In last week’s #BYOTchat, one of the topics that came up was the idea of “backchanneling.” What is backchanneling, you say? Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you!
Simply put, backchanneling is the process of designating a medium for facilitating the conversation happening around a particular event.
Whenever an event is taking place, there is a swirl of conversations occurring around that event. In the classroom, it can be two kids talking in the back row, passing notes, or sending texts or emails. At public events, these conversations happen all over the place, and tapping into that backchannel helps you tap into the pulse of what your listeners (or students) are thinking right now.
When entertaining the idea of establishing a backchannel in your classroom, the first thing you should realize is that the backchannel already exists; these conversations are already occurring, even if it’s merely inside someone’s head. What you’re doing is establishing a medium through which these conversations can take place that you can tap into.
The other great thing about backchanneling is that it gives students who may be less enthusiastic about sharing during class the freedom to express themselves without the fear that prevents them from raising their hand.
The mediums suggested here have varying levels of privacy and control, so choose the one that suits your desires and objectives.
The first and most obvious backchannel is Twitter, and there are plenty of success stories for classroom use. This video showcases a high school example, whereas this longer video is in a college setting. The benefits to Twitter are that many students already use Twitter, it’s easy to create a hashtag and get started, and students can use their cell phone to easily post comments. With any projector, you can follow that hashtag and use it as a basis for continuing discussion.
The drawback to Twitter should be obvious: you have no control over who uses the hashtag, so external users can drop random tweets into the feed for everyone to see. You also can’t control what your students are saying either, nor can you force them to use their real names (at least not within Twitter itself).
In terms of dedicated backchannel platforms, two were mentioned during the chat:CoverItLive and TodaysMeet. CoverItLive is a live engagement platform targeting bloggers and reporters covering live events. Much of its impressive feature set can be accessed for free without advertising, with 5k reader limit, which should be fine for any classroom. However, because it has such a wide set of features and is targeted towards event coverage, it may be more difficult and slightly overwhelming to get it plugged into your classroom.
TodaysMeet takes the opposite approach and makes the system really simple to use. You go to the home page, create a “room,” and get a link to provide to your students to access that room. From there, it’s effectively a private chat room. Your students enter their name and are able to chat with each other and the teacher during class. It also has a transcript view, providing a chronological view of the chat, as well as a projector view, in reverse chronological order, for live discussion. This makes it easy to get up and running, but doesn’t provide a lot in the way of customization. For most classrooms and teachers getting into backchanneling, this is a great way to get started.
Do you have any experience with backchanneling? Let us know what you think in the comments section.
[Cross-posted at It's Time!]