Thursday, April 23, 2015


For those who are not familiar, backchannels are discussion forums where students can interact with other students and the teacher while other things are going on in a class.  During a lecture, students could be in a discussion on Today's Meet and be asking and answering questions, giving the teacher feedback, expressing ideas or connections, etc.  It is another type of communication that can take place during a class.  As a channel for feedback, they are called backchannels.

I have had a lot of fun playing with Backchannels in both training and in the classroom.  What I have found is that backchannels fall into one of two categories, anonymous and not anonymous.

When I say anonymous, I mean that students can create a nickname or a pseudonym to join the chat.  It is possible that they could choose a name to be anonymous to the class if they are afraid that others will know who they are.  This is great because those who might not speak may have a voice in the backchannel.  This is problematic as those who say inappropriate things are also anonymous.  The programs like Today's Meet function like this and are great  for what they offer.

Discussions like those on Google classroom are not anonymous, meaning that the name is chosen based on the google login.  These are great because they hold students accountable for what they do, but do not allow anonymity for those who participate more due to the anonymous feature afforded by online tools.

What I would like to see is a program that recognizes the difference between a teacher and a student and allows teachers to see the identity of those in the discussion, but keeps students anonymous to other students.  So far, I have not found a free backchannel for this.

An alternative that works right now.  There are teachers in my district who have assigned students numbers.  These numbers are the pseudonyms for students.  While other students do not recognize the numbers and students can be anonymous to other students, increasing participation by "shy" students, teachers know the identity of students based on the number of the participant.

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