Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Five Platforms for a Classroom Back-channel Chat

Over the last month since I shared my positive experiences (here and here) of using a back-channel chat in my classroom, I've received quite a few questions about services that can be used for hosting back-channel discussions. The following are five free platforms that can be used hosting a back-channel chat.

You'll notice that a couple of times I refer to a service called Tiny Chat. While you could use Tiny Chat, I don't endorse it for classroom use because the Tiny Chat homepage at times displays content that would be inappropriate for a classroom.

Chatzy is a neat little website that I learned about from Wes Fryer. Chatzy provides a free platform for hosting your private chat area. To use it, simply name your chat area, select your privacy settings (you can password protect it), then send out invitations. Instead of sending out invitations you could just post the link to your chat area. Chatzy is a nice alternative to Tiny Chat because you can restrict access to it.

TodaysMeet is completely free to use. Setting up a chat area in TodaysMeet is very simple. To set up your chat area just select a name for your room (that name becomes the url for your chat area), how long you want your room to exist, and select an optional Twitter hashtag for your chat area. To invite people to your chat area send them the url. What makes TodaysMeet different from services like Tiny Chat is that TodaysMeet doesn't have a public gallery of chat rooms containing questionable content. TodaysMeet also doesn't place inappropriate advertising on your chat area.

Edmodo is a microblogging service designed specifically for educational use. Using Edmodo teachers can create a microblogging network for their classes. The latest version of Edmodo updates in real-time so that members of group can quickly respond to each other. Edmodo also provides teachers with a place to post assignment reminders, build an event calendar, and post messages to the group. To learn more about Edmodo watch the video below. provides a platform for creating your own private micro-blogging community. The free version of lets you create a community based on your email domain. For example, if I had other people using as their email domain, I could establish a community just for people with that email domain. (Since I'm the only one with an at freetech4teachers email address, it would be a boring a community). The video below provides an introduction to

Although it could be difficult to get enough invites for all of your students to use it now, in the future Google Wave could be a great platform for back-channel discussions. Google Wave allows users to thread conversations, invite people into a conversation at any point, and see the text that others are typing as they're typing it. Wave also allows you to post links, embed maps, and a myriad of gadgets. Watch the video below for a concise introduction to Google Wave.

Life and Times of Nelson Mandela

Snag Films is currently hosting Life and Times: Nelson Mandela produced by Content Film. The film, originally released in 2004, traces the life of Mandela from childhood through his imprisonment and work following his release from prison.

Click here if you cannot see the video.

Applications for Education
If you have students that have seen the recently released Invictus, they may have questions about Nelson Mandela. This film could provide them with some background information that will improve their understanding of the man they saw portrayed in Invictus.

Secret Language of Elephants

Secret Language of Elephants is an interesting story that aired on 60 Minutes on Sunday evening. The video profiles the efforts of researchers to understand the communications of elephants. The researchers are trying to decode the meaning of the sounds elephants make. The video is embedded below.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Applications for Education
This video may be of interest to anyone that teaches zoology and or lessons about African wildlife. National Geographic has a couple of lesson plans (here and here) that could be supplemented by this video.

The Importance of Proper Mathematics

I found this video on Twitter via @web20classroom, @concretekax, and @k8nowak. It's a great example of why mathematics matters in the "real world." If you're interested in the whole story, visit the Verizon Math blog.

Applications for Education
The next time one of your students says "when are we ever going to use math?" break-out this video.

Student Responses to Witnessing Violence

I try not to post CNN Student News items on consecutive days, but today's episode has a segment that I think could really spark some excellent dialogue with students. In fact, I'm going to use it this morning. The third segment of the show is about student responses to witnessing acts of violence. The segment features students explaining why they think people might not report to authorities violence they witness. Here is one student's response, "I think the reason nobody called it in is the same reason that a whole class sees someone cheating on the test and no one tells: because you don't want to risk being excluded from that group or being included in the bad situation."
The video is embedded below.