Digital backchannel for the classroom

I love it! A teacher subverting the formal classroom experience and making the informal result a learning experience! He's doing so by turning the classroom "backchannel" into a teaching tool (the backchannel is that age-old back-o'-the-classroom multi-directional chat the digital version of which looks like an instant-messaging window on the screen). Author and college instructor Ira Socol uses Today'sMeet (a software tool created by his son), which bring the backchannel forward – public – for all to see, he says in his blog. He checks it every few minutes to see if he needs to "adjust" the class discussion. "In a big class it gave me real access to far more students than I can possibly get by watching for raised hands. And it let me – and the class – hear from many who never raise their hands. Honestly, I could even judge, much more clearly than usual, what was connecting and what was missing. As an instructor – I loved it." Here's the coolest part (for reflexive critics who might wonder, "Why add another distraction from the lecture to all that those multitasking students have on their plates?"): The backchannel tech "began to overwhelm Facebook and email use in the room [amazing in itself]. The distraction technology became engagement technology [emphasis mine]." Atlanta-area high school teacher Vicki Davis, who I follow in Twitter, blogged about Socol's blog post, with photos. She picked up on 2 big pluses: The first in Socol's words, quoted in her post: "the ways this kind of technology supports the shy user, the user with speech issues, the user having trouble with the English Language, the user who'd rather be able to think through and even edit a statement or question before asking it." The second plus is hers: "It is also important to point out that archived backchannels give students the ability to take group notes and have the information later."

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