Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Information Harvesting

The Backchannel and Information Resourcing 
In the traditional classroom setting, backchannels are simply a way to provide feedback while someone else is talking. In the early stages of instructional practices teachers used the backchannel method to check student listening skills. The teacher would call on a student to ensure that they were listening to the lecture. These backchannel methods have advanced over time and have evolved from keeping students' attention to that of checking student understanding. Marzano and Pickering found that creating backchannels within instructional practices are an important form of checking student understanding. Checking for understanding is made up of at least three instructional practices that formulate high engaging strategies that support the formative assessment process. These three instructional practices include: using questioning to check for understanding, providing meaningful feedback, and reinforcing effort through modeling and reframing of conceptual awareness.

Since I used the term backchannel in a different form it becomes a fluid term as we make associations to educational practices and digital literacy. Now all we have to do is identify some backchannel tools and apply them to our understanding of the three formative assessment strategies of providing feedback, reinforcing effort  and reframing conceptual awareness. Twitter, for example, can be used as a backchannel tool .

Creating A Backchannel
Through a social media software protocol like Twitter, students can share their thoughts and ideas about the information being presented with others. The key to any backchannel dialog is  it must include not only the information that is being exchanged, but also the management of the communication. Some teachers perceive management of classroom information as a priority and because of this reasoning, rule out the use of social media in their classrooms. These teachers believe that information sharing using Twitter is to loosely fit for the classroom. The over cautious teacher should be commended for classroom values but at the same time, given examples of how to setup classroom social media norms.  These types of teacher apprehensions are normal in protected learning environments where there is a concern that a student might express thoughts with nuances of attitude and bad intentions.

To offset this fear the instructor needs to set up patterns of classroom expectations "digital citizenship norms," that are appropriate in sharing ideas during a mini lesson or information sharing session.  The goal of any effective classroom experience is getting students involved in discussion while protecting the integrity of all ideas being shared. These are some of the skills that need to be taught and are a part of digital literacy. These are also the same norms we set up for our classrooms in expectations for appropriate social interaction. Any teacher who is a master at classroom management will also provide the same guidance in the promotion of digital literacy.

One method found to be successful in setting up a twitter backchannel is to create a hash tag discussion forum for a classroom event.  To provide information management and to get students more involved, is to plan ways that allows for mini sessions opportunities to take during Twitter breaks. Another method to use on a Twitter backchannel would be to push out preliminary content prior to the start of a classroom session. Pre- content assignments are real time notifications that provide students reminders of what content is required for any given session which can also be used for post session assessments.

Asynchronous Backchannels
A second type of backchannel used for information sharing is a one way response application, established by the classroom teacher that is a synchronous form of communication. Asynchronous means that information sharing is not synchronized at predetermined or regular intervals. These are the backchannels that closely resembling actual, real-time conversations. There are several different types of a synchronous backchannel software protocols available that require teacher management and setup. The two most suggested and easy to use are TodaysMeet and Google Moderator.  The initial setup for an  asynchronous backchannel requires the teacher to establish a specific website address that points to the discussion board.  The purpose for establishing the web address is to reference participants to a virtual meeting place. Within seconds of writing a comment online, everyone else logged-into the system can view and immediately respond to these initial remarks.

The best suggested method for introducing a backchannel to your classroom would be to develop a virtual jigsaw. This will allow the students to participate in a virtual conversation while being facilitated by the classroom teacher.  Backchannels that are asynchronous can be used for various classroom formal or informal discussions about current events, collaborative projects, readings, portfolios, and many other content specific activities generated by the teacher.  The purpose behind the asynchronous backchannel is to provide immediate feedback or responses to learner. The teacher can also generate questions on the backchannel to support students in the construction of a project. Students can use the backchannel to describe their work to others; while other participants provide feedback or advice.  Participation on the backchannel can help in the formation of a community among groups of learners who otherwise would be unable to communicate formally or informally.

Harvesting Ideas on the Backchannel 
To create deeper meaning or an understanding of an idea, presentation or concept in a traditional method would be for a student to take notes on a directed reading. Note-taking skills are important in any academic environment. It helps the student reflect their thoughts on what they have heard or read during a learning experiences. It is both a form of documentation and keeping records on portions and segments of an assignment. The best method for sharing ideas on a backchannel is to keep the channel open until the assignment has been completed. This method of open sharing ideas provides students to create summaries of shared ideas available for review. In a non traditional method we could use a backchannel to support the sharing of multiple resources artifacts of information within a network of contributors. This type of learning provides a different approach to the learning process as the teacher provides social networking tools to harvest information summaries.

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