“Are there any questions?…” The words hang in the air as nervous students shuffle in their seats. The more students there are, the shyer the classroom seems to collectively be. This year at that Maths Association of Tasmania conference I heard from Matt Skoss about a potential solution to this challenge… backchannels.
Backchannels are live feeds that are running whilst the class is in session. Like Twitter, they act as an online space for people to comment, ask questions, and interact at the same time as class and life is going on as per usual.
Upon hearing about backchannels I was keen to give them a go, but it wasn’t until a few months later that I had the opportunity to try them out in a large enough class. I’ve been working at the University of Tasmania as a tutor since the beginning of the year (2014) but this August an opportunity came up for me to cover a lecture on Index laws due to the usual lecturer being away. I jumped at this chance and thought it would be a good idea to test out this new fandangled backchannel idea.
I prepared for the lecture and used TodaysMeet to set up a digital ‘room’ (see video at bottom of page for how to do this, it’s super easy). And then at 11am it was all go.
The lecture started off pretty well. an+am=an+m kind of stuff. The backchannel was going all right, I was flicking to and from the backchannel between every 3 slides or so. Hmm… I was a bit worried that some of the banter was distracting students too much (you’ll see it in the vid below). Then, at about 13 and a half minutes in, the juice came. (all the action is in the first 35 seconds of this clip)
Wow, now that was worth it! My first lecture at University, of course I was going to be rushing a bit! And instead of me continuing to talk too fast through the whole lecture, and then going on the the next lecture and maybe even keeping up the pattern, this backchannel meant that I was furnished with immediate feedback on my teaching. I was immediately able to adjust my style and communicate more clearly for the remainder of the class.
The backchannel also facilitated other questions later on in the class. Another highlight was that one of the shyer students initially asked a question on the backchannel, then felt confident enough to elaborate and clarify after their question was read out by me.
I’m sure the opinions on backchannels will be divided. Are they too distracting? What ages are they suitable for? If we get students on their phones will we ever be able to get them off them? And there are definitely context in which they’ll fit better (larger classes, older students, more independent learners).
Suffice to say that for my first ‘official’ lecture at Uni, using TodaysMeet proved to be a great way to get student feedback, both on the content and on my teaching style. I’m happy to have it as one more tool in the teaching toolbox that I’ll be able to draw on in future.
How to use TodaysMeet
1 minute and 34 seconds that you won’t regret.
Please note: TodaysMeet doesn’t save your discussion thread. So if you’d like to keep track of it you can just copy paste the discussion into a word doc or the like and you’re good to go.