Friday, November 22, 2013

Backchannel Bonus

I've been experimenting with backchanneling in my classes this year.  I use Schoology for my LMS, so its Discussion feature has been perfect for this.  Up until today, I'd tried backchanneling twice in class.  Once, I asked my Biology students to answer some questions about a few video clips they watched about human impacts on the carbon and nitrogen cycles.  This worked okay, but did't produce a lot of student interaction, which was what I was looking for.

The second time, I had students ask questions through the backchannel while they were watching presentations given by their peers.  When each presentation was finished, I randomly chose a handful of the questions for the presenters to answer.  This was a little closer to what I envisioned: every student had a voice, and some of the voices were heard.  Still not enough student interaction, though.

Today, I showed a great movie, "What Darwin Never Knew," to my College Biology students.  I set up a backchannel discussion on Schoology again.  Here's how I described it for the students.

While watching the movie, record your questions, "I wonder-s," and "That's Cool-s!" here. Respond to your classmates as they post their thoughts as well.

Comments should be on-topic and school-appropriate.
Each student should record at least 2 comments of their own.
Each student should reply to at least 2 of their classmates' comments.

Then I let the movie roll and watched the magic unfold.  Students were engaged.  Students were "talking" to each other.  Students were excited.  And guess what...BONUS! turns out that backchanneling in this way is a great formative assessment!  Here's how:

As you maybe guessed by the movie choice, the students are at the end of an evolution unit.  The questions and ideas they posted in the backchannel gave me insight into pockets of confusion that exist in the class right now.  Check out some of these questions and responses (student typos/word usage/grammar and spelling errors are unchanged!):

Comment A
Student 1: Did they just say we evolved from fish? So when people say your a fish when your swimming it's actually true in a way....

Student 2: That is an interesting thought, but no i don't think that would be the "truth" about people swimming very well.

Student 1: If you think about it theoretically it could be, why do u think some people are better swimmers then others maybe they evolved from better fish...

My thoughts:  Definitely reveals some misconceptions about common ancestors.

Comment B
Student:  If we developed from other animals why cant they mix these animals again and make humans?

My thoughts:  We need to revisit phylogenetic trees.  Students are forgetting ancestral forms are no longer living.  Humans didn't evolve from present-day organisms.

Comment C
Student 1: So does this mean we are related to everything in the world besides plants or any other vegetation? Or are we related to plants too?

Student 2: That's a really good question. Because do common ancestors apply to just animals or plants as well?

Student 3: It wouldn't surprise me if we were related to plants because it seems like we are related to everything living organism.

Student 4: I don't think so because even though plants are living things they aren't actually like us or animals.. like they don't have thoughts or feelings like animals and humans do

Student 5: put most animals don't have thoughts either they just have natural instinct.

My thoughts:  Students still struggle with the fact that humans are animals, which makes it difficult for them to understand our connection to other organisms.

I find all of these student thoughts just fascinating!  I could go on with further examples, but let's get to the point:  This method of backchanneling was a great formative assessment.  I got a peak into the minds of my students that I wouldn't otherwise have seen.  Now I have a list of topics we need to revisit in class.  And it doesn't hurt that my students really enjoyed it.  When the end of class rolled around and we had to pause for the day, one student spontaneously said, "Aw, do we have to?  This is so much fun!" 

Enough said.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this post. Before this post, I was skeptical because I worried about multitasking for my Ss but now I see how it could be used. Very cool.