The power of backchannels!

A week or so ago, I got a request to explain the backchannel and wrote a post Using a Backchannel. However the response came back that there was still confusion.In fact twitter is actually being used as a backchannel for this discussion.

As a teacher, students can tell me when they are confused at the very point of confusion if they can txt me in a backchannel or discussion space, but they rarely put their hand up and tell me. I can then re-explain, re-teach until they do understand.

Re-explaining a backchannel:-

Imagine if when you are writing for an assignment or assessment piece, that would allow every student to simultaneously:-

  •  ask questions that come to them, immediately.
  • ask for the word  or terms, to describe something (as it wont come immediately into your head)
  • resolve confusion immediately
  • share  opinion ‘silently’ with others who are also writing
  • seek feedback on an argument  to be used etc.
  • share resources
  •  input feelings, thoughts etc
  • teacher could add ‘silently’ ask questions to ensure students understand topic
  • retain a written record of all of the above

Imagine if….when listening to a presenter at a conference,or to speakers in a debate or a public speech or to a teacher, listeners or participants could:-

  • offer feedback (constructive) on the quality of the presentation
  • ask questions at any stage
  • share their knowledge with each other
  • share resources to support the speaker
  • poll on the success of the speech

Below are some screen grabs of a backchannel used in a classroom. Students in grades 2 to 10 were listening to a geologist talk virtually (online) about the animals that lived in Kanawinka, Australia’s GeoPark. Each student was logged on individually and could use the chat area as a backchannel. When Ian, the geologist talked about the bats, the students put questions and comments into the chat area (backchannel) of the virtual classroom, Blackboard Collaborate. Ian  stopped his presentation and answered the questions.

Backchannel chat from students whilst listening to a virtual guest speaker

The screengrab below is from an online accounting class where students shared their confusion in the chat. They would not have normally interrupted me, the online teacher, but as they had a chat area to comment in, they were happy to admit what they did not understand. I had to rephrase my teaching and teach to their confusion.

The backchannel from virtual students in Blackboard Collaborate during online accounting class

Some backchannel tools to use:- twitter, chatzy, todaysmeet, blackboard collaborate, msn, skype group chat, coveritlive  etc

Setting up the backchannel-

  • Choose a backchannel tool
  • The organiser or teacher creates a backchannel using one of the tools above.
  • The link is shared with the class or participants. These participants  click on the link, login (if required), enter their name and proceed to use it as an educational chat room.
  • It twitter is to be shared as a backchannel, then a hashtag would be created eg for the recent ACEC2012 conference, participants shared what they learnt, asked questions, talked about experiences through a tweet that included the hashtag #acec2012. This hashtag can be entered into tweetchat and the conversation followed there.

Further resources

How would you explain a backchannel? Have you used one? What is your opinion of a backchannel? What tool did you use? What resources could you add to this post? Can you please help this young university student?

One response to “The power of backchannels!

  1. Pingback: Twitter and Backchannels | MarkjOwen's Blog

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