A backchannel is a place where students can record comments, ask questions, even have on-task conversations while the class is engaged in an activity. In physically-distanced learning spaces, a backchannel can support instruction in several ways, two of which stand out:
- Students can voice a problem, learning barrier, or question at a distance. Typically, a student might raise his/her hand while working on a problem and the instructor or teaching assistant might come over and work individually and privately with the student on the problem or question. Given the current enforced distance requirement of six feet between students, it is difficult for instructors to engage in private conversations without exposing a student's learning barrier to the rest of the class.
- Students can ask questions and signal gaps in understanding without bringing them to the attention of the entire class. An anonymous backchannel can provide a safe way for a student to signal a question or gap in knowledge without exposing his/her identity to the class.
Setting Up Piazza
The following is the process of adding Piazza to your Canvas course and configuring it to function as a backchannel in your physically-distanced classroom:
- Add Piazza to your Canvas course. (See Adding Piazza to Course KB doc).
- Enter by selecting the Piazza link in the Canvas course navigation.
- Enter the estimated enrollment for your course and select Create Course. You will be taking to a new screen to create your Piazza account if you have never done so before. Follow the steps and click Continue to complete the process.
- Once you are in Piazza, select Setup from the menu bar.
- Under Step 3: Configure your class Q&A settings, select Disable under Posting Anonymous. This will ensure that student comments and questions will remain anonymous to other students, but you will be able to see who asked a question if you need to follow up with them after class.
- Under Step 4: Configure Class Folders, create a new folder called Classroom Backchannel under the Create new folders box. and select Add folder(s).
Setting Up Students in Piazza
Before class, it is recommended that students get their Piazza accounts prepared for classroom activities
- Have students log into your Canvas course and select Piazza from Canvas course navigation.
- Students will be prompted to set and confirm a new password. This password will be used if students are going to be using the Piazza app on their Android or iOS devices. After completing the setup process, select Continue.
Using Piazza Backchannel in the Classroom
- At the beginning of class, remind students that if they have questions they can use Piazza to post it to the Classroom Backchannel folder using their laptop or Android/iOS devices.
- The first time you use it, take some time for students to log in and ask a practice question to get them familiar with the process. Remind students that while their comments are anonymous to other students, it is not anonymous to you and that you will intervene if anyone uses the tool in ways that violate classroom discussion norms.
- While you are teaching, assign a teaching assistant or another student to be the backchannel monitor. When questions come in, ask the monitor to alert you to the question.
Asking a Question (Students)
- Have students select the Classroom Backchannel folder.
- Select New Post.
- Select Question in Post Type.
- Select Entire Class in Post To. (Note: Make sure students know that if they select Instructor, it will not be seen by the monitor and their question will not be addressed in class.
- Provide a summary of your question in the Summary box.
- In the Details box, enter your complete question. Provide enough information that the monitor will be able to represent your question to the class.
- In the Show my name box, select Anonymous to Classmates.
- When ready, select Post My Question box.