The holy grail of teaching is to minimize the time spent on administration and maximize the time spent on teaching activities that really provide value for the students.
Far too often teachers drown in emails and end up missing emails from students, or spending lots of time on evenings or weekends trying to catch up. The constant interruptions by notifications also make it hard for teachers to focus on long-term projects and can create highly reactive behaviors where incoming emails from students are answered directly as they arrive. This reactive behavior is often appreciated by students. But it may turn the teacher into a task-switching machine that does little else than trying to re-start whatever it was he or she was doing, between all the email checks. In the long-run limiting the effort the teacher can spend on research and other competence development activities.
Briteback is a messaging app for teams where students and teachers can communicate in chat channels as part of a course team.
Using Briteback for teaching gives the creative teacher endless opportunities for optimizing the teaching effort. Both in terms of minimizing the administrative effort of managing a course, but also in terms of having students collaborating online and sharing experiences and learning issues. In other words, making students learn from each other in a fun and modern way.
Set up Briteback
Briteback is easily set up for teaching. The following step-by-step guide illustrates the main steps and features.
Set up course team and roles
A team in Briteback is a group of people collaborating. Setting up a course team is a good way to group the people involved in an instance of a course, both teachers and students.
The first step is to create the team. Name the team after the course and the time period where it runs, e.g. “Programming 101 – Fall 2016”.
For courses with more than, say, 50 students, it can be beneficial to set up several course teams and distribute the students and teachers between the teams. For example, “Programming 101 – Fall 2016 – Class A”.
The next step is to invite the other teachers (if any) to the team. Create suitable roles (e.g. “Examiner”, “Teaching assistant”, “Student”) and assign roles to all teachers in the team. (These roles will be important when setting up availability rules for teachers later on.)
Set up chat channels
Create a private chat group for the teachers, e.g. “Course administration”. This group will not be seen by the students, so all kinds of teaching issues can be discussed here, e.g. related to grading etc.
Private channels are marked with a padlock icon.
Also create public chat channels for different parts or topics of the course, where students can ask questions and discuss among themselves.
Here are some suggestions for suitable public channels:
- Assignment channels – for discussions related to a specific assignment
- Lecture channels – for discussions related to a specific lecture
- Group channels – for discussions within a student group
Set up online office hours for student/teacher communication
To facilitate multi-tasking and maintaining focus, the teacher can set up availability rules that help structure the communication with the students. This is done by setting up the “Online office hours” integration in Briteback. The administrator activates the integration and sets up the roles that will be allowed to use this feature.
After that, all teachers with these roles can set up their own office hours and related availability rules.
Teachers can add online office hours, in which they can be reached by students. When students send messages to teacher outside office hours the app double checks how important the messages is.
- A Student can only make a Briteback call to a Teacher during the office hours for the course.
- When a Student sends an email in Briteback to a Teacher, the prefix “[course name]” is added to the subject.
- A Student’s 1-1 channel with a Teacher in Briteback is closed for writing when the Teacher is in Busy-mode.
- A Student’s 1-1 channel with a Teacher in Briteback is only open for writing during the office hours of the course.
- When a Student sends an email in Briteback to a Teacher outside the office hours of the course, the student is suggested to set the send-time to the next office hour slot.
Invite students to team
The next step is to invite the course participants to the team. This can be done in two ways. Either enter all students email addresses in the invite-to-team input field (can also be pasted from a copied excel column). Or, use the invite link for the team and copy it into an email that can e.g. be sent to a mailling list for the course. If you use this option, you can auto-assign all joining students to a certain role, e.g. “Student”.
The invited students receive an invite email with a link, and when they click the link they are asked to set their password, and then they are in. Unless otherwise specified, all students automatically join the channels #Welcome and #Fun.
Set up Task Management Integrations
Briteback integrates with several task management systems that can help course administration and give better overview of ongoing tasks and upcoming deadlines. An example of such an integration is Trello.
By setting up a Trello integration, the teacher can easily convert chat messages or emails in Briteback to cards placed in a list on a Trello board.
Example of a teacher’s Trello board.
For example, when a student sends in an assignment by email or as a chat message, that hand in can be turned into a card and placed in the TODO-list in Trello and assigned to one the teachers in the course, with a deadline for correction.
Use the /-command in the chat to create or share a Trello task, as well as to assign a member to a card.
Through Briteback, the teachers can update Trello cards and move them to the DONE list as the assigments get corrected. This way, there is always an easily acessible overview of the state of the correction work.
Schedule course information messages
During a course, the teachers must send out information messages to all participating students. These messages may concern for example course deadlines or general information about the course.
Course deadlines can be tricky to manage for both students and teachers. For the students, course deadlines are rarely scheduled as part of existing course schedules they may subscribe to, and thus have to be entered manually into their calendars. For teachers managing several courses in parallell, it can be tricky to keep track of all upcoming deadlines and remember to send reminders to the students in a timely manner.
With Briteback, the teacher can schedule reminders for all course deadlines in advance using the internal info feature. This can be done weeks or months in advance or even while the course is being planned.
Set up private chat groups for student projects
For courses that contain project group assignments the students in each group can be encouraged to set up a private chat group, where they can manage their online discussions, and share files etc.
The students in such a private chat group can easily start an online call that all group members are automatically invited to.
Set up online teaching sessions
Online tutoring sessions can be a very resource efective way of teaching. Even if the teacher is away on a conference, such online sessions can be carried out.
With Briteback, it is really simple to set this up. Just create a calendar event and click to insert a voice/video link. You can easily invite all members of the course team to the event with just one click by selecting the option “Add all from Team X”.
If it fits your plans, you can even decide to make the event recurring, e.g. every Wednesday at 9 AM – 11 AM, for the coming 10 weeks.
The benfit for the students is obvious. They get the tutoring session directly in their calendars, and can join all sessions from the same voice/video link.
A great way to maximize the student benefit from such online tutoring sessions is to require participating students to hand in at least one question each before the tutoring session starts. This can be managed in a public channel related to the tutoring session.
During the online teaching sessions, the teacher can make use of screen sharing when needed, in order to show illustrations from Power Point slides, etc.
Surveys: quizzes and course evaluations
A good way to see how a course is going is to make quizzes during the course. Briteback has a built-in survey tool that can be used for this. Just select one of the standard surveys or create your own. Surveys you create are saved so that they can be re-used in other courses or the next time this course runs.
Briteback’s survey tool is also great for carrying out course evalutions after the course has finished.
A good way to see how a course is going is to do a so-called Muddy Cards evaluation after the first few weeks of the course. This evaluation is very simple and consists of just two open-ended questions. 1. What do you like best about the course so far? 2. Do you have any improvement suggestions?