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50 students. Of these comments, ‘Useful’ Comments

‘Silly’ Comments

72 percent were classified as useful

So, passive transport requires no energy?


(that is, questions, comments about

So, does the same amount of Na+ that rushes out, come in as well?


the class, answers). There were on

What is the name of the vestibule used in phagocytosis?

Hello World.

per class, and these usually generated

Can you make two macrophages recognise each other as antigens?


discussions immediately in the lesson,

Does the cell purposely pump Na out to allow glucose in?

Much fluidic, such doge.

What is vesicular trafficking?

Can we have a break now?

although this was usually to say

What exactly does permeability mean?

Nice tie.

“hello” or provide a silly comment,

What is the difference between polarity and cell basement?

Is this working?

meaning that although this week had

Can cuboidal cells be pseudostratified?

Did someone say lads?

three to four percent of the comments

Why are stratified squamous cells in the mouth?


provided were useful (Figure 1).

average nine highly useful comments

or at the start of the subsequent lesson. In week one, every student participated in the backchannel,

100 percent of students involved, only

However, once the students started

Table 1: The first 20 comments provided through the backchannel in a semester one physiology lecture during the second week of the course. The comments have been separated into ‘useful’ or ‘silly’ depending on their content. All comments were provided by different students.

to get the novelty effect out of their system, by week two, although less students provided comments, those received were more useful. As the

many modern university classrooms,

Lessons from Practical Use

when the online backchannel

semester progressed, it seemed that

where older and more confident

Between 2013 and 2016, backchannel

interactions enabled anonymous

only students who had valid comments

students are integrated with younger

software was implemented in a first-

comment. Anonymity maximised the

utilised the backchannel system,

counterparts in the same subjects.

semester health science course to

use and impact of this technology in

meaning that by week seven, nearly

For example, in medicine, traditional

provide students with a direct method

that it further minimised any reluctance

100 percent of comments received

postgraduate courses are being

to communicate to one another and

to participate; however, it also allowed

were useful, generating responses

offered as undergraduate options,

the lecturer. Student perceptions of the

for a wide range of immature and silly

or clarifications from the instructor

effectively creating divides between

technology, lecture interaction and the

comments to be posted during the

(Figure 1).

more experienced postgraduate

overall benefits to students’ content

lecture. Such comments clearly did

In practice, the benefits of the

students and their undergraduate

acquisition were analysed.

not contribute to the overall learning

increased interactivity outweighed the

objectives and could be distracting to

negatives. Backchannel encouraged

others (Table 1).

a heightened level of questioning,

counterparts within the same subjects (Moro & McLean, 2017).

Results revealed that throughout each semester, students became

engagement and interaction within

Of course, in all classes where

increasingly comfortable with using

In summary, there were

backchannel is provided, traditional

the backchannel software. Rates of

13–18 comments in each class,

the lecture context. Although the

learning still takes place and students

participation demonstrably increased

with enrolments of approximately

comments were not necessarily

can always ask and answer questions aloud. Backchannel provides a second, distinct channel of communication


within a class environment. In universities, face-to-face teaching is or replaced by, digital content, such as online courses, applications or modern technology-enhanced options for learning (Moro, Štromberga, et al, 2017). In this context, it seems particularly important to maximise the engagement of all students when on-campus or in the presence of a live instructor. Toward this end, backchannel opens new lines of communication, classroom interactivity and provides


increasingly being supplemented with,


Students participating Useful Comment Ratio

0% 1









opportunities for participation to all attendees, even in a diverse classroom.


038-041_ETS81 Office Space.indd 40

Figure 1: The percentage of students within the class who provided comments, and the ratio of those comments to useful comments.

21/11/17 1:40 pm

Education Technology Solutions Issue #81