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2 Backchannel Discussion Tools for Librarians

Backchannels have been around for awhile. A 2010 Educause 7 Things You Should Know About Backchannel Communication called them “a secondary electronic conversation that takes place at the same time as a conference session, lecture, or instructor-led learning activity.” Backchannels provide a space for real time conversation, alongside the primary activity. Twitter is an example of a backchannel. Here’s two more backchannel tools you might find useful.

Today’s Meet

Todays meet

Screenshot of Today’s meet website

Today’s Meet is a freemium backchannel chat service for educators. Create a login, name your chat room and open it for a duration from one hour to one year. Responses are anonymous- users only need identify with a name they make up on the spot. You can also limit who joins a room, keep tabs on users, and download chat transcripts. There is a 140 character limit, so not the best place to record one-minute reflection papers, (as someone from our recent Teaching Topics observed), but maybe just right for a question from a timid student.

How would a librarian use this? 2 ideas from Matt Miller’s 20 Useful Ways to Use Today’s Meet in Schools are online office hours or hosting a contest (first person who correctly posts in the TodaysMeet room wins!). I’m sure you can think of more. Post your ideas on our very own NNLM NTO Blog backchat:



NTO Flipgrid

Screenshot of NTO Flipgrid website

One tool that I would not necessarily label just a backchannel is Flipgrid, a social learning tool developed by the University of Minnesota. Their slogan is use video the way your students use video, and the idea is participants can view and post video responses to discussion topics. Essentially, it’s a video-based discussion board. You get one grid with a free account – a grid is where students go to view topics, record responses, and reply to classmates. Each grid can contain multiple discussion threads. Grids can be private or open, and can be integrated into learning management systems. Admin tools allow comment moderation, while assessment tracking is available in the subscription version.  But the real power are in the Flipgrid apps. Download the free app to your phone and start a conversation.

How would a librarian use this? Flipgrid could be useful for a video journal club, for discussions in a distance learning program, or even a library scavenger hunt (first person to find the printer & post to Flipgrid wins!). We’re looking for ideas, so why not play around? Check out the NTO Flipgrid Sandbox: (Enter code 8kamw76 to see this in the Flipgrid app.)

Backchannels are a way to facilitate side discussion during a learning activity as well as enhance learning, conversation and networking after your class is over. What do you think? Tell us on the backchat:

NTO Blog on Today’s Meet:

NTO Flipgrid Sandbox:

2015 TRI Data Added to TOXMAP

TOXMAP beta now includes the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) 2015 data.

What is TRI?
TRI is a database from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that tracks the disposal and waste management of a legislated list of toxic chemicals. TRI is a mandatory federal reporting program.

In general, chemicals covered by the TRI Program are those that cause one or more of the following:

  • Cancer or other chronic human health effects
  • Significant adverse acute human health effects
  • Significant adverse environmental effects

Why was TRI Created?
The TRI program is one section of a larger law (EPCRA) that was passed in response to two specific events that raised public concern about local preparedness for chemical emergencies and the availability of information about hazardous substances that might be found in our neighborhoods.

Where it all began: Love Canal
The first event was Love Canal; whose story began in the early 1900s. There was actually a man named Mr. Love, who had the idea to build a canal to harness inexpensive hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls for industrial development around the turn of the 20th century. He eventually abandoned his plan and sold the land to Hooker Chemical Company. After using the site to dump 21,000 tons of industrial waste over an 11-year period, the company sold the land to the Niagara Falls Board of Education. Eventually, the area near the covered landfill was developed, including construction of an elementary school, as well as many residential properties.

Beginning in the 1970s, local residents noticed foul odors and chemical residues and experienced increased rates of cancer and other health problems.  In 1978 and 1980, President Carter declared two federal environmental emergencies for the site, and about 950 families were evacuated from their homes within a 10-square-block area surrounding the landfill.

The severity of contamination at the Love Canal site in New York led to the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA or the Superfund Law) of 1980.

CERCLA created a tax on the chemical and petroleum industries and provided Federal authority to respond directly to releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances that may endanger public health or the environment. Among other things, CERCLA established a trust fund to provide for cleanup when no responsible party could be identified. This trust fund is commonly known as Superfund.

CERCLA also created the National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is the list of national clean-up priorities throughout the United States and its territories. Love Canal was the first site to be placed on the NPL in 1983.

The second event of concern occurred in Bhopal, India. In December of 1984, a cloud of extremely toxic methyl isocyanate gas escaped from the Union Carbide Chemical plant located in Bhopal. Thousands of people died in what is widely considered to be the worst industrial disaster in history.

In 1986, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) was passed in the United States in response to concerns about Bhopal and Love Canal.

Section 313 of EPCRA created the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and lists the types of facilities and industries that must complete an annual toxic chemical release form for approximately 690 chemicals.

