Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back-Channel Chat During Test

About a week and a half ago I read Royan's post about Test Taking with the Backchannel. My first reaction was "Is this guy crazy? You can't do that on a test". As I read the post I started to think that it was good for Royan to try this but it's not something I would ever do. By the end of the week I was planning how I could incorporate a back-channel for one of my tests. I just kept thinking about the amount of information that I would be able to gather from my students based on the questions they asked and the answers they gave (assessment for learning). It seemed like the right thing to do. Coincidentally, a few days before the test, one of my students asked if we (as a class) could do the test together. She was joking but she was very pleased to hear about the chat.

Here are the logistics. Not everyone in my class has a hand-held device and the school doesn't have wireless. Using the back-channel in my room  was out of the question. I booked a computer lab and we wrote the test in there. Not ideal but it worked. I thought about using Twitter and had we done the test in the classroom that's probably what we would have done. Since we were at the computers I created a Moodle chat within our course and that's what we used for the back-channel.

The day before the test I informed my class that they would be able to (and were encouraged to) use the chat for their test. We modelled asking good questions and providing good answers (guiding but not giving the answer).

My predictions of how the test would go, which are probably no surprise:
a) My top students would do a lot of question answering and may ask the occasional small question.
b) The middle of the class would ask lots of questions and occasionally answer a question or two.
c) The bottom of my class wouldn't contribute much to the chat.

There were a couple of surprises. The first was one of my top students who had good conceptual understanding but couldn't quite put the nuts and bolts together. Not only did she provide some great help to get students started but she also answered in a way that was guiding but not too helpful. In fact, overall I would stay this was true of most answers given.

The second surprise I had was that some of my mid-mark students provided much more assistance than I had anticipated. Again the help was good help. I was very pleased.

It's unfortunate that prediction c) was in fact bang on. Unfortunate because those students are the ones that have the most to gain from this type of test. I would hope that if we did this enough they would start to see the value and buy in.

Would I do this again? Definitely. In fact, I think I would try to have all applied level tests this way. The students in this class are the types of students that don't spend a lot of time thinking about the questions. When doing a test on their own, if they don't know how to start they give up. This doesn't allow me to see what they really know. If they can get a hand starting, at least I can see how much they actually know instead of seeing a blank answer. Don't get me wrong.  I probably wouldn't use this strategy for all classes. I'm not sure how I would feel about using a back-channel in a grade 12 university bound class. I'm not sure how cooperative students would be given the competition for scholarships and entrance to university.

I would love to hear your comments.


  1. Try it for the 12U and see if they think of others even in a competitive environment.

    Find a class with every student having a cell phone and do it through twitter. Make them all following you and @davelanovaz their posts.

    If not all students have the cell phone, perhaps you have 1 pc in your class they can use?

  2. I may give it a try with the 12U class. I'd be very curious to see the results.

  3. Keep us posted if you do try in 12U. I think of the skills they could practice (collaboration, communication and the increase in critical thinking that just comes from helping others out). And you end up with a record of their thoughts... Cool. Thanks again for sharing!

  4. Thanks for the comment Jac. I mentioned to my 12Us that I was doing this with my grade 10 class. Most of them didn't care. I even mentioned doing it with them. Some students said they just wouldn't pay any attention to the chat. Now I'm working on a way to force them to use the chat. I'll let you know what I come up with.

  5. very interesting Dave.. I may do this next year with my 10 academics..

  6. Thanks Jon. I'd love to hear how it goes if you end up trying it.