Please share them below in the comments!
Shake Up Learning just released a new list called 17 Challenges for Teachers in 2017. This is a great list of fun ideas to try with your students. I'll be revisiting it throughout the year to hopefully inspire ideas for your classroom. First up, Google Expedition!
As we all know, budgets are limited in education and we need to find creative ways to support our students' learning without breaking the bank. Google Expedition (GE) is a great way to do this! You can use GE to take your students virtually anywhere. Want to explore the International Space Station? Great! Want to take your students to see amazing architecture in Barcelona? Awesome! How about exploring the surface of Mars? You can do that, too! You can take your students pretty much anywhere you can image. Some kits can cost more money than you want to spend (though consider partnering up with other educators in your institution and even writing grants to support the purchase!). There are a number of inexpensive options as well (check out the Landsberg V2), and don't forget eBay is always a good option. Or you and your students can make your own as a class project!
Once you have your viewers ready to go and have gone on a few trips, consider having your students create their own virtual reality! The options are endless and a lot of fun to try out. So, how do you think you might use virtual reality in your classroom? Leave a comment below.
Many educators today are doing their best to move away from the traditional lecture format in their classrooms. This shift is a positive one in order to support student-centered learning. However, there are still times when it is necessary to focus the attention back to the front of the room, whether for a video or a traditional lecture. How do we make sure our students are still engaged even when they are asked to sit and listen? You can create a backchannel in your classroom to ensure their engagement and regularly monitor their formative learning.
Creating a backchannel is easy using educational technology. There are a number of tools you can use to create a backchannel, and I offer links to a handful below.
So, really, why use a backchannel? Won't that just distract my students? Well, no. Your students are already using a backchannel in your classrooms, whether it is whispering, texting, passing notes, or even jumping on social media. So why not offer them a structured backchannel to refocus the conversation on the content information and give them productive ways to collaborate?
Backchannels offer ways to have a more organic conversation with your students. Instead of having students raise their hand and interrupt lecture, they can type their questions in the backchannel. The conversation becomes more relevant and happens more organically. The answers to the questions also become more relevant because you can encourage students to collaborate and help each other out by answering other students' questions. This takes some of the work load off the instructor and puts the onus of learning back on the students, where it really should be anyway.
You can use a backchannel on most devices that connect to the Internet, so you can encourage your students to bring their own devices or technology (BYOD/BYOT). As a secondary form of classroom communication, the backchannel is a way for the instructor and other students to clarify and collaborate simultaneously with class instruction. Students are constantly engaged and encouraged to take part in an active discussion. It gives students different options for their voices to be heard.
Backchannels are a great use of formative assessment because the instructor is able to immediately see if students understand the content, or if it is necessary to go back over material that students don't seem to understand. Students can also go back to the backchannel after class and use that conversation as part of their class notes, providing another way for them to review the content material.
Finally, if you are flipping your classroom, you can create a backchannel that is used asynchronously by your students to continue the conversation. Students are encouraged to challenge one another and answer each other's questions. The instructor can jump in when necessary to clarify any misunderstandings, but the learning and active discussion really falls to the students.
Below is a list of popular tools you can use to create a backchannel in your classroom. Many of these tools allow the instructor to monitor and delete responses in real time, allow for class privacy, and can easily be shared as links for the students to access. You can click on the links below and explore each tool individually to get an idea of what would work the best for you and your students.
So how do you use backchannels in your classroom? Please leave a comment and let us know!
What does discussion look like in your classroom? Do you normally see one student dominating the conversation? Do you have other students who are too shy to join in the conversation for fear of being wrong? Often our classroom discussions can be lopsided due to dominant students or even derailed by students introducing an off-topic to the mix. We want all of our students to be engaged and feel empowered to join in a class discussion. We also want to give students time to think in order to provide deeper answers.
Verso can help you create dynamic class discussions by offering a safe, anonymous space for all students' voices to be heard and valued.
Overview of Verso:
While student responses are kept anonymous, the instructor can see everything on their own dashboard, including who is typing and commenting. The instructor also has the ability to remove any inappropriate responses immediately. Students can also flag inappropriate comments and responses.
For more information on using Verso, please watch the video below:
Want more resources? Check out the links below! Also, be sure to leave a comment on how you use or plan to use Verso.
Now, go get started with Verso!
We all want to find different ways to get our students to reflect on their learning. One way to do this is to have students do a quickwrite. You can use this type of assignment as a weekly, in-class exercise, or you can ask students to do this in preparation for class. The quickwrite is designed to encourage students to reflect on the week's content and revisit their notes to review what they learned. It is a way to ask questions about course concepts without having to do a review in class. Quickwrite also helps the instructor to identify areas of review; for instance, if many students mention they are still confused about a concept, the instructor can follow up with review immediately instead of waiting to see students miss certain content questions on the exam.
Here are five questions you can use in a quickwrite assignment, though feel free to create your own as well:
When giving instructions about the quickwrite, be sure to point out that students should focus on the content information and not the operation of the course (i.e., grading). Also point out students should write in complete sentences and answer each question thoroughly. While they may not have an answer for question #2 (great!), they should definitely have answers for the other questions. You can assign points to each question as a graded assignment, or you could leave it open as a participation and process grade. Choose whatever method makes the most sense for your course and your students. The quickwrite never needs to be a high stakes exercise; instead, it should be a way to ask students to reflect on their learning and give you information on what content needs to be reviewed.
The quickwrite can be done on paper, or you can ask your students to do the quickwrite digitally (it all depends on your objectives, but be sure to consider TPACK!). If you choose to go the digital route, you can give students options to complete the assignment. Below are some great tools that your students can use to complete the quickwrite and easily share with you in a digital format:
For more writing ideas, check out this list of writing tools! Want to share how you use quickwrites with your students, please leave a comment below!
According to the Teaching with Technology survey conducted by Campus Technology (2016), the majority of faculty in higher education are either flipping their classroom or plan to flip their classroom. The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model where traditional lecture and homework are reversed. Many flipped classrooms include short video lectures from the instructor in order to cover content knowledge before students come to class to discuss and practice the content through projects and exercises. The flipped classroom focuses on active, student-centered learning and has shown an increase in student engagement inside and outside the classroom.
Flipping the classroom allows instructors to offer more interactive and applied practice to help students reach higher level learning. At its core, flipped learning really is a form of blended learning because it incorporates both face-to-face and online elements. Flipped learning can be used to modify learning to best support students' needs and learning interests. Flipping the classroom will be a change for both instructors and students. Instructors will move away from the Sage on the Stage model toward a Guide on the Side model (though carefully considering what that means and not leaving students to fend for themselves, but instead use their sage-ness to help guide student learning). Students will have more choice and responsibility for their learning. The collaborative and cooperative nature of flipped learning can be uncomfortable at first for instructors and students alike, but supporting students in their learning by offering more hands-on practice is worth it when we see students go beyond basic understanding and instead show mastery of content.
Resources to Explore
Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself. John Dewey
Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself. John Dewey
Julie K. Marsh is a long-time educator, a PhD candidate at The College of William and Mary focusing on curriculum and educational technology, and the Coordinator for Distance Education and Instructional Design at Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing in Richmond, Virginia. Her current research interests include Design Thinking, Community of Inquiry, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), creativity in the classroom, open sourced educational resources, and participatory culture.
Website by Eduhuh Designs (c) 2016 EDUHUH
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.