Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 29 - Soapbox

Imagine if each of your students came with a confusion barometer during class instruction.  It's possible. This is just one feature that comes in your tool kit with Soapbox, a backchannel tool (more on that in a minute).

When your students are on a SoapBox that you create, they have a status at all times of either "I am getting it" or "I am confused". If at any point during class they become confused, or need you to slow down, they can indicate so by switching their status to "I am confused". You will see a graph with the number of confused students in real time. The individual student's status is completely anonymous to you and the other students.  As the teacher, you can see how many students are confused, just not which exact students.

Wondering what a backchannel is? Backchannels are conversations that take place concurrently with a lecture or presentation, and there are many tools that allow you to create one.  SoapBox's "About" explains it best:

[Backchannels] improve interaction between a speaker and an audience. Soapbox provides a platform for audience member input, while letting speakers facilitate discussion, organize feedback, and gauge audience sentiment -- all in real time. With SoapBox, speakers are able to transform traditional lectures into lasting conversations by integrating audience thoughts and opinions, without any interruption.

The confusion barometer is just one of the features of SoapBox and it could be shut-off if you prefer. Other features include polls, discussion boards, and socially ranked question and answer. You are encouraged to watch this quick 2 minute video overview for details.

Highlighted in the video:
  • web-based, so no downloads
  • no student log-ins; students remain anonymous (note there is a profanity filter)
  • lists four core features and how each works

    Let's say you decide to try out this tool with your students. Here are the basics to post once you have a SoapBox to share:
    1. I have created a SoapBox as a way for you to participate in class today. Even after class it will remain open, so if I don't get a question answered or if you think of something later, you can always go back and check to see if it's been answered or add something new.
    2. Please go to http://gosoapbox.com/ 
    3. In the "Join a SoapBox" text box, type in the title (you provide) and click "Join." 
    4. Once you're in, you'll see any polls or discussion for class and a "How to use Soapbox" button that will take you to a Quick Start Guide.
    5. Do a brief, here's how we will use this demo (You'll get the feel for it once you take the next step.)
    So, pretend YOU are the student. We have created a SoapBox for today!  Please join "30 Day Challenge" and explore the student side of things.  Keep in mind your responses will be anonymous. In the classroom, you can ask students to include their names if you are using this tool as a means for crediting student participation or if they want you to follow up with them individually.

    How do you get started? It's simple. Since this tool is in beta, you have to "Take a tour and sign up..." which consists of clicking a button, scrolling down the page and entering your email address. Once you hit Request Access, a screen pops up announcing they will get back to you with more instructions. Within minutes you get an email and it's all straightforward from there.

    Your assignment:

    Where in your instruction do you need to facilitate constructive interaction?  Here's the tool to do that. How might you use it?  Keep in mind, Soapbox is a tool as are the earlier 28 highlighted in this challenge. Any tool is only to be as effective as the individual who is using it. As an alternative post to how or when you might see using this tool in your classroom, you can share some tips you think would be important to maximize the effectiveness of introducing a backchannel to your students.


      1. I just got off of SoapBox and posted my questions, took the poll and added to the barometer. It was simple and easy to use.

        Backchanneling is a great way to allow students to add their voice to the conversation in a non-threatening way. Some, especially in my inclusion classroom, might feel intimidated to step up with comments or questions for fear of looking bad in front of their students.

        And I agree with @Michelle Green that these tools are only as effective as the teacher or the implementation. Just adding a web tool to a class is fun, but not effective if not utilized.

        I can see using this tool in class discussions over a story that we might be reading. As we discussed the story, I would have SoapBox up on the smartboard so we can see what questions are being generated and the barometer so I can see how the class is doing. As the questions come in, we can address them. And by leaving it open after the class, I can address them the next time we meet. Sometimes, questions come later, while doing homework or reading the next section.

