Friday, April 15, 2011

What has and can backchanneling do for me and my students?

Backchanneling as I’ve come to understand it includes all of those previously regarded “undercurrent” of conversation during a lecture or meeting. We’ve all made our editorial comments, silly or curious or productive, while another has been speaking. Recently, this conversation has been privileged, electronically, and given a name, “backchanneling.”

In a 21st Century classroom, this “backchanneling” might appear as an electronic conversation, either through a classroom chat or twitter or some other form of electronic communication that occurs in real-time.

Initially backchanneling intrigues me. It has the potential for the kind of clever side-comments provided during “The Wørd” on the Colbert Report. In this segment, a sassy comment that appears on screen as text-only either refutes or renders ironic the surface meaning that the commentator is making. Naturally, this is done for comic effect, but I also feel as though comments like these can clarify meaning. Question thinking. Push a conversation in an interesting direction.

What does this look like in a classroom? The closest my students come to the official new definition of backchanneling in the elementary tech classroom is by using Edmodo, Diigo and Moodle. Since we usually gather and annotate bookmarks during class time, Diigo is probably the social networking site that would allow students to communicate most directly while actually working together in a classroom during a lesson—as opposed to Edmodo and Moodle.

Sidenote: Some students have embraced Edmodo for communication while at home, and most notably on break. Moodle segments conversation into forum topics, and isn’t as freewheeling as the other two.

In Diigo, the potential for focused conversation on the topic at hand is built in, as students are bookmarking websites and commenting on them for others to examine. The Comment button allows students to ask questions about the websites others post. They can answer each other. Yes, some of the comments include “You go, Morgan!” but they also include clarifying questions like, “What is obesity?”

I have not encountered severely off-topic or negative experiences so far. However, since the comments are public and tagged with the student’s name, the checks and balances are built into the delivery system.

Diigo may not be true backchanneling as I am not typically lecturing during research time, but engaging in each others’ thoughts electronically can be a valuable way for students to collaborate.

What do you think about backchanneling? Do you feel it can be useful or distracting?

7 Things you Should Know about Backchannel Communication

Backchanneling with Elementary Students

10 Reasons to Try Backchannel