Thinking Digitally – Question Pauses & The Metacognitive Back Channel

12 Nov

volcanoesWhen you are reflecting on your thinking it is helpful to have some device which forces you to take a step back! Anything which puts some time between a thought, and acting on it, for example, invites an opportunity to reflect. We all know how powerful it can be to sleep on something, or how a move to a new country forces one to see one’s native land in a new light. Even just taking a few steps to the right or left can affect how you see an object. I think that the movement between the analogue and the digital world can have similar benefits for metacognition.

The classroom is often a space where teachers and students are in such a hurry to be busy, to finish a task, to complete the syllabus, that there is little time taken for reflection. And yet as BYOD policies are rolled out, the availability of a host of student owned devices in just about every classroom provides an opportunity to establish a Back Channel. A Back Channel is a medium for comment or chat running parallel to a classroom’s official channel – the routines of question and answer or discussion. Back Channels can be hosted on websites like Today’sMeet or via a twitter feed, allowing students to post, or tweet questions or comments, which will be picked up either at moments during the class, or even after the class. These can be followed up on at the next class, or even outside of the class through further online comment.

Back Channels provide powerful opportunities for students to ask questions or give feedback to the class, but they also provide a powerful opportunity to reflect on what is happening. One of the great problems with asking questions is that we seldom pause long enough for students to truly think about what we have asked. Even if we enforce a pause, a count of ten, or whatever, before accepting answers from the hands that have shot up, ten minutes is not long at all! If you ask a question and then ask students to answer on the back channel, however, the pace is slowed right down, and everyone is invited to think and answer. You can then display the answers on an Interactive White Board and discuss them in class as a basis for further discussion.

This movement between analogue and digital provides, I believe, some space for reflection, by providing an enforced pause after the question. Another way of thinking about it is to ask the question over the back channel, which students then answer in class, or to ask in class but only expect answers over the back channel as homework.



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