Sunday, April 5, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #7 - CoverItLive

The other backchanneling service I have extensive experience with is Cover It Live. Cover It live is actually considered a live blogging tool, a way to provide live coverage of an event to the masses as events unfold. But the great side feature to this is that the audience of the blog can interact with the person running the live blog, so a classroom teacher can actually use the service as a backchannel.

By starting a live blog for an activity, a teacher can post questions to the room, which is going to be made up of students, and the students can respond to the questions and issues presented to them. There's a couple of great features of Cover It Live that make it perfect for classroom use, in my humble opinion.

At the top of the list of great features: the service is currently no cost (FREE!) and ad-free...all the time. That means there is no up front cost to the teacher, the school, or the district. These are definitely bonuses on many fronts. The ability to embed the chat into your own website (from wikis to your own district website - if it accepts HTML code) is another one of the great features of the service. This feature itself ensures that your students are participating in a playground you are entirely comfortable with, and if hosted on a district sanctioned web page, walled-garden issues all but evaporate.

Moderators are required to register to use the service, which is a quick and easy process, but students are not required to, which makes the service incredible easy to use with a worries about needing an email account! To get users into the chat, simply direct them to the URL where you are hosting the backchannel. The students just have to supply a name once they arrive there in order to participate in the chat. Now, that does leave open the possibility the students will provide strange or inappropriate user names, but because the room is moderated, meaning nothing goes out to the room until approved by the moderator, I tell the students I will post no comments unless I know exactly who the user is. Yes, this does still leave open the possibility of one student impersonating another, but I also give my students some mechanism of letting me know if that has happened. And because of a built in private messaging feature, I can then directly message the offender, the message from me shows up in red on their computer screen, and the perpetrator is nabbed! If the computer screen is blank or the service has accidentally been lost, I personally would also take that as an admission of guilt, especially if it happened as I get up to take a walk around the room to look for the student with the direct message from me.

On other fronts, the chat, in its entirety, is automatically saved and available for review as long as the moderator doesn't delete it from his account. Additionally, as long as the chat remains embedded on the page where it was hosted, it is available for review as long as it is there. Thus far when using Cover It Live, I have not hit an upper limit of allowed users, having had up to 90 users in a chat at one point in time; that was three different classrooms in two different locations even.

To close out, a couple of technical notes. The moderator of a Cover It Live Chat must moderate using Firefox or Internet Explorer. Participants, on the other hand, can use any web browser, so this a fairly flexible and easy to sue in the classroom setting. (At least this was the case at one point in time. As I was drafting this post, I was unable to confirm this on Cover It Live's webpage.)

For a regular classroom setting, I highly recommend this service. Its ease of use and flexibility make it a great tool for regular classroom use.

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