on-line learning

Making Friends With the Backchannel

I have decided to approach my new experience with a new attitude.   After all we are three weeks in now and it is time to put on my big girl pants, so to speak, and move on.  The backchannel is my new focus.  I seem to have difficulty focusing on the speaker and wanting to participate in the backchannel conversations.  It doesn’t help, I don’t suppose, that by the evening my brain does not have much focusing power left in it.  I decided to venture out and find out what I could about the backchannel.

Once again it seems like there is a disjoint between what I was taught when I was younger, what I was trained to do in university and what is the reality of our changing world.  I could tell by the conversations during class that other people were wondering what would happen in our own classes if our students were carrying on conversations in the background while we were trying to teach. Would we be as patient as Dr. Richard Schwier was?   He seemed to not be bothered by it at all, in fact, he seemed to embrace it and be able to participate in it while he was teaching.  There seems to be something to be learned from that ,doesn’t there?  Maybe we should be encouraging our students to backchannel more and we should be talking less.

I blame my parents for teaching me to be polite and courteous to others.  I was taught not to speak when others were speaking and to listen to others carefully.  Although I still think these teachings are important, it seems like there are times when all rules can be broken. How could they possibly know in the 1960’s and 70’s that they were not preparing me for the future.   I think that the time has come for me to embrace the idea of backchannel participation and encourage my students to do so also.  According to Frederic Megret,a professor of international law and human rights at McGill University,


there are some hidden advantages to the backchannel that I never thought of.

One of them is that you may have participation from a larger number of students.  It is true that in a large group, only a few, more vocal voices participate and a lot of the audience is quiet.  It does make sense that if they had a less obvious way to participate, that more might take advantage of it.

Another thing that I never thought of was the backchannel could actually make students, including myself, more attentive at the thought of being able to participate in a different format.

Although the general verdict is still out on whether backchannel participation is great or not, I think that backchanneling might be for me after all.  Relax, take a chill pill and take advantage of it instead of fighting against it.  Advice I plan to follow during our next on-line session.  See you on the backchannel.

4 thoughts on “Making Friends With the Backchannel”

  1. The backchannel allows students to ask questions that might not otherwise be asked in a verbal conversation. It also allows for the contribution from students that might not participate otherwise.

    It’s good to read that you are open to giving the backchannel a try. As an administrator, if you ultimately see a value in this type of communication, you may also see use for it in staff meetings. Collaborative tools such as Elluminate are fantastic to improve productivity during group events and will, in many scenarios, save time.

  2. i invited one of my highschool students to join us last tuesday night – to experience the backchannel. she couldn’t follow – said it was too fast.

    the reason i invited her – she’s in a pilot web-based math class with me – where they are in essence back channeling all class period. we have a ning sight and they do the live chat on there non-stop – at night as well.

    i would say it has most definitely given them a voice. and it’s kept me from answering questions that no one is asking – or even interested in.

  3. Good points re: the backchannel. One thing (that I just explained on a different blog post) is that the backchannel is much bigger than the chat in Elluminate. It’s the Twitter conversations, the tagging all over the web, the resources shared, etc – it’s the bigger, distributed conversation.

    It’s not like the backchannel never existed. It is just now easier to track, easier to create, and harder to control (kudos to your post on control).

    Embrace it when it is helpful, not because you feel you have to. But also, consider how you can help your students explore different yet meaningful venues for conversation.

  4. Pingback: Smart's Blog

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