Today’s Meet – A Disposable Backchannel

This morning, I discovered a tool that may be of use to many of you out there, Today’s Meet. There are many ways to use this tool, but you can start out thinking about it as a disposable back channel. You can create a space for back and forth dialogue, short entries using the same 140 character count as Twitter. This space is not connected to anything else, but is accessible via URL, QR Code, and embedding. Each participant creates their own nickname in each “room”, allowing for anonymous or pseudonymous contributions. And the room self destructs after a certain amount of time (you specify). You can use Today’s Meet without signing in at all, but if you create an account, you get additional controls. If you pay ($5/month) you can get even more customization and features sold under “Teacher Tools”.

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I’ve heard of many teachers conducting class on Twitter, hoping to introduce students both to the format of short online conversations and microblogging, and also the idea of being part of a bigger world. But Twitter really is the deep end. Not only is it a tool whose use is idiosyncratic and hard to pick up, there are real dangers there too. Most of the Twitter-linked pedagogy I’ve heard of really doesn’t intend to go this deep into what Twitter is, or how your presence there is a part of your public identity. Gamergate in particular revealed to me the dangers lurking there and really made me think twice about pushing students to work publicly by default.

I like the idea of introducing students to a modern writing and reading experience, but outside some real time and effort to devote to Twitter itself (and maybe some anti-litigation waivers to sign) I have wondered if I and my students might be better served by a mechanically similar but socially distinct tool. Today’s Meet seems like a good match to me.

Coming from another angle, as a teacher whose classes revolve around discussion, Today’s Meet has another appeal. In fact, this is how I came across it today. I’m reading a book about strategies for good discussions, The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking, by Brookfield and Preskill (2015). Using Today’s Meet is #5 (I’ll let you know a bit later if I’d recommend the book, so far so good). Upon seeing this tool, I had to take a break to try it out, and then write you.

One problem with discussions, well at least one problem I have in running a course with discussions at the center, is the sense that they are ephemeral, and since nothing concrete is produced, worthless. A lecture produces notes of facts, methods, etc. to be studied and recalled later, while our discussions are, in practice, not often used for reflective purposes later on. This shouldn’t be the case, but it is a bit out of the status quo for high-achieving college students to take notes about things that actually interest them and that they may want to think about again later, especially if all the ideas and examples are being generated by the rabble instead of the one with the PhD. My hope is that using Today’s Meet can help me and my students to produce something concrete to which we might return later, and to spice up our discussions in other ways too.

Even though we have other tools for collaborative discussion and development, adoption and use to this end—strengthening discussions—have not been strong. Google docs, sheets, and Slack channels are the ones I use most as they are essential to other parts of my classroom workflow. Students tend to see their participation in these spaces like this: totally formal aspects of their record of student achievement. Spontaneity, tentativeness, and separating what you say from who you are supposed to be don’t come easily. Because they are supposed to be saved, turned in, etc. these forms have not been properly improvisational as much as I would have liked. Too serious to use for making a small, offhand note. Perhaps I can present Today’s Meet as something a bit different. And that’s before we get to the fun of nicknames.

One more reason Today’s Meet excites me, and the reason I wanted to tell readers of this blog in particular about it, is that the simplicity and spareness of the tool makes it ripe for inclusion in bricolages built from multiple tools and mutation to other ends, maybe even for something its creators may not have imagined.

You can hack with this tool.

For instance, maybe you could incorporate a room from Today’s Meet into an ARIS game as a “webpage” object. Since a user does not need to log in, and since the room’s UI itself is so basic, it would not be too clunky to combine. And the QR code access option, just as is the case with ARIS, leads one to think about the coordination of an online discussion with places in the physical world.

As you consider this tool for use in your circumstances, think especially about how you might want to interpret the “nickname” feature. The authors of the discussion book think of it as a way to make it possible to discuss controversial topics without fear of recrimination or the bias of knowing who is speaking, but it also has tremendous creative potential.

One of the more salient features that games and learning folks have latched onto this last decade and a half is the ability for a game to let you be someone else. That person can be someone you invent or someone who is given to you, a shell you inhabit. Considering your actions and choices from the perspective of the character you inhabit can provide insight into many aspects of the human condition. Perhaps, some of this can be done with something as simple as a handle and a room to write in.

I’m excited about Today’s Meet because it fills some of the same types of needs the other tools I love, like ARIS, do.

  • It is simple to get started with.
  • It allows me to harness the power of connected computing.
  • It is underdetermined, so that I can think creatively about how to use it.
  • It is general enough to be broadly applicable.
  • It is small enough and not walled off: I can incorporate it with with other work and tools.
  • Let’s not forget, it’s free for me and everyone else to get started with.
  • If I need more, and am able/willing to pay, it is not a big wall facing me. The premium features are friendly to an individual consumer, not just institutions.
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