        I think to maximize this tool, it should be a secondary tool. True, leave it up so I can follow it and students can see what others are thinking, generating additional questions for them, but I don't think it should be the focus. Backchanneling is just that, in the background. I would expect it to be most effective when student comments on SoapBox were additions to the conversation, not driving it.

      2. And Yes, I was first again!!! Do I get a prize for doing that so many times???

      3. I love any tool that doesn't require kids to have an account to use it. I'm also a fan of tools to help streamline the feedback loop that should be happening in our classes every day.

        Using a flipped classroom, I don't always know at the outset of a class what the general feeling of the material is. I can pair this up with a video assignment the night before, so heading into class, I know the general feel of the group before diving into exploration and collaborative work. I can take a minute to provide some directed instruction to close gaps before they get to work with one another.

        I would be more interested if the kids could have an alias and have the entire class displayed, rather than one overall class barometer. I could pinpoint specific people as I'm making my rounds rather than address a class full of kids that already understand what is happening.

        As far as backchannels, I would prefer live-feed discussion, but that is hard to do with the school filters in place. There are some great tools out there that are simple (like this) but provide a constant stream of discussion...(chatwithme.com or todaysmeet.com, in particular), but this would fill that gap well enough.

        And yes, pedagogy should always be driving technology use...not the other way around.

      4. Since I work in an elementary school, I think it would be best to introduce the components of Soapbox one at a time. Once the kids had a hang of one component, we could move on to the next. We have tried different approaches to the confusion barometer in a number of our classrooms with red/green nametags to flip, cups, etc. We could teach our kids to intereact with their netboks. It would be a nice change. I could really see the backchat being used in conjuction with readers workshop, particularly with the strategy of questioning. Students could post questions and then answer one another's questions. The teacher could use all of the components as formative assessment to drive instruction. Fabulous tool!

      5. I was also just thinking how I wish I could've been a student with all of these fabulous tools. Our kids are really part of an exciting time!

      6. I could really use this tool during lecture portions of class. This could definately help to make lectures much more interactive. Also, the students have the security blanket of being anonymous. Plus, this will let me assess on what areas I need to spend more time going over. The backchat could be used by the students and myself as a FAQ for whatever unit we are on.

      7. Cool tool!
        I can think of one particular day where I really could have used this. The lecture started out with most of the class confused, however, the longer I talked, the more students started to get it. By the end of class, most students had their "ah ha!" moment. It would have been beneficial for me to see when they were having this and how many still did not get it. A lot of times, when I ask "do you understand?" I know that there are students who nod their heads simply to keep moving along. I think the anonymity of Soapbox would help these students "speak up" without derision from other students.

        One thing I didn't like from the video was the question, "Do you understand the equation?" I think the confusion barometer would take care of that. To use the polls more effectively, I think you need to ask a question that has the students use the equation. If they get the question wrong, they don't understand the equation.

        One question, do I have to have the whole window open to see Soapbox or can I just have the confusion barometer displayed on my screen during lecture?

      8. I do LOVE anything that doesn't require kids to set up an account! I like the idea of using Soapbox to post audience questions. My students are all working at their own pace on editing music in Aviary. Since they are all working at different places in the project, I am answering the same questions over and over again. Using something like this would allow me to address each question once and free up my time to show them more tips for using Aviary.

        I have had success with making the use of a backchannel into a game. My students have had some difficulty understanding the difference between using chat/discussion forums for academic purposes vs. personal use. Teams receive points for questions and comments that contribute to the discussion and lose points for off-topic discussion. This wouldn't work for Soapbox since it is annonymous, but it has been successful in live chat on Angel and Today's Meet in my classes.

      9. I keep coming back to the Stock Market Game for several of my posts but this tool would work very well for this purpose. Introducing this concept that is so abstract to most of my students is very difficult and challenging. Students love the game and learn a lot by participating. However, there are literally hundreds of questions along the way. This would be a great way to keep all of the questions logged and organized. In addition, other students and classes could look to see if there is already an answer to their question. This would save me time and trouble of answering the same question over and over again.

