Support from FASE's Education Technology Office

Overview of Backchanneling Tools and Techniques


Many instructors and teaching team members already make adjustments to class activities in real time based on student response, whether it’s by watching faces/body language to get a sense of what they’re understanding, using clickers, or using some of the “backchanneling” apps available to get students actively involved in lectures (e.g., PollEverywhere, Kahoot!, Socrative). There's so many of these apps that sometimes the possibilities are overwhelming. It’s hard enough to pick up on the physical cues of student engagement and integrate them in real time; harder still to layer on some of these technologies and use them well.  

This guide provides an overview of popular back channeling tools and techniques that you could implement in your courses (and not all are typical classroom response tools). There are several features for you to consider, in addition to pedagogical value, including the support model, the cost, and if the tool has passed U of T's security audit. You'll also want to consider how much time and energy you have to build and implement these tools. It is highly recommended that if you'd like to implement a new tool, that you leave yourself a few months prior to the beginning of the class to fully test. You're also encouraged to talk to the Education Technology Office.

Before you select your tool, please review the University of Toronto's Provostial Guidelines on the use of Digital Learning Materials.

  1. Discourse - Open Source (Self Hosted) or Pricing: Discourse is a from-scratch reboot, an attempt to re-imagine what a modern Internet discussion forum should be today, in a world of ubiquitous smartphones, tablets, Facebook, and Twitter. Getting Started: Support Board | Admin Quick Start Guide
  2. Forms (by Microsoft) - Part of Office365: With Microsoft Forms, you can create surveys, quizzes, and polls, and easily see results as they come in. Quick Instructions: Create a form with Microsoft Forms
  3. iClicker -  iClicker is part of a suite of Macmillan Learning digital products designed to engage your students before, during and after class. iClicker requires the purchase of a voting device. Quick Instructions: Getting Started | Create an Account | U of T Quercus Integration Instructions
  4. Kahoot! - Pricing for Kahoot! Plus: Create a fun learning game in minutes – called ‘kahoots’. You can make a series of multiple choice questions or try our new game – Jumble. The format and number of questions are entirely up to you. Add videos, images and diagrams to your questions to amplify engagement. Quick instructions: How to create a kahoot on your computer.
  5. Mentimeter - Pricing (Free to Pro):  Mentimeter is an easy-to-use presentation software. With Mentimeter you can create fun and interactive presentations. We help you make your events, presentations, lectures, and workshops innovative and memorable. Get Started: Sign up for Mentimeter
  6. Piazza - Free!: The incredibly easy, completely free Q&A platform. Save time and help students learn using the power of community. Wiki style format enables collaboration in a single space. Features LaTeX editor, highlighted syntax and code blocking. Quick Instructions: Create a Class | Enroll Students | Viewing the Students' view of Piazza
  7. Poll Everywhere - Pricing: Poll Everywhere transforms one-sided presentations into two-way conversations with the audience. This web-based audience response system lets you embed interactive activities directly into your presentation. The audience responds on the web or via SMS texting on their phones. Quick Instructions: Getting started with Poll Everywhere.
  8. Slack - Slack is a place where your team comes together to collaborate, important information can be found by the right people, and your tools pipe in information when and where you need it. Quick Start: Start with a workplace
  9. Socrative - Pricing (Free to Pro): Socrative is your app for fun and effective classroom engagement. Get instant insight into student learning with easy-to-create quizzes, polls, exit tickets and more! Quick Instructions: Getting Started Guide
  10. Top Hat - Not free, but licensed by FASE: Top Hat’s student engagement software enhances the course experience by motivating students to learn, participate and ultimately master the content you teach. Quick Instructions: Professor - Quick Start Guide
  11. Turning Point - Not free. Polling platform that can work with proprietary clicker devices or cell phones, tablets, or computers. Allows users to easily integrate polls within their MS PowerPoint. Quick Start: Free 30 day Instructor Trial
  12. ARSnova - Open Source platform. Allows instructors to set up a variety of modules that give students more opportunities to engage with them in class. Via a unique session ID, students are able to join modules that instructors are able to setup and design. Examples of modules include - Mult. Choice, Instant Feedback, Likert Scale. Quick Start: Create a session
Start Up Effort
Integrated with Quercus?
Guest Access
U of T Security Audit Status
Discussion Board
Open Source

Online Support Forum
Microsoft Forms
Enterprise U of T License
Centrally Supported
Classroom Response System
Requires student purchase

Implementation Support

Technical Support Website
Kahoot! Classroom Response System Free for limited features; Pro account for full features Low Yes No Support available via Developer Yes No

Keep up to date on Quercus Integrations on the Integration Update website.

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Still have questions? Contact the FASE EdTech Office