Using a Back Channel

A back channel is an online space where participants in formal or informal sessions have a virtual place to converse, ask questions, share, add to a discussion and simply ‘have a voice’. A question was asked of me on twitter:-

As such it can be very effective for either a speaking class or writing class. The back channel allows everyone to have a ‘voice’ and add to the conversation compared to a traditional classroom where one voice rules. Participants are given a link to a space where collaborative and interactive chat can take place. (See suggested tools below).

Speaking or Writing Classes

In a speaking class, a text based backchannel could be used for asking questions, sharing opinions, adding to the discussion, giving positive feedback, constructive criticism and  for interpretative purposes if a second language or strong accent is used. If it is a debate, it could be used to discuss the pursuasive arguments of the speaker, their impact as a speaker, the clarity of their voice and the depth of their arguments. In a writing class it could be used in a similar way plus for  brainstorming, demonstrating  confusion, seeking feedback, querying concepts etc. Some backchannels now enable video. Questions can be asked immediately and the teacher answer them at an appropriate time (eg they may be working with another teacher at the time of the question). This conversation or backchannel can be saved and used for reflective and revisionary purposes. Questions and conversations can continue beyond the event.

The back channel can be very effective in a conference presentation or workshop. Participants can add questions, share resources and add opinions. These can be saved, used for further reflection and can enable the presenter to answer questions during or after the event. At the recent ACEC 2012 conference, I set up a backchannel using Teachmeet for each session and encouraged the use of twitter. However, the screenshot below shows the confusion and misunderstanding of some workshop participants and makes me aware that skills in using a backchannel need to be initially taught – a valuable lesson for me as an instructor and an element that I would be otherwise unaware of.

Some tools I have used to backchannel  include

  • Todays Meet – does not require registration, expires after a nominated time period.
  • Chatzy – does not require registration.
  • Twitter
  • Google document
  • Coveritlive
  • The chat area of a virtual classroom eg Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect etc

How to use the backchannel!

  1. Choose a tool (I shall use todaysmeet as an example)
  2. Goto todaysmeet. 
  3. Give your room a name
  4. Choose expiry date (I forgot to change this for ACEC2012 and now do not have a record of the conversations of two of my sessions.)
  5. Create room
  6. Save the link and share the link with participants
  7. Show them how to use the backchannel
  8. Encourage its use throughout the class or session

Effective Backchannelling

  1. In a conference or workshop, appoint a person to be a scribe and deliberatley add links/resources and answer questions where possible.
  2. Refer to it during the class, session, presentation and answer any questions or clarify any points
  3. Save the backchannel chat, refer back to it, reflect on it, answer further questions, act upon any advice for next class, session etc.

What backchannels have you used? Why do you use them? What tips or hints would you have? Have I answered the question well enough? How would you answer the question in twitter?



4 responses to “Using a Back Channel

  1. Pingback: Using a Back Channel | The 21st century classroom |

  2. Pingback: The power of backchannels! | On an e-Journey with Generation Y

  3. Pingback: Using a Back Channel | 4- 8 Grade Resources to Integrate Technology and Cooperative Learning |

  4. Pingback: Using a Back Channel | Bethel Tech Champions |

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