        I love the way it seems to move the most FAQs to the top of the page. This is very helpful as the students would be able to see the questions that other students are asking the most. The ability to add polls and generate your own discussion questions is a great feature. This is one of my favorite tools so far.

      10. I think soapbox would be a great addition to my Algebra class (8th graders). Since we are under pressure for time (8th grade and Algebra standards to cover) this would be a way to catch any student who is struggling and intervene. I like the "vote on the question" feature because sometimes I think students don't know how to put their confusion into a question but would feel more comfortable to vote on a question that is already posted.

        Before introducing this tool to a whole class, I think I would select 3 or 4 responsible students to pilot it during a class period. Then it would be important to discuss expectations when it is in use. I like the way the tool is set up so it is not just an open chat and that you can control what parts are in use.

      11. This is a great tool! I have been looking for something that allows students to ask questions that I might otherwise not have time to answer or the student feels self-conscious about asking in the front of their peers. What a wonderful way to get student input. I could use this most every class if I wanted to.

      12. For adult learners this is great. As a coach having something to all voice of the participants is always great. I have incorporated the backchannel tool in Angel and used it during trainings, but there is always someone who can't get on or other problems that have made Angel seem more difficult to use for this.

        Adults love to give input and want to be heard, here is a simple way to allow that to happen.

      13. SoapBox has so many useful features all on one page. I definitely see a need for this in my classroom, particularly in my class of 25 6th graders. I seem to answer the same questions multiple times by the end of a lesson. I would love to use this during notes, but also during group work. It would serve me better than constantly walking around and asking how they are doing. I also love the fact that it is anonymous. There are so many students out there who can't handle the pressure or embarrassment of asking a question in class. Many students would rather continue to struggle.
        My only concern is that students would have to avoid the temptation of going on to different websites. I have never used a back channel in class before, so it would take a lot of modeling on my part before the students would be ready to use it properly. I also think I would need to remind myself to check the class' status throughout the lesson. Once it would become part of the routine, I think SoapBox could be one of the best tools to come out of this challenge.

      14. When students are working on classwork, I often have trouble managing all of their questions. I see this tool as a great way to project their questions on the board. As I'm circulating the room - I can say 'I see that many of you are asking _____________ let's take a minute and talk about that.' Seems like a great tool.

      15. This tool will be so useful for my classroom! I love that I will be able to have a backchannel for my students to ask questions if they are concerned with how to do a problem. The fact that I can go back later and answer questoins is a plus too. This will be helpful in that my students can also help each other if they should be confused about something. With it being anynomous, students won't be afraid to ask a question or say that they do not understand. This tool will allow my students to gain a better understanding of concepts being taught. When I start a new lesson this week, I am going to try the confusion barometer!

      16. Let me start by saying that for the past 6 years I've wanted to have a comment/suggestion box in my classroom for students to submit questions about culture, grammar, or anything to do with Japan. Soapbox seems to be the answer to that want. I think that while some students aren't hesitant to ask questions, other are introverted about having their questions answered out loud in front of everyone. This allows everyone to interact while the lesson is happening and gives me great feedback about the class. Having a backchannel is very important to have so that I can judge where I need to take more time, reteach, or go into further explanation.

        I think that this would be good to start culture dicussions, to take questions about our grammar points(so I don't have to answer the same question 10 times), take a survey, or refine my teaching.

        However, the question remains in my mind, doesn't this promote being more introverted and less socially connected? We are in a technologically socially connected world, but we as humans are having a hard time expressing anything outside of the safety net of our computers.

        I also struggle with allowing students to use this during class because with prior experience, many students will be off task if I allow them to use their netbook. It's very hard to allow the use of the netbook without a specific task given. Maybe once a routine is established, students would follow my lead.

