I was first introduced to ‘backchannels’ at UnPlugged last year. (More about UnPlugged here.) For me, it was like being allowed to talk in class. All of those things I wanted to whisper to my neighbor, I now had an avenue for. If I wondered about something that was said or made a connection, this was a place to put those thoughts. The resources I naturally look up when I wonder about something, could now have a place to be shared.
Since then I have loved the backchannels of conferences I am attending and those I just wish I was. It gives me a way to learn, even when I can’t be there and a way to deepen my understanding when I am there.
Realizing how much I benefit, as a learner, from these opportunities I started wondering about incorporating backchannels into my classes.
So far I have only been willing to take the plunge in my Digital Storytelling class. This is an elective and the syllabus is flexible. If something gets us way off track, it is OK. We have used the backchannel to share resources, ask questions, and keep one another posted on the progress of projects.
Initially I introduced the backchannel with some simple ground rules and things to keep in mind:
- Appropriate language
- Staying on topic
- How to address people (@_____) if you wanted to ‘speak’ to, or reply to, someone in particular
- Remembering our Twitter lessons of 140 characters or less (We use TodaysMeet)
- How to get a transcript of the session to reference later
As always, if you make poor choices, there are consequences. One student needed one warning, but having the warning on the backchannel served as a reminder for everyone.
Since then we have successfully used a backchannel many times. Sometimes I start it and sometimes they request one.
Am I ready to take this into all of my classes? I am getting closer. In other classes it could be optional. Some people (me) benefit from this outlet. There are others that find it distracting. Either way the transcript could be viewed once class had finished and the conversation could continue, virtually.
What are your thoughts and experience when it comes to backchannels?