Sunday, June 24, 2018

Backchanneling: The Why, How, and What (Best Tool)

As I wrote previously, digital tools can support and enhance discussion among learners and adults.  As a supplement to traditional discussion strategies technology can serve as a catalyst to increase engagement by getting more people actively involved during lessons.  It can also take conversations to new levels of interactivity and expression.  Below are some of the ways I highlighted that digital discussion represents an improvement over traditional pathways:
  • Allows creativity in responses (video, images, online research citations)
  • Provides an avenue for open reflection
  • Affords more people an opportunity to answer and ask questions
  • Better meets the needs of shy and introverted students
  • Can extend conversations and learning beyond the traditional school day 
  • Welcomes participation from others beyond the physical location
  • Can be used to show parents and stakeholders the learning that is taking place
  • Works to create a culture grounded in trust and responsibility
Backchanneling is a conventional digital discussion strategy that has gained popularity since the rise of social media.  So why and how should one incorporate backchanneling during workshops, presentations, faculty meetings, after hours, or in classrooms? Backchannel Chat has some good answers to both of these questions below:   
A backchannel is a conversation that takes place alongside an activity or event. Backchannels or back-channeling is common at conferences where attendees use tools like Twitter to discuss the various presentations in near real time. This gives the audience a real voice and helps to include and engage the audience in ways not seen before. 
In an educational context, a backchannel can provide quiet students with a place to ask questions without speaking up. A backchannel is a place that teachers can share supporting resources such as video's, links and photos. Teachers can ask questions and watch the response of students to determine if they understand the concepts being discussed. Students can search the backchannel for notes and resources without having to scribble personal notes on paper.



With the why and how in place the final step is to focus on what tool is best to use to facilitate a backchannel.  In many cases, especially during conferences, presentations, and workshops, Twitter is the preferred medium for this.  The issue with Twitter though is that not everyone might be signed up to are comfortable with using this tool. In the case of classrooms, this issue is prevalent as well as the fact that some schools still block Twitter while age restrictions can prohibit younger learners from leveraging the benefits of a backchannel. So, what is the right tool that is free, accessible with an Internet connection, can work on any device, and is easy to set up?

In the past TodaysMeet served as the de facto tool to use to set up and facilitate an active backchannel in all contexts.  However, like many tools, we have come to love this one no longer exists.  The lesson learned here is never fall in love with a specific tool, but instead, focus on an improved learning experience our outcome that is provided. In this case, it is the backchannel experience.  After trying out many different tools I have settled on Padlet as my recommended application for backchanneling. Say what?

I know what many of you are thinking. Isn’t Padlet a tool for sharing responses in a digital Post-It note format? This is in fact how many of us have come to know and use the tool predominantly in the past. You can still use it this way, but as I was setting up a Padlet for one of my recent presentations, I stumbled upon the backchannel feature. When this option is enabled your board becomes a real-time, threaded conversation just like you would have seen in TodaysMeet. Once your board is set up create a shortened link with, share out with your audience, and in a snap, you have a backchannel set up. Other tools that can be used include Mentimeter and Tozzl.

Whatever tool you decide on keep in mind the improved outcome you are attempting to facilitate with backchanneling. Whether it be asking questions, enhanced collaboration, reflection, or more transparent engagement the key is putting the goal front and center and selecting a tool last. 

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