Best Backchannel Chat Sites for Education

backchannel chat sites for education
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More chatting in the classroom? No thank you, many teachers would say. However, a backchannel chat is different. This type of chat allows students to post questions, feedback, and comments that help educators assess how well students understand the material. 

Several platforms allow anonymous posting, which means kids can ask those “stupid” questions they’re too embarrassed to ask otherwise. Features such as polls, multimedia capability, moderator controls, and others make the backchannel chat a versatile classroom tool. 

The following backchannel chat sites offer a variety of creative ways to add depth and student engagement to your instruction. All are free or provide a free account option. 

Best Backchannel Chat Sites for Education 

Bagel Institute
Many students have questions, but are too shy or embarrassed to ask any openly. Bagel Institute boasts a clean, simple web interface that allows easy, free setup of classes for teachers and anonymous questions for students. Designed by a Tufts math professor and his son, Bagel institute is aimed at higher ed but could also work well with high school students.

Yo Teach
Promoted as an alternative to the popular and defunct Todaysmeet, Yo Teach is a dedicated free platform for backchannel chats. Create an account, then easily create public or password-protected rooms. A strong set of features includes virtual hand-raising, a collaborative whiteboard, polling, room bookmarks, “like” function, and response statistics. If you try only one backchannel chat platform, make it this one. 

Answer Garden
Answer Garden is an easy-to-use free feedback tool that teachers can employ without having to create an account. Four simple modes—Brainstorm, Classroom, Moderator and Locked—offer the ability to control responses, which are in the form of a word cloud. Really fun and informative. 

Set up a free private chat room in seconds with Chatzy, then invite others to join by adding email addresses, either singly or all at once. Quick, easy, and secure, Chatzy also offers free virtual rooms which provide more options, such as password-controlled entry and posting controls. No account is required, but with an account, users can save settings and rooms.

More than just a chat room, Twiddla is an online collaborative whiteboard platform with extensive multimedia capabilities. Draw, erase, add text, images, documents, links, audio, and shapes easily. Great for complete lessons as well as classroom feedback. The limited free account allows 10 participants and 20 minutes. Recommended for teachers: Pro account, unlimited time and students for $14 monthly. Bonus: Try it first in sandbox mode instantly, no account required. 

From MIT Media Lab, Unhangout is an open source platform for running “participant-driven” events. Designed for peer-to-peer learning, Unhangout features video capability, breakout sessions, and more. The initial setup requires moderate computer expertise, so it would be ideal for tech-savvy educators. Fortunately, the easy-to-navigate site offers clear step-by-step user guides.

How many students in your class are confused but never raise their hands? That’s what motivated the founder of GoSoapBox to invent a student response system that keeps kids engaged as well as providing real-time insights to educators. Features include polls, quizzes, discussions, and student-generated questions. “Social Q&A” is an innovative element that allows students to ask questions, then vote on which question is most important. Perhaps my favorite feature is the “confusion barometer,” a simple toggle button with two choices: “I am getting it” and “I am confused.” GoSoapBox’s clean and well-organized website makes it easy to learn more about this ingenious tool. Best of all, it’s free for K-12 and university educators to use with small classes (fewer than 30 students).

Google Classroom
If you’re a Google Classroom teacher, you can use the stream feature to chat with students, share files, links, and assignments. Create your class, copy the invitation link, and send it to students. You can respond in real time to student questions and comments.

Google Chat
Not using Google Classroom? No problem -- there's no need to set up Google Classroom to use Google Chat. Easily found through your Gmail “hamburger,” Google Chat is a simple and free method to answer students’ questions, assign tasks, and upload documents and images up to 200 MB. 

Great for flipped classrooms or any class that uses videos for learning, Flip (formerly Flipgrid) is a free platform that allows educators to quickly create a video-based online discussion. Signup is easy using your Microsoft, Google or Apple account.  

Diana Restifo

Diana has been Tech & Learning's web editor and contributor since 2010, dedicated to ferreting out the best free tech tools for teachers.