In our use of Zoom over the past year, many of us got used to the “backchannel” conversations that happen in the chat tool. Those chats could be students asking questions, someone providing a useful resource, or just fun asides. Even when you are teaching in-person, backchannel chats can be useful ways to let students pose questions or participate in ways that don’t require them to interrupt the flow of the larger class. And chat tools are particularly helpful for second-language speakers who may not be able to quickly jump into conversations verbally.
Here are a few simple tools for backchannel chats in live classes.
This is a simple, lightweight chat tool that can either offer nested conversations or just a stream of comments. You would have to create a room and invite all students to the room’s chat (just once), so you would have to grab their @iu.edu usernames from your SIS roster or Canvas. A potential bonus is that students could use the app on their phones/tablets, making it usable to more students than have laptops in class; I’ve tested it on my iPad and it is a pretty simple interface. And you can enable/disable the history, so it could be visible to students who enter late or want to go back to see the chat from the last class meeting. More help on Google Chat.
This tool is embedded in Canvas, so it is one less thing you have to go outside to get. I’ve not played with this one yet, so I cannot provide first-hand recommendations, but the demos I’ve seen make it seem pretty simple. The plus here is that you don’t have to enter students into the chat, just enable it in your class navigation menu. The downside is that I am not sure if it works with the Canvas mobile app, so that might limit access to those with laptops in class. (If you know about chat in the app, please leave a comment!) More help on Canvas Chat.
There are some other tools, but apps like GroupMe or Slack require students to set up outside accounts, and we generally discourage such use of non-IU-supported tools. And while Microsoft Teams has a chat feature, I find it clunky and too mixed in with other Teams tools—not a smooth/simple chat tool. If you are in a school like Kelley, where Teams is frequently used, it might make more sense to use it, but introducing Teams to your students just for the chat seems like overkill to me.
FYI, a colleague of mine from Vanderbilt talks a lot about using a “backchannel” chats in live classes like this. His ideas are worth considering if you want to use backchannels.
Also, if you are using backchannels because some students are remote and watching a live Zoom feed, see our Quick Guide on Engaging Remote Students in Classroom Learning.