5 Easy Ways to
BackChannel in the Classroom
by Avra

What is BackChanneling?

  • Backchanneling is the practice of having a conversation real-time while a presentation is taking place
  • It's the conversation beside the main event!  
  • Basically, it is the 2014 version of "passing notes in class."
  • As educators, we know this takes place in our classrooms.  It happens with adults sitting in workshops and conferences also.  We are often talking to our friends or colleagues via instant messenger, text messaging, whispering, or writing on paper.

Why Should We Utilize the BackChannel?

  • As educators in the classroom, backchanneling is our chance to control the conversation.  Instead of being off-task, students could be communicating with each other productively...learning from one another.
  • It's a fantastically easy way to share resources such as links with students.
  • It can be an awesome way to get students chatting productively with each other...collaborating and sharing ideas...electronically.
  • The digital natives in our classrooms LOVE this way of communicating...it comes naturally to them!  
  • Our shy students can have a voice!  And...our not-so-shy students who often monopolize the conversation also have a voice...but a less disruptive one!
  • A transcript is born with a backchannel.

When is BackChanneling Appropriate?

While this is a question that only each individual teacher can answer, there are many classroom experiences that lend themselves to backchanneling naturally.

  • During videos, students can backchannel as they unobtrusively discuss the content of the video.  They can ask and answer questions, discuss, collaborate, and brainstorm.
  • During student presentations, students can discuss what they are learning from each other.
  • During the teacher's presentation of content, students can ask questions or make comments that the teacher can respond to later.
  • Polling students.  Having students answer questions in a backchannel is a great way of taking a poll.
  • Formative Assessment:  You can easily check for understanding by asking students to answer a question in a backchannel.
  • Have conversations with other people in other places...other classrooms or other educators...even experts or authors can "visit" the classroom virtually and engage in discussion in a backchannel.

Isn't the BackChannel a distraction?

Technology in general can always be viewed as a distraction for students.  But, bottom line, if students are engaged in learning experiences, the backchannel should be a help--not a hindrance.  Students know that the teacher will be viewing the backchannel's content as they are working within it or later on.  Therefore, the activity and conversation that takes place within the backchannel is normally focused and appropriate.

How Can I Get Started BackChanneling?

5 Easy Options

Today's Meet

  • Today's Meet is a Web 2.0 tool that allows a user to create a personal chat room with a couple of clicks!
  • Super easy to use!
  • Create the room & then share the URL with others to have them join.
  • While Today's Meet is FREE in general, there is now the option to subscribe to the premium version for $5/month.  With that subscription, many additional teacher tools are available that make controlling the conversation even easier.

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  • Padlet is another FREE Web 2.0 tool where users can share ideas with others.  
  • It is different from Today's Meet in that it is a "wall" or sort...like a bulletin board where users can post text, images, links, and more!  
  • It is a wonderful way to brainstorm ideas as a class.
  • Teachers can simply create a "wall," share the URL with students, and the sharing begins!
  • Padlet also has a premium version called, "Padlet Backpack."  It is geared toward schools.  It is $5/monthly and offers additional features for teachers.

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Google Docs, Drawings or Slides
for the BackChannel

Google Docs

The purpose of the backchannel is to share ideas with one another.  That can happen inside of a Google Document or Slideshow.  By creating a Google Doc, sharing it with your students, and then creating bullets, students can all type and share.  The difference is that the workflow can become a little messy with 20+ students in one document.  This might lend itself better to small group work instead.  

Google Drawings

A shared Google Drawing is another way to backchannel and share ideas in the classroom. With the additional flexibility of being able to easily add images and other design elements, the Google Drawing backchannel would be similar to a Padlet wall.  Similar to a Google Doc, the workflow could be awkward with many students in the document at one time.  However, the additional FREE functionality of being able to set the document back to view only or "unshare" it with students would be helpful to teachers.

Google Slides

Similar to Google Docs, Google Slides can also be used to backchannel.  In this case, a teacher could create a slide for each student to complete answers to questions or share ideas, ask questions, and brainstorm while a presentation, video, or other classroom discussion is taking place.

There are TONS more ways to BackChannel. These are just a few ideas!  Need help?
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