Tuesday, November 11, 2008


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 the comment section so everyone can read them.

Photo credit: Original image: 'What's Your backchannel' http://www.flickr.com/photos/35468142410@N01/528230215by: Deb Schultz


Anonymous said...

It seems like an excellent idea to me. I particulary like the idea that the speaker is not interrupted (how often do we say: "Could you hold that question till later, when I plan to cover this issue").

One just have to make sure that the technology is very stable and dependable!

Caroline Bucky-Beaver said...

Personally, I know that I was one of those "shy" students who hardly ever raised her hand. Providing a back channel in a class gives each child an equal voice, an equal opportunity to participate. I feel that a teacher needs to ensure guidelines for participation are put into place and conduct a "dry run". If not, the back channel could become a free for all.

As for the teacher, allowing them the chance to constantly check for understanding provides them with invaluable feedback. How many times do we teach and think everyone got it the first time around? Typically, we've missed a few. I know it has happened to me.

I'll be interested to see how elementary teachers feel about the possibility of using back channels in their instruction. I don't have much experience with that age group and wonder if it could be incorporated.

irasocol said...

Thanks for the link - and your thoughts. One of the reasons I pushed my son to develop http://todaysmeet.com/ was so I could have a "no-log-in, no registration" stable and simple system, so you might try that. Plus the coding is right for use with browser text-to-speech systems like Click-Speak and for Vista Speech Recognition.

I'm not sure "how young is too young" but I've seen this work (with handheld computers) down to 10/11-year-olds. It is not necessarily an instant success, rather, it is something which builds into something very valuable.

- Ira Socol

Bill Gaskins said...

I like the concept of back channeling and have participated in this. Many times the conversation is richer than questions after the presentation. Thanks for sharing..

loonyhiker said...

Kobus: I have also heard of people who didn't have access to technology use a board called a parking lot.