Backchannel collaborations

Monday 7 August 2017

We all know it is a good idea for students to come to our lessons prepared to participate and share their ideas. The best learning occurs when students are answering each other's questions, asking questions, finding answers, solving problems or generally 'tidying up' their ideas and making their own sense of new concepts. Lessons where everyone is passively receiving information for anything longer than a short interlude are probably the sort of lessons where students only remember 10% of what they hear.  Backchannel collaboration could improve student participation, promote more active lessons and they could provide meaningful homework tasks which contribute to student success in lessons.

What's involved?

  • An online collaboration space
  • A carefully planned homework task to complete
  • Use of the collaboration in a subsequent lesson
  • Feedback to students on their participation

What makes meaningful homework?

Recent suggestions about homework by Hattie (2009) are that, "homework should be used to introduce ideas or set the context for new learning" and that "students should be able to complete homework assignments independently with relatively high success rates.” Hattie also claims that, "for homework to improve learning, it should be followed up by teacher-mediated exploration of the learner’s understanding".   Backchannel collaboration provides a great opportunity for this type of homework.

An example

Say you want students to learn the main features of animal classification and you have thought about setting this learning activity Classification of Animals from the Inthinking Biology site as a homework activity.  This is not a bad idea, the worksheets in activty two and three could be handed in and marked by the teacher and students would have read about the animal phyla, and may have watched some of the videos too.  However there is quite a lot to remember and my guess is that students will most often take short cuts, and just search for the answers to the questions, rather than spending time learning about the features of the phyla.

Instead, why not set a different homework task that will provide students with a resources to use to solve a problem in the next lesson?

  • Ask students to collaborate and complete  Identification of animal phyla worksheet. using an online collaboration tool of their choice.
  • Put them in groups of four.
  • Say that everyone in each group must participate and that
  • Students will be assessed on their contribution and whether or not all members of the group participate. (remind students that they can help each other - it's collaboration)

Then during the following lesson students will use the presentation or infographic to solve a problem.  This could be answering the IB style questions on the page, or use this video of  Marine invertebrates in close up (also on the Classification of Animals page) as a task.  Each group to solve in which classification group each animal is found.  As a teacher you can assess the participation of each student in the collaborative project, and give feedback.  Students could be asked to complete a review of their collaborative resource, and even add improvements to it.

Collaboration tools

Groups of students could work online on shared documents to make notes in Google Docs, or a presentation in Google slides or a wall in Padlet.  A Padlet wall allows students to share their ideas as text, images, videos, and links posted to a digital bulletin board. The format is a bit more creative.  Although, for all out creativity, try sharing a presentation in Prezi or making an infographic using Canva.  Canva also have some neat presentation templates.

All of these tools allow all students a simultaineous opportunity to articulate their ideas about the Biology and it keeps a record of these. More hesitant students can see the opinions of others in the class before contributing and they are then also more likely to participate in class discussion.

Homework - academic references

Cooper (2001) suggests that homework should be used to introduce ideas or set the context for new learning, but it needs to be followed up with teacher-mediated exploration of the learner’s understanding. Marzano, Pickering and Pollock (2001) find that if homework is completed by students, then it should be explored in some way in class and feedback provided. Marzano and Pickering (2007) make it clear that homework should be ‘do-able’. They state that, “...students should be able to complete homework assignments independently with relatively high success rates.”


To post comments you need to log in. If it is your first time you will need to subscribe.