Leveraging digital tools for class discussions

Consider these options to engage learners and give them a voice when schedules won't permit connections for Zoom, or similar platform, meetings
By: | May 1, 2020
(Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash)(Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash)
Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker for FETC.

Rachelle Dene Poth is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker for FETC.

In recent columns, I have shared tools for game-based learning and storytelling and for promoting creativity and fostering connections. There are a lot of possibilities for using these tools, but teachers don’t need to use every one of them. We want to avoid overwhelming our students, their families and ourselves, and we should focus on choosing a few tools that help us to stay connected and to provide students with the opportunity to share their thoughts.


Read: Updated: 222 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic


Something I miss the most is the opportunity to have conversations with my students and being able to interact with them within our classroom. I have been holding meetings for all of my classes now using Zoom, and while these meetings are not mandatory, many of my students attend. Being together in our “class” gives us the chance to talk, to exchange ideas and to experience something that feels more normal for our learning.

Ed tech tools for connection—at any time

However, I know that because of home schedules and new demands on time, not all students can join in these class meetings. So it is important that we offer an alternative that also allows us to provide the authentic, specific and timely feedback that is critical for student growth.

Since we cannot do quick in-person check-ins with our students now, we can leverage digital tools that allow us to be available for questions or to have students engage in discussions with one another. Here are three tools to consider:

  1. Backchannel Chat is an option for building classroom discussion among students. We can help students to build communication skills and extend discussions beyond what we would or could cover during a normal class period. Responses can be deleted by the teacher if needed, and the chat room can be locked so that only the teacher is able to add content, as a way to slow down the chat. Backchannel Chat may also be used for students to collaborate on a project and gives them a space to share their research and resources (once the teacher has created a chat room for them).

    Each option is easy to use and can be helpful for remote teaching—and for when we return to our classroom spaces.

  2. GoSoapBox is a response tool that can be used to pose a variety of questions without students having to create accounts. Students only need a teacher-provided event code to access the activities available. GoSoapBox can be used for polls, discussion questions, quizzes and more, and provides a fast way to assess students or to simply learn more about them and their thoughts.
  3. Loop is an app-based platform that provides students and teachers with a space to ask and answer questions. Teachers can quickly create a question for the class; then, they can either provide students with a space to post a private response or keep the space open to collect and share all student responses. It is helpful for quick formative assessments and to have access to real-time data. Using Loop, teachers can schedule questions or ask them during class or an online class meeting. Loop is also useful for posting announcements.

Think about how one of these tools might help to engage your students more in class discussions. Each one is easy to use and can be helpful for remote teaching—and for when we return to our classroom spaces.


Rachelle Dene Poth (@Rdene915) is a foreign language and STEAM teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She is a featured speaker for FETC®.


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