Backchannel Programs --Has anyone actually used them in class? What do you think?

Hi Everyone,


I just came across this article today, and it got me thinking about the entire concept of Backchanneling.  Has anyone actually used Soapbox or some other backchannel programs in their classrooms?  If so, did you find it to be beneficial or was it too distracting for the students?  Also, were you able to keep up with the comments that were coming in?

As someone who was always the quiet kid in the class, I can see some benefit of having a program like this.  It lets students comment, voice their opinions, state their confusions, etc. without disrupting the entre class.  However, part of me feels that using this would be a disservice to the students.  Shouldn't we be encouraging them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings?  Isn't school the place where they should be taught to participate and interact with each other?  


I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this matter.  Thanks!

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Hi, I was involved in a European funded project called LEAD that developed and researched "computer-mediated communication during face-to-face discussions within the existing school setting" .

Basically students could use a software platform to have discussions. One of the most interesting results of the whole three year project was that students that were less dominant in the class, had a much stronger role in the discussion when they used the software. Of course they need to learn to discuss out loud and verbalize but in our current world, they need to be able to interact through online media as well. And people simply have different strengths in communication (writing versus speach, slow versus fast etc) so it actually will give some students new opportunities.

I went on to develop MaxClass - (see which is a private social network and we're seeing that children really do need to learn how to use social media so it's a good thing to do so in the classroom or in closed social networks. And the nice thing about forums of any sort: they are so much faster than turntaking in the classroom - which can be very slow and boring for some students.

Those results certainly make sense, Michiel.  Using software like yours or the ones that facilitate backchanneling, gives everyone in the classroom a voice.  In that regard, it's not that different from what the Internet did over twenty years ago.  Everyone is given a means of expressing their thoughts and feelings.  


I, myself, have been doing some additional research on the matter, and the more I look at the premise the more I like it.  As you said, children in this day and age have to learn how to interact through online media as well as in face-to-face interactions.  


Like I said, though, my only concern would be the distraction element.  There are plenty of students out there who can only do one thing at a time.  I'm afraid that if I introduce something like this and ask them to use it during a lecture, they're going to be too focused on typing and not on the material that I'm teaching.


Have you, or anyone else, experienced this problem? 

To your point that a teacher runs the risk of his/her students being distracted by bringing this type of technology into the classroom with intent to facilitate backchanneling and increased student participation, I agree that it is a plausible concern.  However, as an employee of GoSoapBox, I have spoken with several teachers who have implemented our technology into their classroom and have found that this concern is dissipated once students familiarize themselves with the product.  In fact, by providing a virtual platform that allows a student’s voice to be heard, teachers have found that GoSoapBox has increased students confidence, seeing that they are not alone in their thoughts and opinions.  With this new found confidence, teachers have found these same students more likely to participate in the traditional classroom setting, when not using the technology.

I work with an English teacher who observed that by using Wordpress, she drew out a lot of introverts.  But, the whole concept of "backchannel discussions" is new to me--at least in so far as it uses technology--I seem to recall passing notes in class.  Anyway, seeing as this is new to me, I'll be interested in what other people have to say about it.
Backchannel discussion is a new concept for me.  Is is just like a word document that the students post on or is it more like a social networking running post?  Does it let the teacher see what the students are working on on their computers?  Or is it used only for comments on lecture type classes?

As I understand it, Backchannel discussions are a type of microblogging platform that enables students to comment and ask questions in real time while a discussion is occurring.  Think of it as the modern version of passing notes in the class.  Only now, the teacher can see what is being said in these notes, and can respond accordingly.  

NYT wrote a nice are article on the matter if you're interested.   

Irene, Michael has it right.  Since my reply on Oct. 6th I've applied for, been accepted, and set up an account at  To "take a tour" and get a much better idea of how it works than I can get across here, go to


There are a couple of other backchannel options.  One is Twitter, with a hashtag for the class you are teaching.  Another is Google Moderator, which helps the teacher/instructor see the most important questions as they rise to the top.

Both sound like they would require an adjustment to our filter/system administrator--but they sound like they are worth looking into --thanks.



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