Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Backchannel Debate

My class is in the midst of narrative writing. As they embark on the writing process, I felt a responsibility to expose my students to actual authors who write fiction on a regular basis. The professionals would be a wonderful resource for my budding authors!

I called upon some local talent in our community to share their expertise with my class.  I found three authors who agreed to come to my classroom to share their experiences with students and answer their questions. As I prepared for our visiting authors, I began thinking about ways to get each of my students engaged during their visits. I wanted to ensure that each student was an active participant, rather than a passive listener.

Thinking about my own experiences at workshops and conferences, I started considering the power of a tool like Twitter and how backchanneling is a way to encourage participating from the audience. A format such as TodaysMeet was my first choice to use with students, but that website is currently blocked in my district. Twitter was my second choice, but my students are under the age of 13, so that wasn't an option either. I was faced with a situation that required some creative problem-solving.

What I ultimately came up with turned out to be the perfect solution for my 6th grade students. I decided to create a "Tweet Form" using Google Forms, which had data validation enabled to restrict the number of characters students entered to 140 characters or less. I embedded the form onto my Google Site in one column, while the form's responses were embedded into the opposite column. This created a "chat room" feel for my class. Using individual Chromebooks, students participated by sharing their thoughts, questions and feedback about what they were learning during the authors' presentations. Before we began, I reminded students that all of the "tweets" were permanently documented since student usernames were collected each time the Google Form was submitted. Sneaky, right?

Critics will say that the students are not necessarily paying attention if they are on a computer throughout a presentation. This may be true. But who's to say that they are paying attention throughout an entire presentation when they're not on a computer. I'll tell you this much...I am really good at looking like I'm paying attention while my brain is on a mental vacation, and guess what? So are our kids! The one thing I can say is that the evidence on my Google Tweet Form showed engagement, enthusiasm and participation. Everyone was involved! Yes, they may have missed a few things while typing out their "Tweet," but so do adults. With practice, the students will improve at quickly developing concise Tweets during presentations, and their participation will take the learning to an entirely new level.

What do you think? Would you consider letting your students backchannel during a class presentation?

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