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Pros: Like a teacher-moderated version of Twitter, the site can help engage students in discussions that may transcend the virtual space.
Cons: Some students may struggle to multitask during other activities; tool could be redundant based on other platforms you might use.
Bottom Line: This tools offers a fun, simple, and safe way to hold real-time online discussions that might just increase engagement, interest, and even learning.
Backchannel Chat success really depends on facilitation, and how well students are prepared to hold responsible and productive discussions. Any class discussion, whether large or small, could begin virtually in Backchannel Chat before you hold a traditional, out-loud discussion in class. In fact, this might actually be the site's most practical use. Many students are much more likely to participate in a chat discussion than in a similar discussion in class. The backchannel could help students get engaged in a topic, and also gives them a chance to see and process their classmates' opinions. This little bit of structured prep can get students more comfortable speaking in front of the group. Holding this chat prior to in-class discussion also allows teachers to review the chat log and pick out particularly good insights. Students then could be asked to elaborate on their comments in class.
Teachers could also assign note-taking discussions for students to engage in after, or perhaps even during, video activities or presentations. Teachers will want to provide lots of structure for this type of activity. As many students struggle to stay engaged during videos or in-class presentations (even in a distance learning model), the opportunity to chat, without being disruptive, could reinvent the experience, making it more meaningful. Lastly, reviewing chat transcripts is an opportunity for both reflection and student self-assessment.
Backchannel Chat is an online chat room tool designed to facilitate real-time discussions. There's a website version as well as apps for Android and iOS, and integrations with Schoology and Edmodo. To get started with Backchannel Chat, teachers need only sign up, create a name for their chat, and then share the URL with their students. Students enter a name and click Join -- no other personal information is required. Teachers can moderate discussions, remove messages, and "lock" the chat at any time. The site also has a profanity filter and offers a web-based transcript of all chats for teachers and students to review.
Additionally, Backchannel Chat has an "amplification" feature where students can "vote up" responses. There are also chat stats where teachers can track student participation, as well as a response gathering tool for quick comprehension checks. Upgrading to the premium package offers expanded search options and storage, full PDF chat transcripts, external website embedding, the ability for students to upload approved files, and private student-to-teacher messaging.
Don't let the site's simple design (or occasional typo) discourage you: Backchannel Chat has solid potential as a teaching tool. Online discussion can encourage participation and thoughtful contribution, and thus be more inclusive and representative of the class's perspectives. Reluctant speakers -- introverts, students who need extra processing time, ELLs, or students with disabilities -- can all become active participants. Everyone can assert their own opinions and ideas while also learning from each other. Since chat logs become searchable archives, the discussion itself becomes a set of collaborative notes that students can refer back to.
With that said, teacher moderation is key. Front-loading chat etiquette and expectations, as well as structuring discussions around specific objectives, will enhance the discussion and better support learning. Reviewing the chat transcripts as a class or in small groups will also help to reinforce new skills. Students can transfer what they've learned to new experiences.