Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Tuesday Tech Tip: Using Backchannel Chat in the Classroom

As posted last week, we're focusing on the Communication aspect of P21's 4 Cs during the month of February. Communication skills, vital for all students, can encompass myriad approaches and tools, but this week's tech tip is about using Backchannel Chat as a way to help students gain "an understanding of the protocols and norms of various digital tools. . .and a developed awareness of how to use technology safely and responsibly" (Wilkey Oh).

If you're not sure what exactly a backchannel is, it is "a digital conversation that runs concurrently with a face-to-face activity" (Holland, 2014). It provides a place to capture thinking, share ideas and resources, and communicate with others without interrupting the flow of an activity.  This can be a way for students to take notes collaboratively, ask questions to each other, and make meaning for themselves.

Backchannels might happen using something like Twitter or Today'sMeet (you'll see this happen at conferences), but when working with students, it's sometimes a good idea to have that happen in safe space that isn't public or publicly available.  That's where something like the Backchannel Chat app in Schoology comes in.

Backchannel Chat is a free app that teachers can add to any Group or Course in Schoology where they are an admin.  This opens a "room" that only members of your class or group can access (although a teacher can get an external join code to invite a person from outside of the class to participate).  Backchannel Chat also has paid versions that allow for more flexibility in features (file uploading, private messaging between teacher & student, and unlimited "rooms").

Unlike a Discussion Board, the chat happens in real time with no need to refresh. The chat can include live polling and anonymous posting (but the teacher can see names).  Chat transcripts are available after the chat, if needed, and you can use embed code to bring in external media for rich discussions.  And because the chat is moderated by a teacher, it provides both a way to assess and hold students accountable for content posted.

Silvia Tolisano's blog had this guide on using a backchannel with students:
Need more ideas?  Check out these resources:

As we look for more ways to help kids build digital skills in the 4 Cs, backchannels can be a great option to helping kids learn the power of collaborative conversations.

Oh, Erin Wilkey. "Communication in Practice – A P21 Member Perspective from Common Sense Media - P21." Communication in Practice – A P21 Member Perspective from Common Sense Media - P21. Partnership of 21st Century Skills. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. 

Holland, Beth. "The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice in the Blended Mobile Classroom." 2014. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.

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