      17. I have 5th grade music in the computer lab, so I am working on my curriculum to have interesting subjects and lessons, and then to asses them I have been doing google forms that are submitted back to me. This would be an alternative way for us to use soapbox to get feedback on what they are getting during class. Although anonymous submissions have not been used well in my classes yet, and I am working on them taking responsibility for their work and answers, this would give them a chance to ask questions and see answers without all coming to me and calling me over to them over and over. I could say, read the Q & A first... I will try it out and see how it goes, routine is everything, and I have just gotten them used to opening safari, going to our class website for lessons, and then shutting down their own computers at the end of the period. Baby steps!

      18. I just got off of SoapBox and posted my questions, took the poll and added to the barometer. It was simple and easy to use. I posted a question of how do you know we did this challenge. Boy do I feel dumb, DUH do a post. Sorry long week!
        I have an inclusion class and I want to know where has this been all by years of teaching. This would be so great, especially if they all had one to one devices, for me to know if they are getting it or not. Often times the kids who don't really get it are going to be the ones who don't pipe up and say anything. This would provide a quick and easy non threatening way of saying HELP! I would not have to wait until I did a post test and graded it to see if everyone is getting it before moving on.
        We teach via the standards and this would easily allow me to know if my kids got it or not. I always tell my kids I did not go to school for mind reading so they have to ask me or I will never know, with this I will.
        I like the fact to help with engagement that we can follow the students 24/7. There are always those parents that have those "I did not get what they are to be doing, or they did not bring home thier assignemnt book or if they did it isn't filled in what is due" comments. This would help with that.
        I also use grouping and if someone was having issues while I was teaching small group I would know right away.I am with you Cassundra Hisch, my biggest pet peeve is when I explain something 5 different ways, get ready to start a group, and someone always is what are we doing? This would at least keep it quiet and I could answer them directly. Often students get annoyed at those kids and it usually is the same kid and then they feel why ask and may be missing something by not asking and this would allow them to do it silently.
        I also have my students answer an exit question at the end of the day. With this if we were running behind they could answer at home. I could also do one mid day to get a feel if they were really paying attention or had questions about the first part of the day's topic. They often forget the questions they had by the time they have eaten lunch and had recess. I love the immediate feedback.

      19. Please make sure to post your comments to this blog for today's credit. Participation on the SoapBox is not credited; the discussion there is welcome but not the "assignment".

      20. @Melmay, what a great idea--have a SoapBox for parent questions! I love all the creative uses people are coming up with.

      21. Soap box seems to be a tool that would be easy to use with high school students but could also be useful with younger students. The polling function could be used for math instruction with students to present some real life examples for determining percentages. Students could vote on a variety of questions, then practice figuring percentages using the pie chart to check their work.
        Old school wipe off boards and magic markers are so old fashioned. Soap box takes wipe off boards to a whole new level. A great way to increase active responding and avoid messy markers and dirty rags!

      22. AMEN Gayle! I can't tell you how nice it would be to live in a world without, dry erase markers and the drama that they cause. I love the barometer and agree with Kati that the younger kids would probally need each skill/piece taught to them separately. Here's a question, (I'm sure our super tech teacher Mr. Jacques can answer it) in the video it said they could use smart phones. Could we also use IPods? I can easily see many uses for this in Math and Math Review. A very quick way to assess student learning.

      23. I really like this tool and it is just the thing I need for one of my classes. I could definately use this during any classroom discussion or book read-alouds. I am doing a read-aloud of "A Christmas Carol" with a group of students who are very low level readers. So we stop every few paragraphs and discuss what is going on in the section. This would be a great way to determine how much time is needed on each section. It would also be a great way for students to pose questions as we are reading aloud to ensure that they do not forget what they wanted to ask.

        This would also be a wonderful way to assess students during class discussions and even for students to ask questions if they miss a lesson or have trouble once they get home.

      24. What a great idea. I never really bought into the backchannel idea before, because I know that I have become distracted by using it in workshops and presentations. I like the idea of the confusion barometer. When I teach topics like photosynthesis and cellular respiration it can get very confusing for students. I like the idea of having this available during discussion to help me gauge the level of understanding of difficult material. I try to use the looks on their faces, but that doesn't always give me an accurate read on their level of understanding.

