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The Teaching Space Podcast

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May 18, 2018

Episode 20 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores nine classroom backchannel tools that can be used for communication between learners.

Podcast Episode 20 Transcript

Welcome to The Teaching Space Podcast, coming to you from Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Hello, it's Martine here. Welcome to Episode 20 of The Teaching Space Podcast. Today's episode is all about backchannel tools. If you've not come across the phrase backchannel before, I will explain it to you.

What is a Backchannel?

A backchannel is a way for learners to have an on-topic conversation during a teaching session, this could be anything from learners in your class to delegates on a corporate course. Whoever they are, this is a way for them to either talk during the session and maybe submit questions, or even continue the conversation afterwards.

The main reason for this episode is that I recently found out one of my favourite backchannel tools, TodaysMeet is closing its doors in June 2018. This, therefore, seemed like the ideal opportunity to look at some alternatives.

I have nine classroom backchannel tools for you to try.

1. Mentimeter

Mentimeter allows you to create interactive presentations, so the backchannel bit is the ability to pose questions and get votes from your audience. It's a freemium tool, which means you have a free version with limited options, and there are paid options as well. A few of the tools I'm going to mention are freemium.

2. GoSoapBox

GoSoapBox allows you to create digital events. An event is a space on the internet where you can interact with your learners, and you can have polls and discussions, question and answers, that sort of thing.

A nice feature of GoSoapBox is it includes a confusion barometer, which you can use to gauge understanding. GoSoapBox is free for classes of up to 30 students, so this could be a really exciting tool for teachers to experiment with.

3. AnswerGarden

AnswerGarden is a minimalist feedback tool. It's good for creative brainstorming, very simple Q&A, and feedback gathering. You could only provide short answers as a participant using AnswerGarden. And good news, it's free.

4. Google Classroom

Full disclosure here, as a Google certified trainer this is my main backchannel tool, and I love it. So Google Classroom is part of the G Suite for Education set of apps, and it's an online classroom for storing resources, issuing assignments, asking questions, and that sort of thing.

But an element of it that is sometimes overlooked is the stream. When you go into a classroom, it's the first thing you come to. And this can be really effectively used as a backchannel because there could be chat there. So if you're already a Google Classroom user, don't overlook it as a possible backchannel tool.

And of course, as it's G Suite for Education, it's free.

5. Google Slides

You might be thinking, why are you including Google Slides on a backchannel list? Well, there's a good reason, let me explain. Before I do, I'll tell you that Google Slides is essentially the Google version of Microsoft PowerPoint, it's a presentation tool.

But there is one particular area where it's way better than PowerPoint, and that is it's got a Q&A option attached to it. You have audience participation elements built into Google Slides, and this is what makes it a backchannel tool, essentially.

You can do a presentation and your audience members can pose questions, and then you can project the question on the board, and you can answer questions, so that there's a backchannel element going on. Participants can also upvote popular questions. It's really worth having a play with.

Here is the video about how to use the audience participation aspect of Google Slides.

6. Twitter

Using Twitter as a backchannel can be great, particularly if you work with adult learners. You're going to find a lot of your learners are on Twitter already, and they'll have an understanding of what a hashtag is, which is handy because you can use a hashtag to group  tweets under a certain conversation.

It might not be the most appropriate tool for younger learners, but certainly, in my experience, the simplicity of Twitter makes it a great backchannel.

It's free; there's an element of forced brevity because tweets can only be up to 280 characters. You can share images, and that sort of thing as well. So you can rethink how you use Twitter, it can be an effective backchannel.

7. Backchannel Chat

This is a free chatroom designed with teachers in mind. It's really easy to set up; you don't need to get your learners to log in. It's freemium, but I happened to notice that the full paid program is just $15 a year, so that might be worth looking into.

I've not played with Backchannel Chat as much as I'd like, but it's certainly on my list of things to experiment with.

8. Padlet

I talked about Padlet in Episode 15 of The Teaching Space Podcast. If you hop over to then you can hear or read my comments on Padlet.

Essentially, it's an online bulletin board, like a notice board. And what I really like about it, is there is a backchannel layout which you can select.

Padlet's had a bit of a hard time recently because they've just changed their charging model. Now you can have just a limited number of Padlets for free, and then you have to pay to have sort of more options, so it's a freemium model.

I can understand the backlash, I get it, I really do, and as teachers, we don't have a budget to spend on tools like this. However, I also understand that as a business they need to find a way to be sustainable, so I kind of get why they've done it.

Whatever you think about that, Padlet is a really great tool, so I recommend you give it a try.

9. Tozzl

That's T-O-Z-Z-L. What a lovely word. I like this tool on the basis of its name alone.

Tozzl is a digital pin board, message board, type thing. It's password protected, and as a teacher that makes me feel nice and comfortable. There's that nice extra layer of security.

It's free, which also makes my heart sing. It's quite a new tool for me, so I've not had a chance to dig into it quite as much as I'd like. However, I found a great video on YouTube that explains everything about Tozzl which you can find just above. 

Our Community

There you have it, nine classroom backchannel tools you can start using today. I would love to know if you try one or some, or all of these tools.

The best way to start a conversation about backchannels, or anything technology for learning related, is to join The Teaching Space Staff Room which is our closed Facebook group. It's a small group at the moment, a little quiet, I'd love to see a bit more conversation going on in there.

If you've not had a chance to join, please, please, please, please do so.; You will need to request to join, it's not an automatic thing, but I will do my best to accept your request as soon as possible.

Wrap Up

Okay, I think that's all from me today. Thank you so much for listening to this short and sweet, but hopefully valuable episode, and I hope you'll join me next time.