TRI data is pulled in from the EPA and is included in the TOXNET suite of databases at the National Library of Medicine (TRI and TOXMAP). TOXNET has its own version of the TRI interface. Data is always at least one year behind in TRI because industries have one year past the year-end to submit their data. Then the data has to be formatted so it “works” in the database.

TRI data can be mapped onto NLM’s TOXMAP interface. TOXMAP, among other things, is a graphic representation of TRI data.

If you would like to know more about the history of Love Canal here is a 22 minute video:

Read more about CERCLA:

Read more about EPCRA:

TRI-Listed chemicals:

5 Noteworthy Information Literacy Resources from Project CORA for Health Sciences Librarians

Information literacy* has been on my mind recently,  so today I went fishing online for updates and interesting news. My search led me to CORA – an open access community of research assignments. CORA has a number of ready made information literacy assignments for librarians. You can even filter results by information literacy concept and academic discipline.

From CORA’s About page:

CORA stands for Community of Online Research Assignments. It is an open access resource for faculty and librarians. It is intended to be a collaborative space for adapting and experimenting with research assignments and sharing the success or lessons learned so that others may benefit.

The site is hosted by Loyola Marymount University Library and funded by a grant provided by the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium. It’s open access, so anyone can join and submit content as long as they are professionally affiliated with an educational institution or have a professional or scholarly interest in information literacy,

5 Noteworthy Resources: 

1. A nice worksheet for teaching how to discern fake news: 

2. An annotated bibliography about teaching information literacy and searching skills to undergraduate nursing students

3. A “Pass the Problem” group activity that aims to have students provide feedback to other students on database and keyword selection.

4. An entire 347 book about information literacy (check out the chapters on “The Poster Session as a Vehicle for Teaching the Scholarly Communication Process”  and “Scholarly Communication in the Dentistry Classroom”

5. An information literacy assignment bank (1 page assignments with  step-by-step description of the tasks, suggested skill level and learning objectives)

Overall, CORA is a current repository of open access research assignments. Highly recommended – both to search for ideas, or to submit your own home grown assignments.

Happy hunting!

*Information literacy is defined by the ACRL as “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” 

Let’s TOX

The NNLM Training Office(NTO) is offering a free, online, asynchronous CE class called Discovering TOXNET® from March 1, 2017 – March 31, 2017.

How is the content delivered?
You will discover TOXNET and other NLM environmental health databases through videos, guided hands-on tutorials, and discovery exercises. The class is taught online in thirteen independent modules.

What is TOXNET?
TOXNET is a suite of databases that cover hazardous chemicals, environmental health, toxic releases, chemical nomenclature, poisoning, risk assessment, regulations plus occupational safety and health.

Who should take the class?
Health sciences librarians and health or environmental science professionals interested in unlocking the information in TOXNET and the other environmental health and toxicology resources.

How much time?
You will work on your own time over a period of 4 weeks to complete the modules that are of interest to you. There is one required module; all the remaining modules are optional. This class is offered for variable MLA continuing education credit. Each module carries 0.5 to 2.0 credit hours, for a total of up to 12 hours. Credit will not be awarded for partial completion of a module. Total credit awarded will be based on completed modules with a minimum of 1.0 credit hours.

What happens during the class?
This course is offered asynchronously through Moodle; you will work at your own pace. Each module consists of guided, interactive, online tutorials AND/OR tutorial videos, as well as discovery exercises. Instructors will be available to answer questions and provide assistance throughout the course.

The modules (and their CE credits) are:
Introduction to TOXNET: 0.5 hour (Required)
TOXLINE: 1.0 hour
ChemIDplus: 2.0 hours
Integrated Risk Information System & Risk Assessment: 1.0 hour
Hazardous Substances Databank: 1.5 hours
Toxic Release Inventory: 1.0 hour
TOXMAP: 1.5 hours
Household Products Database: 0.5 hour
LactMed: 0.5 hour
Haz-Map: 0.5 hour
WISER & CHEMM: 1.0 hour
REMM: 0.5 hour
Drug Information Portal: 0.5 hour

How do I register?
Follow the link below to register (you will be asked to login):

For questions, contact the NTO at

How to Cancel your Class Registration on the NNLM Website

Venn diagram

[caption] Venn diagram cancellation

Here’s a Venn Diagram I’m sure everyone is familiar with. You sign up for a great online class on a day completely clear of events. Then reality sets in and you have to cancel due to that Really Important Thing you Totally Forgot About.

For times of need, here’s how to cancel your class registration for any event listed on the NNLM Website – whether its through NNLM  Training Office or your regional medical library, these directions will work.

How to Cancel a Class registration:

  1. Log into your account on the NNLM Website.
  2. Navigate to the class you want to cancel (try the universal calendar for all NNLM course listings).
  3. Click the link ‘Cancel Registration.”
  4. A new page opens asking “Are you sure?”
  5. Click the green DELETE button to cancel registration.
  6. A new page loads with the message “Registration has been deleted.”