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

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seth Godin's Big Old Thing

After Steve Braunius shared the “Bring Me Stuff That’s Dead Please” blog post by Seth Godin, I have been mulling over what it means. Seth has somehow encapsulated my approach to integrating technology by calling out the “bleeding edge” for what it is. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it moves on, like the grocery shopper at a sample cart. That kind of innovation introduces us to novelties, to what’s next, to reconsider the accepted. But we also need time to savor. (Am I still trying to make that sample cart metaphor stick?)

I’m a slower thinker. I like to mull. To contemplate. Possibly to appreciate.

In a day when the equivalent of antiquing in the tech world is still subscribing to NetFlix and actually watching dvds, it’s no wonder that the fear of irrelevance or becoming obsolete is very real. We have a false sense that if we aren’t staying current with the fast noisy world of whatever the internet equivalent of mtv is . . . we’re missing out on true tech integration. Yet, contemplative hive-like conversation is happening inside the honeycombs of online and offline communities.

For example, I have been rethinking digital storytelling with my students. It already feels a little tired. Worn. A PowerPoint Plus—not in a revolutionary way, but in a retread way. I’ve been thinking of jazzing it up with the use of Prezi. Troy Hicks, a thinker and professor at Central Michigan University, who presented at a Digital Writing Workshop a few of us attended, introduced the idea of kinetic moving type ( Flashy. Witty. Visually intelligent.

When we learn a new tool or take up a digital genre, we think differently about composition. Our composition ideas are sifted while locating the font editor and determining the options for movement. As in Prezi, we begin to think less linearly and more web-like. We’re closer to the moment when we didn’t know how.

At the same time, all quality work begins with thoughtful planning. Several of my students’ digital stories did not reflect careful thought or even precise research. The focus was on the product--and it feels good to click "play" and watch and hear your effort ready-made for an audience. There's value in that. Yet, I need to think more deliberately about visual literacy and communicating this to students. In conversations with Kip Holland-Anderson, Lisa Shears, Mary Shannon and Troy Hicks (and others in the future, I'm sure), I’ve been able to reflect on the process. Troy's book deliberately privileges the words "Writing Workshop" on its cover.

Let’s go thrift store shopping. And in this way, be transformative. PowerPoint is dead. But it’s definitely a viable option for composing kinetic moving type.