Back channels

May I first wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year for 2015! I trust that you have long-since recovered from the post-Christmas blues, New Year shock and post-seasonal consumption/spending-guilt and that you have set some new sights for this year.  If you haven’t yet, might I suggest some investigation into the ever-growing number of online tools available for the ELT  teacher  to utilize!

I think I have mentioned before the screencast sites (Jing, ScreenR), which can be used for capturing video, sound  web searches and other activities (such as marking a piece of homework complete with commentary). I have recently finished delivering a one-to-one teacher ‘refresher’ course and one of the sessions, which explored the benefits of  screen casting as I understood them, ended up snowballing into a brainstorming session during which a number of further applications which I had not considered before came to light.

Aside from all this, I would like to introduce you to a new acquaintance, a site called TodaysMeet.com. I don’t advocate using any of these things simply for the sake of it, but I have talked to a lot of other people about it and have yet to make up my mind. What I would really like is to gauge YOUR opinion on this tool and let me know how useful you think it potentially is.

TodaysMeet is provides what has been described as a ‘back channel’ to whatever is going on on the immediate level (i.e. the lesson). It is essentially a chat room, but a temporary one with both time limit which can be set by whoever activates the virtual room and a limit owords for each comment, necessitating brevity of posts. The idea is that a room can opened at the start of class and students can comment freely on what’s going on without raising their hands each time they want to add something. They might even be encouraged, by the brave teacher, to pass public judgement on how they are finding the class, for example, whether they have understood an explanation fully. Students can join a room under a nickname ensuring anonymity, something that has been touted as especially handy in the case of shy students who may be encouraged to contribute more freely. I’m not sure if providing such opportunities will be so beneficial to these students other long run, but perhaps commentary or discussion between consecutive lessons could be a way of maintaining continuity.

Another use that has occurred to me is for collaborative writing exercises. Students could write a few sentences at a time in a sort of rolling contribution at the end of which several short stories or other compositions could have been created. Other activities, like anonymous, whole group correction may be another possible use. I would be wary though of providing a so-called ‘back channel’ at the expense of developing the confidence of more hesitant students to participate in the ‘fore channel’, as it were.

Tristan Francis
Director of Studies

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