Turn Passive into Engaging with Back-Channeling

classroom applications

One of the things we can easily change now with technology, is to turn what is normally a very disengaging lesson of watching a video into one with more engagement and learning.  How many times have you walked by a classroom and saw the lights off with the glow of the screen shining off of the faces of the students?  When you look in and see that most people are on the verge of falling asleep, sometimes even the teacher who may be seeing the video for at least the third time that day, think about what we could change.  One of the things I always liked to do was to have conversations during the video, we would stop to discuss what we are seeing and explore some idea connected to that.  This created more engagement and turn the lesson into a learning experience rather than a period of consumption.


Connect this with what many of us do at conferences, we carry on conversations during the different sessions and further our learning.  This collaboration increases the effectiveness of the activity and allows for greater levels of learning to take place.  Combine that idea with the act of watching a video and we now have a more engaging lesson.  Create a “backchannel” where students can be carrying out a discussion while they watch the video.  Pose questions to them to answer, and not simple questions but thought-provoking questions, in a forum or even in a Google Doc that is shared with the class.  You can easily be moving around while the video is playing, reading what they are typing and adding to the conversation yourself.


(Some may have the question of “how do you know they are doing the work and not screwing around on the computers?”  Easy, get up and walk around.  First off, if the question is engaging enough, the students will be focused on that and not anything else.  Do not use a video as a time filler, that is a waste of time and shows students what you think of them and their learning.  Design questions that make them think and connects to them and their learning.  Move around and see what they are typing, if you are sitting in the back grading papers then students will see that as you modeling what they can do.)


Some Suggestions for Backchannels (this can also be used for many activities, not just while a video is being used).

  • Google Doc – share a Google Doc with the class or small groups.  Post the question in the Doc and have students add to it.  Possibly even have them design their own questions for the others.  This will also allow you to be able to see who typed what.

  • http://todaysmeet.com/ – Free tool that allows you to set up a discussion “room” that students can join and carry out the conversation.  No set way to force them to identify themselves, they are asked to use a name but they can pick any name they want.  Sometimes being anonymous can help certain students participate more than if everyone knows it is them.  You can also save the chat for future use.

  • http://padlet.com/ – No exactly a chat room but it can be a place to carry out a conversation.  Users place “stickies” on the wall that can be organized to show thoughts and ideas.  There is even a Chrome app to easier integration.

Back-channeling is a great way to incorporate learning in connection with some other activity.  Teachers use this all the time at conferences to share ideas and questions in order to further their own learning, we should be able to do this with students.  Students are social creatures and we should be able to use this to further the learning instead of just forcing them to be sitting quietly in the dark.  


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