A backchannel is essentially a private or public chat room that you and your students can have conversations in while another activity is going on. For example, you can backchannel while watching a documentary film, while listening to a guest speaker, or as a place to record ideas and data during a class project. A backchannel gives students the opportunity to record their thoughts and ask their questions without having to wait to be called upon. A backchannel also gives teachers the opportunity to hear from more students more often. Read about how I use backchannels during classroom viewings of films by clicking here.
Here are some backchannel platforms appropriate for schools:
TodaysMeet is completely free to use. Setting up a chat area in TodaysMeet is very simple. To set up your chat area just select a name for your room (that name becomes the url for your chat area), how long you want your room to exist, and select an optional Twitter hashtag for your chat area. To invite people to your chat area send them the url. What makes TodaysMeet different from services like Tiny Chat is thatTodaysMeet doesn't have a public gallery of chat rooms containing questionable content. TodaysMeet also doesn't place inappropriate advertising on your chat area.
Watch this video to learn how to set-up TodaysMeet in under five minutes.
Chatzy provides a free platform for hosting your private chat area. To use it, simply name your chat area, select your privacy settings (you can password protect it), then send out invitations. Instead of sending out invitations you could just post the link to your chat area. Chatzy is a nice alternative to Tiny Chat because you can restrict access to it.
Edmodo is a microblogging service designed specifically for educational use. Using Edmodo teachers can create a microblogging network for their classes. The latest version of Edmodo updates in real-time so that members of group can quickly respond to each other. Edmodo also provides teachers with a place to post assignment reminders, build an event calendar, and post messages to the group
Present.ly provides a platform for creating your own private micro-blogging community. The free version of Present.ly lets you create a community based on your email domain. For example, if I had other people using freetech4teachers.com as their email domain, I could establish a Present.ly community just for people with that email domain. (Since I'm the only one with an at freetech4teachers email address, it would be a boring a community).
Chatterous is a free platform for creating your own private or public chat rooms. Many other services also allow you to create your chat rooms. What makes Chatterous different is that you can join Chatterous rooms via cell phone, IM (Google Talk), or email. Should you decide to make your chat room public, Chatterous rooms can be embedded into your blog or website.
Mister Thread is a free service for creating your own backchannel forum. Creating your forum (or thread) can be as simple as naming it and clicking "create the thread." Once you click create Mister Thread assigns your thread a url. Give that url to the people that you want to participate in the conversation. If you want to password protect your thread then choose a password that all visitors to your thread must enter. You can also enter your email address to give yourself the option to destroy your thread.
Google Groups (groups.google.com) allows anyone to quickly create private or public discussion groups. Groups can be as large or as small as you make them.
Step 1 - If you don’t have a Google Account, create one. Otherwise click “create a group.”
Step 2 - Name your group. A unique url will be assigned to your group.
Step 3 - Select an access level for your group. Restricted is probably best for K-12 use.
Step 4 - Invite people to join your group.
Step 4 (alternate) - Add members directly to your group without sending invitations. You must have a list of email addresses in order to make this work.
Step 5 - Start discussions and or invite more people.