Engage Students in the Classroom with TodaysMeet

TodaysMeetI am always looking for ways to engage students to be active participants in the classroom, and TodaysMeet offers some great opportunities. It’s a free web application that describes itself as a way to embrace the “backchannel”—everything that’s going on in the room between members of the audience during speaker’s presentation. During a class, the backchannel is the conversation your students are whispering to each other or texting or note-passing. It’s when you’re trying to communicate a concept, and students are asking each other questions like “What did he say?” or “Did you get that?” or maybe they’re commenting on what you said. The same thing happens in faculty meetings, in conference presentations, even in church.

The idea is that background chatter is happening during your lecture anyway, so leverage that chatter by inviting your students to use this site to talk about your lecture while it’s happening. Of course, you must provide them some guidelines, like no off-topic comments. It’s a way to make your lecture or presentation much more interactive and engaging of every student in the room.

And what I love about TodaysMeet is that it couldn’t be simpler to use. There’s no registration, no log-in, no advertisements, no fee structure. Just go to the TodaysMeet home page, type a name for your “room,” and choose how long you want that room to remain available, from two hours up to one year. Click “Create your Room” and give your students the room name, which simply appends to the home page URL, like this: http://todaysmeet.com/kmcblog (that room is available until September 10, 2014—feel free to try it out). Students just type a name (which could be pseudonym) and join in the conversation, and their words appear immediately in the live stream.

You have a “projector” option to use if you’d like to display just the live stream and a “transcript” option to collect all of the posts to print or save to a PDF, which could be archived in your course’s LMS.

Your students or participants would need to have a computer or a mobile device with web access; they’ll need to use a browser with JavaScript enabled, so this is perfect if your class is in a computer lab or if all of your students have smart phones or tablets or laptops. Here are some ideas for classroom use:

  • During your lecture, ask students to type questions about what’s unclear. You could either display their questions on the projection screen or just look at it yourself on your own screen and discuss those questions.
  • Break the class into groups and ask them to discuss a question and post a collaborative answer; this is a great choice if you have a limited number of mobile devices. You could display those answers on the projection screen to help prompt further discussion.
  • Ask everyone to post an answer to a specific question; just like using a discussion forum in an online class, every student would be able to speak and participate.
  • Invite your students to brainstorm ideas on a topic.

Finally, if you require your students to watch a particular event on their own time, you could have them engaged in synchronous discussion about it using TodaysMeet; for example, you might want students to watch a political debate for a history course or the Oscars for a film course.

Two considerations with any free web service like this one:

  1. At some point the developers may decide to start charging a fee for all or some services.
  2. Since it’s a web application, the developers can choose to make changes to it at any time, so the next time you visit, you may see additional options or a slightly different interface, or the site could completely disappear.
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