Tech4Teachers: Backchannel Chat

YoTeach is a free browser-based Chatroom – think of it as a combination of a Facebook Group – people with a shared interest  – and text messaging if you’re not over-familiar with an idea whose heyday was probably somewhere around the beginning of the century.

Basically, it’s a private online space (or room in YoTeach parlance) you create, give others the entry password to and exchange real-time text messages with whoever’s present at the time.

So, you may well be thinking, what’s the point of a tech that’s ancient in internet terms and which functions very much like the most popular social media site in the known universe?

Well, chatrooms can be a little more private and exclusive, hence the idea of a “Backchannel” – a private form of communication that operates beneath more overt forms of communication (such as a classroom).

With a chatroom you only invite those you know or who are present for a particular purpose, such as exchanging teaching ideas, discussing homework problems, reviewing lessons and notes or whatever you decide is the primary purpose of the room (or rooms – you may want to create different rooms for different purposes) you set-up.

Backchannel chat has, in this respect a number of potential uses:

1. Teacher – Teacher networks where teachers from different schools / colleges meet to exchange teaching ideas, tips, or simply to support each other. This can be particularly useful if you’re the only subject teacher in your institution or you’re teaching something like sociology as a second subject.

2. Teacher – Student groups allow teachers and students to interact as necessary outside classes. This may include things like homework help, personal coaching for students who are finding things difficult or simply a little extra class teaching on a difficult topic. While these types of groups may be set-up to cater for a particular course in a single institution it’s also possible for different schools and collages to “meet” in this virtual space, so that students from different institutions can discuss common problems and different experiences, exchange ideas, notes and the like.

3. Student groups for things like end-of-course revision study, discussing areas of the course that are causing problems and the like.

Chat Creation

YoTeach Room Set-up

Creating and setting-up a room in YoTeach is relatively simple. Assuming, for the sake of illustration, this is being done by a single teacher:

• the room is given a name and description.

• you create an administrator. While this isn’t obligatory, admin has privileges not available to ordinary users – they can delate individual posts (or the whole room if it’s come to the end of its useful life), see participation stats, mute individual posters who misbehave and so forth.

• set an entry password for the room. You don’t have to password protect entry but it’s necessary if the chatroom is private and restricted to those invited to join.

Text and Picture messages…

Once this basic admin is done the room is created and is ready for use.

While the emphasis is on real-time text-based discussions – it works just like common-or-garden texting software so students will already be (over)familiar with the basic premise and format – it has a couple of little additions teachers and students might find useful.


These involve the ability to post (and annotate) pictures, create whiteboard texts (in basic terms, it has a simple drawing function) and set polls. This latter function is something that could be used in a variety of ways to check student understanding, vote on different options and the like.

While setting-up the chatroom is pretty-straightforward, if you need a little help or just want to familiarise yourself with the software it’s a good idea to have a look at the short introductory video provided for new users.

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