        I like the idea of having a soapbox available for parents or for students to utilize outside of class when they are working on projects or homework.
        Great tool! (I feel like I keep saying that.) Let me just say that this has been such a rewarding experience. I know I have gotten behind on the posts, but I am determined to finish this challenge even if I am buried in grading, finals, and moving! :)

      25. This comment has been removed by the author.

      26. Teaching fourth grade without netbooks makes this more difficult. They would have to do this at home. If parents helped by providing data for understanding, then it would helpful. My fear is that the only feedback I would receive is from parents that already help their children and it would be mostly satisfactory. The data might not be as accurate as I would like. I guess the only way to find out is to try it!

      27. Because my focus often ends up on the same topic (culture/diversity), there is always room for/need for discussion, and I actually prefer it. I don't like to just be stared at blankly. I want to know people are understanding the material, and I want to know what they REALLY think. You can't combat ignorance or negative attitudes if you can't get people to express them or challenge things publicly. I like that it is anonymous, but that also means I get to answer frankly (but respectfully of course)! And back-channelling is a great way for the audience to participate with the facilitator. For my purposes, not every individual has technology with them, but the cadre would be a great venue for that because they all usually bring theirs, as well as principal meetings, because they usually have something with them too-laptop/iPad, etc.. Angel has a back channel, but you get timed out and kicked off and then you miss whatever conversation came up before you logged back in. So I really like this concept more than using Angel for that purpose, and it has the added features of polling, which I always think adds something fun to the group-it is an immediate way to collect short term data. Very cool. I can't wait to see how they expand it out.

      28. Soapbox is exactly what I need for my classroom and I cannot wait to use it. We have clickers in our building but they just don't do what I need them to do.

        I want my kids to be able to answer questions using the polling feature. The feedback will keep the conversations and ideas flowing.

        The filter is a great feature as well (just in case).

      29. Soapbox is a great way to do a private thumbs up or thumbs down. This is a way that students can ask question to the speaker without being called out. It is less interruption because the teacher can see the the question and choose to address it immediately or wait because they know it will be answered later on.
        As a student I would be more apt to ask question if I knew my friends wouldn't know it was me who asked.

      30. I am really trying wrap my head around this one. This could definitely be a way to assess student understanding in "real time". I can see using this tool to guide your instruction for the day. I have been wanting clickers, but no need now.

        I also love the idea of students and parents having a way to ask questions about homework and projects. We just completed our sliderocket project and the same questions were asked multiple times. If we had this to begin with, questions and answers could have been shared and saved to review by all in the class.

      31. In third grade math it seems that there are many "new" concepts to be covered and it seems that at least every 2 weeks we are starting another one. Everyone knows how math builds upon itself, so if they are lost on one concept there is a good chance they will stay lost on the next. I could see every aspect of SoapBox being useful for every new topic I teach in math. If i could get the iPads or netbooks for at least the first few days of a unit, I could combine this tool with many others to make sure they are understanding. I have used learner response devices and we all love them, but hey are limited, and the results sometimes get lost. This could be used throughout, and students could see who else has questions that they do. It may seem silly, but I could also see if we need a class restroom break based on how many are asking that question. I think I will try this this week. It is starting to seem like I'll be "trying" things all week long!!

      32. This would be a great tool for me to use as when I am giving presentations in the classroom. It would be great to know where the kids are, if they understand, if they have questions that I have not talked about. The fact that it is anonymous is really the key because many things I present are difficult for students to ask questions about in front of their peers.

        This can also be used for similar presentations to parents, it would give them the opportunity to share their opinions and ask questions.

        The poling portion would also be great especially for the kids because they can see what the majority of the kids are doing. Many kids are suprised by how many of their peers are making good choices about drugs and alcohol.

        Awesome Tool!