All I could say is “Oh Yeah!” as I read Ira Socol's reflection on his use of a backchannel in his undergraduate class.
Yes, he was testing Today's Meet, an invention of his son, but his results are very much like what I, and other educators see when the backchannel is put in place.
“Every few minutes I looked up at the screen and checked the conversation, and typically I adjusted the discussion, or picked up on a question being asked there, or commented on an answer or a comment. In a big class it gave me real access to far more students than I can possibly get by watching for raised hands. And it let me – and the class – hear from many who never raise their hands. Honestly, I could even judge, much more clearly than usual, what was connecting and what was missing. As an instructor – I loved it.“
Ira's post is right on and I'm going to try out Today's Meet. Backchannels are a GREAT tool for engaging the meek, timid, or student who is more engaged with their fingers than their mouth. Whether you use chatzy, or another tool, they are great.
It is also important to point out that archived backchannels give students the ability to take group notes and have the information later.
Inevitably, when using the backchannel in a class or conference, within about 5 minutes, I get the question:
“Is it possible to save this chat?”
Why yes, there is.
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