How is it time for the Fall 2021 semester already?
Isn’t it still, like, June 2020 or something?
“on your left” meme posted by @Rachael_Conrad on Twitter (8 Aug 2021)
There are many reasons to be excited about being back in the classroom with our students after months of living that Zoom life (and of course some apprehensions too, given the spread of the Delta variant throughout our communities!). But if you’re anything like me and the students I’ve been teaching recently, there is one thing that you’re probably sad to leave behind on Zoom: the CHAT!
In my classes, Zoom chat was a gift: it allowed many students the space to contribute to our large conversations who had previously felt uncomfortable speaking up. It helped us to build community by giving us a way to share little jokes and have side conversations without stopping the flow of our “on task” discussion. It allowed us to support each other by sharing links, resources, quotes, shared docs, and more. It’s a space that I want to try and preserve as we return to our classrooms – especially since we’ll be wearing masks that may make vocal discussions more challenging, if not totally inaccessible to some students.
So here are a few options I’ve found that will allow us to keep the backchannel open and help us include as many voices as possible in our conversations. Hopefully you can find one that will work well for you and your students!
Most people who know me know I love to use Padlet. Their “stream” template is great for backchannel convos and allows students to like each other’s questions and comments and reply to each other. Users can be logged in or anonymous as needed and it’s easy to share links and media. The main downside of this platform is that you can only have a limited number of Padlets with a free account, but since you don’t really need to “archive” your chats in most cases, it may still work well for you!
With smaller classes (no more than 30 students), this option is free and includes a LOT of cool features like polling, quizzes, and the ability to turn off screen names when you want your students to be free to answer anonymously. Definitely worth exploring if you also used the “poll” feature of Zoom regularly!
This one’s pretty simple and hearkens back to online chat rooms of the early internet days (ahhhh nostalgia, amirite, my fellow GenXers?). You can set up a virtual room and all students need to do to join is click a link. Easy peasy!
I’m a big fan of Slack, but it (and the next option below) is more than just a chat platform. This means it needs a bit of commitment and setup time to get you and your community rolling. If you’re just looking for a quick and easy way for your students to use their voices, this isn’t the right choice for you! But if you’re looking for a a solution that can be a chat platform, file sharing space, and discussion board all rolled into one, Slack is a workhorse!
Much like Slack, this is much more than a chat platform, and it may be more of a fancy SUV when all you may be looking for is a 10-speed bicycle. But if the various features in Google Classroom are useful for you, the “stream” in the homepage can be great for a classroom backchannel!
photo by Adam Solomon on Unsplash
so … how will this work in a classroom?
One of the things that made chat SO AWESOME on Zoom is that everyone was already there! We were looking at a screen to engage with each other, so hopping into the chat was easy. But when we’re in a classroom, how can we effectively use chat without sacrificing the meaningful face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) interactions that happen in our classrooms?
As someone who asks and encourages students to have devices with them in every class meeting, I’m less worried about this than some of my colleagues might be, since I’m used to navigating a balance between screen time and people time (and I’m happy to talk about strategies for this if you’d like). But I’m thinking that in general, I’ll keep the backchannel up on the screen at the front of the room. That way, everyone can see it without having to stare at their own devices at all times. It should be easy enough to have that chat window there alongside whatever else we need to look at together (images, quotes, discussion questions, etc). And then students can just check their own device when they want to weigh in on something happening in the chat.
I definitely look forward to trying it out and I hope that some of y’all will be keeping the backchannel flag flying as well! 🙂
Best wishes for a safe, healthy, and productive semester!