TodaysMeet: Encourage Backchanneling

One way technology can be used in the classroom is to encourage “backchanneling.” As I understand it, the backchannel is what goes on online about a lecture, event, or presentation during or even after it takes place. This can be a very valuable aspect of the learning process, especially if supported by the instructor. Let’s see how we can do this.

I realize my teaching context may not be the same as everyone else’s, but I teach adults that all own smartphones, and they are never without them. Do any of your students glance at their phones during class? Mine do. When they do, I have a tendency to assume that they are not paying attention, but in reality, they could be looking up something related to the topic, checking something that I mentioned, finding clarification for a point they did not quite catch, translating a new word, or more. Even though I never expect it, they really do use their phones for this purpose, and they often want to share what they have found independently with the whole class and interrupt in order to do so. This type of independent student research could be better encouraged and supported if students had a unique space for this purpose—or a backchannel platform.

TodaysMeet is such a platform. Although it appears to be a pretty basic site that lacks the tutorials and orientation I have seen on other sites, it has a good About page that explains the benefit of this type of backchannel chatting, and it is completely free to sign up. I registered using my Google account information, provided my birth date to show I was over 13, and agreed to the terms and privacy policy in no time at all. Essentially, TodaysMeet allows you to create a chat room for your students.

For the chat room, you can choose a name, and control how long the room is open for and who can see it. You can give students the link or generate a QR code directly on the site to give students access, and you can go back to view the transcript to see what students discussed. Like Twitter, which could also be used as a backchannel (more on that another time), there is a 140 character limit to messages, but students can post multiple messages, so there is really no limit to what they can say. Set it up for your students today and see how it goes. You could make participation optional or even require it if you notice an uptick in engagement for those students who use it.

I know setting up a backchannel for students may seem to take their attention away from the primary activity, but it actually encourages multitasking, which we do (and need to do) all the time, as well as engagement with the topic. Both of these are exceptionally valuable, and we all want to have more engaged students, right? If you like the basic account, but want more options, you can also upgrade to a Teacher Tools account for only $5 per month, which gives you more features to help manage and control your rooms and students.

Do your students already have a backchannel? How do you encourage them to, or why don’t you? What do you think of backchanneling? Does your school have a phone policy? Answer these questions or others by leaving a comment below.

About Tara Arntsen

Tara Arntsen
Tara Arntsen recently completed her Master's degree in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California. She currently teaches in the Intensive English Program at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She has taught ESOL in China, Japan, and Cambodia as well as online. Her primary interests are communicative teaching methods and the use of technology in education.
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