I was the quiet student who always sought out the back row. I never willingly participated in class discussions, not because I didn’t have anything to contribute, but because I preferred to communicate my thoughts in writing. Many of our students sit in class quietly as their peers dominate the discussions, wishing they could add to the conversation. Some might lack the confidence to speak in front of their peers while others prefer to formulate their thoughts in writing.
There are plenty of digital tools that allow all students to have their voices heard. Sometimes we refer to these tools as backchannels because they allow conversations to happen at the same time as the main conversation or event that is taking place. This is a common practice at events like conferences where attendees use platforms such as Twitter to have discussions about what they are learning while they are learning it. The attendees usually include a specific hashtag in their tweets to make their tweets visible to others who are following the backchannel. Using Twitter as a backchannel can work with students, but there are numerous tools that are specifically designed for this purpose.
Two of my favorite tools for backchanneling are TodaysMeet and Backchannel Chat. You can use either service without creating an account which means you can start a chat and be up and going in less time than it took me to type this sentence. Both platforms are free, but Backchannel Chat does have a premium version that cost $15 per year. The added features make it worth more than with the small cost.
Applications for Education
Backchannels are an alternative to answering questions during a video. They are a great way to get students to think about the content and make connections to their lives. Backchannel “chat rooms” can be left open for long periods. Teachers can use them to create a virtual community for their classes where students can go to get (and give) help. No matter which of the numerous platforms are used, all backchannels serve the very important role of providing all students with the opportunity to participate and have their voice heard.