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What's "Backchannelling" All About?

What's "Backchannelling" All About?

Editor’s Note: Backchannelling is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. In an educational setting, students could type in questions or comments for the instructor without interrupting the flow of the lesson.

In SpEdChange, Ira talks about backchanneling. He mentions how he has used it in his class and how they all benefited by this.

He says, “Every few minutes I looked up at the screen and checked the conversation, and typically I adjusted the discussion, or picked up on a question being asked there, or commented on an answer or a comment. In a big class it gave me real access to far more students than I can possibly get by watching for raised hands. And it let me – and the class – hear from many who never raise their hands. Honestly, I could even judge, much more clearly than usual, what was connecting and what was missing.”

What a power tool this appears to be! I plan to try this in my university course that I’m teaching next summer. Ira mentions another teacher who feels this is a distraction and another feels that backchanneling is an “unharnessed resource.” I think as in any kind of tool used in the classroom, if students know that you are monitoring it, it will be used appropriately. I also feel that it gives everyone an opportunity to have a voice in more ways than are possible without it. If students are engaged in the lesson, how could they not use it appropriately?

I love the thought of having a shy student feeling comfortable asking a question this way? By backchanneling you are not interrupting the speaker and if monitored, the speaker can answer the questions at an appropriate time. I think it also keeps people from interrupting each other and helps students really listen to what the speaker is saying, Many times my students focus so much on remembering their question that they stop listening to what is being said. If they can backchannel the question, they will be listening for the answer.

I believe that some teachers tend to be intimidated by backchanneling but they need to look at the positives which outweigh the negatives. I think it gives immediate feedback to the teacher, which could make our lessons more interesting and more relevant. This is a great example of why good teachers are the ones who are flexible and not rigid. Ira talks about how he adjusted the discussion which I think says a lot about him as a teacher. He is willing to adjust his teaching in order to make sure his students understand what he is talking about. How many times have you heard a speaker drone on about something and you were lost about 20 minutes ago and still have no idea what he is talking about? What a waste of time for both, the speaker and the audience!

I am looking at Google Moderator and it looks interesting. I think I will recommend that we use plurk though because I like that the conversation is all in one place and can be saved. What are your thoughts on backchanneling in the classroom? Should this be used only at certain age levels? Would elementary level students be able to use this? Please leave your suggestions, thoughts, opinions in our forum about backchanneling.


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