I love the Internet. With all its rubbish and junk you can still find the most amazing things. These days you can even find the most amazing tools. What most pundits would agree is the feature of Web 2.0 that distinguishes it from what came before, is the prevalence of online applications. Dynamic sites that harness the power of back end databases and java, ajax and flash, silverlight etc.
The reason I love these online apps, over software like say Photoshop or MS Office, is that they are built to be user friendly and simple from the outset. When a developer puts up an online app or tool, it must be simple and intuitive or people will move on and find another web site to tickle their fancy.
The online app that has me excited today is a #backchannel tool called http://drop.io/
Drop.io is a simple site that allows you to create an online, temporary, chatroom. A simple idea and there are many other tools out there that do that. I just happened on Drop.io and liked the interface. The power of this simple tool for education is in the use of #backchannel discussions in the classroom. In a nutshell, you run a chatroom during your lecture or lesson where students can post ideas and questions, share files and links and you can guage and monitor understanding through their written feedback.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of watching a Microsoft video titled “Schools of the Future”. In the video we are shown what MS must see as a typical higher education classroom, a lecture hall with the prof at the front standing at the old-school overhead projector writing notes and all the students in the room rather sleepily taking notes in notebooks. The school of the future was transformed with technology however!! (some sarcasm there; bear with me) With technology, students all had laptops and so were able to rather sleepily take notes in MS word. The professor no longer had to stand at the overhead. He was free to pace back and forth at the front of the room, making notes on his tablet PC which showed those same boring notes on the big screen at the front. Wow. Transformative. (more sarcasm)
I mention this video because, besides showing how technology can replace old tools (and still not change the teaching and learning), they also added a feature that I thought was truly transformative. They were also running an MSN chat for the class to post questions, add ideas, guide the discussion and give feedback to the prof. The classroom TA manned the chat room at the front, taking the feedback and questions and filtering those to present the prof with common misconceptions, frequestly asked questions and such. Allowing the students to ask questions in this way, posting their queries and thoughts as they happen, instead of waiting for the end of the lecture, is a little thing, but a great use of technology. I just this week found several articles about this kind of #backchanneling in the classroom that brought this idea back to the fore for me. At the time of watching the video I was struck that, using MSN limited the ease of use of this tool. You would have to ensure everyone had a PC, that they all had MSN accounts, etc. Not simple.
But, just this week I read about successful backchannel uses in the classroom and online tools for quickly and easily creating a chatroom for your class or lesson, on the fly. All that students would need is a browser and the Internet.
I love that the Internet is becoming more and more useful with these great learning tools and also that the tech needs in school are being reduced to a nice and simple need: Internet access.
If you want to see what I was reading and where these ideas sprung from this week, get over to http://search.twitter.com and search on backchannel.