Thursday, August 11th, 2011...9:01 am

Tapping into In-Class Online Conversations (Backchannel)

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Here at Boston College Law we’ve been getting a lot of chatter about backchannels and how they can be integrated into classes. While many of the examples that people are using focus on Twitter, the common concerns about privacy, anonymity, and moderation are always present as roadblocks.

So, we’ve been exploring a few different tools that we’d like to pilot over the next year. So far we’ve got two possible test subjects, and we’re hoping to get more. Below is our workshop flyer we’ve been shopping around to try and drum up some new business.

Remember when you passed a note to the person next to you? You may have even been caught by the teacher in the front of the room and now have an embarrassing memory.

Instead of pieces of paper, students are now passing emails, texts, and instant messages back and forth during class. There is actually a name for this, and it’s not distraction, rather its backchannel. New technologies have created ways for you to interact with your students through this communication channel and could create positive participation during your lectures.

We’ve been experimenting with a few of these services and found several that are easy to setup, use, and might be a perfect fit to tap into the backchannel in your classes – large or small. We’re offering a workshop in the Law Library to provide some hands-on time to try them out and discuss how these tools can help create more participation.

Backchannels can add to discussion in real time, punctuate section breaks to confirm understanding, be moderated by a TA, generate review questions, encourage collaboration between students, or even carry the discussion beyond the classroom. The possibilities are endless. For your reading pleasure we’ve attached chapter one from a book entitled The Backchannel: Why are you calling me a #@*% on Twitter?

In our workshop we’ll do some hands-on testing with Google Moderator, Today’s Meet, and H2O Question Tool a Berkman Center tool (similar to Backchan.nl from MIT). All free, all easy to use, and all available to you anytime.

Many times we find that when we want to introduce a new tool to our faculty, workshops work best. Hopefully this will be the case with backchannel tools.

So far we’ve thought of many different ways to use them for inside and outside the classroom. The voting tools like H20 Question Tool is great to get a class pulse on what the most important topics are and can allow for the discussion to continue outside of the classroom.

What I’d like to know is if you’ve been playing around with any of these tools (or others), and have any stories to share?



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