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Blended Bites Blog

Backchanneling and Genius Hour

Jessica Anderson

Last Sunday I found myself watching Cutthroat Kitchen on the Food Network. While watching I was engaging in the program with other viewers by following the hashtag #cutthroatkitchen on twitter. I had never done this before and didn't even know what this type of activity was labeled as. But after completing the #SCItlap twitter chat on Tuesday, where backchanneling was mentioned, I knew that was exactly what I had been doing.

One of the most influential people that I follow, @MadDawgMisty, mentioned that she was using backchanneling in her science class during genius hour. Immediately I thought I have to try this. So on Friday my teaching candidate and myself made our first attempt at incorporating backchanneling into genius hour. Below are the pros, the cons, and the questions I still have about using backchanneling in class.

Let's start with the pros (I always make myself think about the positive first):

  • The activity was new and the students were excited about trying it.
  • Using Todaysmeet was easy to set-up and easy to get students in. It didn't require usernames or passwords for students to remember. The url was easy for students to type (although I could have used bit.ly if it wasn't). 
  • The discussion was visible to all involved on their laptops and projected on the SmartBoard.
  • The instructions were clearly modeled (with some help from @theprofspage) including the showing of appropriate responses and how to properly respond to other students (using @ and the individual's name before a response).
  • Most students were engaged and excited to share their projects and ask other students questions.
  • One class had students engaging in scientific arguments using evidence and hashtags. For instance, two particular students were debating about sasquatches and whether or not they exist. Below is an excerpt from their conversation:

    • @[student name] how do they know how a Sasquatch rips up a deer? #noevidence #fake #nobelieve
    • @[stdent name] due to the way the bone was riped it was unlike the process of a bear. #BELIEVE #getting[student name]to #believe

  • I had some students say "that was fun" as they left the classroom.
  • Students who don't normally talk were having conversations with others.
On to the cons:
  • Todaysmeet was too easy to change their identity. I had some immature students make their usernames something else and I had no way to identify who they were without stopping the entire class and going individually from computer to computer and making them post (waste of time). 
  • Even after modeling inappropriate and appropriate posts, I still had students say things like "that's dumb" on the feed. I didn't give them points for those posts and called them out immediately, but we still need to work on this.
  • It was hard to keep track of the feed and grade them at the same time. This would not have been possible without my teaching candidate circulating and me monitoring the feed. 
  • Students didn't get a lot of research time in as they spent most of their time corresponding with others (although this meets a whole new set of standards).
Now to the questions:
  1. Is there another backchanneling site that allows students to log in using a name and allows me to grade comments as they are displayed?
  2. How can I use this method to encourage more scientific arguments based on evidence?
  3. How do I help my more immature students/classes engage in appropriate real-time discussions?
  4. In what other activities would backchanneling be beneficial for students?
Now to end with a positive:

Most everything is worth trying once and, if good, more than once. It is only when we dive into something new that we discover more pros and cons than we anticipated. Trying something new also forces us to reflect on best practice, management of online/classroom environments, and how we can make activities better for our students. All in all, I think the activity went well. There are definitely kinks to work through, but I think it's worth another shot.