Expanding the notion of backchanneling

At Tech Forum Austin, Paul Wood (Bishop Dunne Catholic School) and I presented “Tapping into the Backchannel”–a session on the variety of ways that backchannels can be used both professionally and in the classroom setting.

We spoke specifically about how backchannels can be used by educators as:

  • 1)learners
  • 2)information gatherers
  • 3)presenters (including speakers, principals, board members, etc–any sort of meeting)
  • 4) in classroom settings

As learners, tools like Twitter can be invaluable ways to tap into professional development workshops that we could never attend, and become aware of conferences that may have escaped our notice.   We can even participate in the conference from afar, ask questions, discuss the merits of ideas presented, etc.

As information gatherers, even the news media has picked up on the ability of twitter to report the news instantaneously.   This means that Twitter can be an invaluable tool for gaining first hand knowledge of an event.   Earthquakes,  government upheavals, drastic weather events–all are easily researched on Twitter.  It’s the new “primary source” and as educators, it should be included in our arsenal of information gathering tools.

As presenters, wherever we are speaking, we almost have to presume now that what we say is being backchanneled.  Cliff Atkinson, the author of Backchanneling, suggests that consequently as presenters, teachers, etc. that we need to be sure that our presentations are tightly focused, but that it is important to make an effort to interact with, embrace, and invite in the backchannel as a way of connecting with and engaging with the audience.  So if you are a school board member or superintendent, you should be sure that your meeting is probably being written about on some backchannel or another, so why not announce a hashtag for the meeting(one that you could look back at later?)  With our school conducting a 1:1 iPad initiative for teachers, it occurred to me the many ways that administrators could incorporate backchanneling into local workshops and faculty meetings and create a more interactive dynamic in the meeting.

For example, a principal could have a hashtag for the faculty meeting, where teachers could tweet their questions, or if she wanted to keep the discussion internal, set up a chat room on many of the available tools like TodaysMeet, Simplemeet.me or Chatzy, so that she could review the questions or comments later.  With a faculty at a large high school, this could be helpful way of moving the discussion along in workshops or at meetings.

Of course, backchanneling can be so effectively used in the classroom or library to help a large group be more actively engaged in the discussion at hand. Many of the tools we talked about in the workshop (see Prezi below) also lend themselves well to use in library settings, like backchanneling student research presentations, or inviting guest speakers in for students can interact with and also talk to via a backchannel like Skype, or a chat tool.

In the classroom, using a chat or backchannel can really help students focus on and engage more with a film, with a panel discussion, with an inner/outer circle discussion, or a teacher led discussion, or even small group assignments.   This isn’t “new stuff” but more and more tools are becoming available to us to use in these settings (check out our Livebinder to see some of the newer ones available.)

For our session we used SimpleMeet.me  which worked very effectively, and can be used on the iPad (which many of the others can’t.  The only issue with SimpleMeet on the iPad was that if the participants switch out of the chat to do something else, and come back to it, it starts the chat over.  But that’s hopefully a way to keep students more on task 😉 )

While our session was just an introduction for administrators to the possibilities of backchanneling, check out our Prezi and Livebinder for some new tools and interesting video examples of backchanneling at work.

2 thoughts on “Expanding the notion of backchanneling

  1. Yes, thanks for the resources and for the ideas – I love the idea about creating a back channel in staff meetings and using a chat room as a virtual break out space. I’ve never tried it in our classroom, but I think it would be useful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *