backchannel chat

Fluco Toolbox: Backchannel Chat

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based on your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever wanted your students to have an online moderated discussion on a topic in small groups? Wished to incorporate digital citizenship skills into a group chat?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: Backchannel Chat

First, the basics:

Name: Backchannel Chat
URL: http://backchannelchat.com/
Cost: FREE version / $15 per year paid version
Problem this tool solves: Students can participate in online moderated discussions, whether in small groups or whole groups. Teachers can have students join with their Google accounts, and can download transcripts after the chat is over. Great for informal written assessments of students’ knowledge!

I have to thank two 6th grade ELA teachers that I work with, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, for finding this particular tool. I had no idea that it existed. We have used this tool already for Socratic seminars and loved it. Check out this post and this post for more information on integrating it!

Backchannel Chat is an online classroom discussion tool. It’s similar to other online chatroom websites for teachers or presenters and comes with its own host of features. There are 2 sides – a free side and a paid side. The free side comes with the basics. Teachers can create a chatroom, get a link to share it, have the ability to remove chat messages and mute students, lock a room, get a web transcript, have 30 students in a room at a time, and search an archived chat for 3 months after creation. The paid side adds on PDF chat transcripts, private messaging, add polls, share files, have 50 students in a room at a time, and search archived chats forever. The paid upgrade is $15 for an entire year and may be worth it to educators who find themselves using this feature often.

backchannel

Creating a chat is simple: go to the website listed above and select the blue “Try for FREE as a TEACHER” A window will pop up and ask for the following: your email, display name, and name for the chat. Once you click “Start”, an email will be sent to the address provided with information to access the chat at a later time. The chat will also immediately load.

 

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On the right side, users in the chat will appear. Anyone who has joined as a teacher will see an icon with a mortarboard and glasses. Student names will appear as the first part of their email addresses.

Here are some simple controls:

  • Send a message: Type text in the box at the bottom of the chat screen and either press “Enter” or select the green “Send” button.
  • Mute a student: Click the gears to the right of the student name and check the box that says “Read-Only Mode”. Then click update. The student’s name will be highlighted in red. To turn this off, click the gears again, and then click “Update” without selecting anything else.
  • Remove messages: Remove inappropriate messages by click the X in the upper right corner of the message.
  • Like a message: Click the thumbs up icon by the sender’s name in the message
  • Pin a message: Pin important messages to the top of the chat window by clicking the thumbtack icon in the desired message.
  • Lock the chat: Keep anyone from sending messages by clicking the lock icon at the top of the chat screen to the left of “Settings”
  • Chat stats: See how many times students have participated in the chat by clicking “Settings” and then stats. Each student’s name will be listed, with the number of messages they have sent listed below their name.
  • Download a chat transcript: Click “Settings” and then “Download Transcript”. Paid users will be able to download a PDF, and free users can view a web transcript. This can be saved as an HTML file.
  • Clear a chat: To clear anything that has been said in chat, follow the steps above for “Download a chat transcript” and then select to clear the room.

For those of you who are Google educators, you can force students to join the chat with their Google accounts. First, you’ll need the original web address. After the /chat/ part of the URL, add g/. This will force students to log in with their Google account. See the example below:

http://backchannelchat.com/chat/kkjlb#
http://backchannelchat.com/chat/g/kkjlb#

This tool is great to incorporate into small group discussions on a variety of topics. We have found it works great in conjunction with a Socratic seminar, and prepares students to speak on the chosen topic. Teachers will want to make sure to teach proper chat etiquette and academic speak while using this tool. Teachers may also find this tool useful if they would like to have a chat space to host office hours. Chat could be locked outside of the posted times.

If you have a different way to use the tool, feel free to make suggestions. Hopefully, Backchannel chat helps you and your students have deeper discussions!

Resources

Backchannel Chat FAQ – The website has put together an FAQ section to assist with any needs.

Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

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It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.

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Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

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Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!

 

A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?