Heather Wolpert-Gawron

The Power of the Backchannel Discussion: Todaysmeet.com

By on June 21, 2011

Sometime ago, I began experimenting with Twitter in the classroom as a means to create a B-storyline of Think Alouds, questions, and Advice from students in different classrooms. The point was to create an academic-level note-passing environment that could function simultaneously to my own teaching.

It was a great ideal, but an imperfect tool to use for those purposes. I’ve since discovered Todaysmeet.com, a similar social networking tool whose limitations are actually its strengths.

How It Works
Go to www.Todaysmeet.com. Name a room, and give it a set time for how long it is to remain open. That’s the glory of Todaysmeet. It’s only as transparent as you want it to be for as long as you want it to be. You can close up shop for the night and the conversation goes away. Once you create your room, you can give the URL to anyone you want and you can have a real-time backchannel conversation.

Ways To Possibly Use It

  • Students can ask questions as you teach
  • Students can answer each other’s questions when they arise
  • Classrooms can collaborate by giving each other advice on different topics: test prep advice, grammar tips, etc…
  • Students can summarize larger pieces of text in 140 characters or less
  • Classrooms can share rules for specific subjects
  • Students can ask questions/answer questions from students in other rooms, schools, states, etc…
  • Students can use it as a publicly written Think Aloud
  • Teachers can invite community members and parents to view a window into your classroom during a specific time
  • Teachers can open up a room for after hours tutoring
  • And so much more…

You can also use Twitter to promote your open Todaysmeet room. Just tweet out your room name and times it will be open, and see what other classes take the bait. Close the room when your conversation is over.

Now, as cool a tool as Todaysmeet is, you still can’t assume kids will use it responsibly without some instruction and scaffolding. Don’t forget to go over some norms. I’ve developed norms to use with Skype and other video conferencing formats, but norms for backchannel discussions is an entirely different beast. After all, the purpose is so that it’s going on WHILE you are working with students, and this requires a different kind of expectation and direction.

Backchannel Norms

1. Always have the backchannel open in a public place (LCD projector, public monitor, etc…)

2. Have students use their initials to identify who said what. For instance: HW-When preparing for a test, make sure the lesson is the last thing you read before bed. (89 characters)

3. Make sure to set expectations for topics of what students can backchannel about. Some basic ways to participate are as follows:

Questioning something that was said/read

Relating to something that was said/read

Comparing a topic with a metaphor or simile

Predicting where something is heading

Visualizing a topic

Evaluating/Giving your academic opinion on a topicAnswering a question that was posed

4. Have them first practice backchannel chatting in 140 characters or less on a piece of paper (in other words, offline). For instance, you can give them a subject-specific paragraph and have them squeeze a summary down to 140 characters on a piece of paper. You can ask them a content-related question to answer in 140 characters or less as an exit card. You can have students develop 140 character questions to ask each other.

Can you think of any others that belong on this list of norms? Please comment below and share your ideas!

Good luck with your backchannel discussions. May they be as rich as those in the forefront of the conversation.

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  1. Deborah E Brown
    June 23, 2011

    I appreciate your research, work and notes on best practices for using this form of social media. I plan to save this in my favorites and use it in the fall with my students!

  2. Blair Peterson
    June 24, 2011

    Heather, in my experience with back channeling I did not spend the time working with students in advance and this is what I learned. creativetension.wordpress.com/#!/entry/544. Next time will be different. Thanks for sharing the norms.

    • Heather Wolpert-Gawron
      June 24, 2011

      Just read your post. Great lessons, and mistakes easily made. I think you really hit it on the head when you said that these tools are so new that they can be almost too exciting at times and that sometimes brings out immaturity. But I think you were really reflective and learned a lot from the experience. Smaller groups to start, I think, is key.

      Thanks for sharing, and I encourage all my readers to check out your post to learn from you too!


      • Lisa
        July 28, 2011

        Is there something similar to todaysmeet that requires login (or at least records which ip address)? I could see my students posting something inappropriate if I can’t identify them.

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