Using a “Back channel” to engage students

31 01 2012

So today, inspired by a Tweet and blog post from @dratarrant, I decided to try out something I’ve read about a couple of times now – a back channel. I teach a lot of communication skills, and often use video clips in my sessions. This is tricky. I like to give the students feedback grids to focus them on what to look out for. But I think this is possibly restrictive to their learning. Although we teach Calgary-Cambridge structure, I am a firm believer that there is more than one way to skin this chicken, and a feedback grid can restrict them to looking for techniques, rather than appreciating a scenario for what it is, and giving instant reflections on what is unfolding before them.

I thought the back channel might be a “freestyle” alternative. I’m lucky as all my students have laptops so its not a hassle to set up. We don’t have very good mobile signals on our campus so I can’t use the text wall service! I was teaching breaking bad news so used this clip, which is a medical one but I thought it would demonstrate the same principles to my vets as indeed it did.

Poor consultation – breaking bad news (GP)

I set up a back channel using before the session, and gave the students the simple URL. I asked them to type comments as they watched the clip. A four minute clip generated a couple of pages of useful/helpful comments (followed by a few random things which @dratarrant had warned about – but nothing lewd so fine by me. I would have done the same. Too tempting!)

So interesting.

  • Did it help engagement? I’m not sure – students are generally quite engaged by video anyway. But the comments were interesting. I wasn’t sure what to do at the end, so I circulated the link on the VLE in case any of them wanted to review them and the clip.
  • Was I worried by the off topic? – no, and if I was doing it again I would ask them not to do this
  • Will I use it again? Yes definitely
  • Any enhancements? Well ideally I’d do this with a Twitter hash tag, but the demographics are all wrong…I like this option as an alternative.

I’d be really interested to hear of others who have used a back channel in other situations