Website review by Amy Lauren Botula, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013

Backchannel Chat

Real-time, moderated online discussions can engage and encourage

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
Community rating
Based on 2 reviews
Privacy rating
Not yet rated Expert evaluation by Common Sense
Grades
7–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Communication & Collaboration, Character & SEL

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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; this may not be a skill you'd wish to reinforce.

Bottom Line: Backchannel Chat offers a fun and safe way to hold real-time online discussions that might just increase engagement, interest, and even learning.

Success with Backchannel Chat will depend on how it's facilitated. Any class discussion, whether large or small, could begin virtually before holding a traditional, out-loud discussion in class -- this might actually be the site's most practical use. Students are much more likely to participate in a chat discussion than in a similar discussion out loud in class. Once they're engaged in a topic -- and once they've seen their classmates' opinions -- many students are more comfortable speaking in front of the group.

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, 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 assessment.

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Backchannel Chat is an online tool (website and Chrome app) designed to facilitate real-time discussions. 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" for teachers to track student participation. Upgrading to the premium package offers expanded search options and storage, full PDF chat transcripts, and allows 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. With the discussion occurring online, the playing field becomes more level and thus more inclusive. Reluctant speakers -- ELLs, students with disabilities, and those who might just be more introverted -- can all become active participants. Everyone can assert their own opinions and ideas while also learning from each other.

However, 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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Students will enjoy interacting with their peers in a virtual setting. Teachers will appreciate students' increased engagement, collaboration, and attentiveness.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Students can practice using important communication skills. Beyond being a 21st-century learning tool, online discussions can foster greater engagement and participation, giving more access to learning content.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Teachers will have to resolve any technical issues with the site during live-chat sessions. There isn't a Help link, and tutorials are limited. Extension and reflection activities are entirely up to the teacher.


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Community Rating

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Featured review by
Darlene P. , Other
Other
Shivela Middle School
Murrieta, United States
Great tool to help with collaboration
Overall I like this as a monitored option. The free version is limited but $15 is not extreme and easy to manage. It was a great collaboration tool. I had to let students get the standard hi's and funny messages out of the way but after they did it was great and amazing. I had students posting sentences and asking for help editing them and I had students asking me important questions on projects. The applications are limitless and I would like to use it to allow my students to collaborate with others st ...
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