Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Backchanneling at NECC2008 and Beyond

Photos taken by me.

One of the things I found innovative at NECC2008 was the use of backchannel networking during presentations or forums. These pictures are from a panel discussion I attended at NECC on social networking in education. The facilitators set up a chat channel using Chatzky. Participants each had access to a computer and were logged in to the chat application. A central computer displayed the scrolling conversation. While the presentation continued participants were encouraged to engage in "backchannel" discussions with each other. The panelists periodically attempted to address questions as they were entered into the chat, as well. At this forum, people were typing furiously and it was difficult to follow the rapidly scrolling text and I imagine the panelists might have found it to be a bit distracting. On the other hand, it was incredible to watch the interaction between the panelists and the audience/participants who were in the room and those who weren't even in the building.

In this session, participants also shared links to additional resources adding rich collaborative learning to what might have been an otherwise linear presentation. This type of backchannel participation, can also serve to keep participants highly engaged. Chat transcripts can then be saved and posted for later reference.

David Jakes wrote an awesome blog post about ChatCasting. I encourage you to read it and consider how the face of professional development might be changed with this interesting addition.

Backchannel chats can be incorporated using free resources such as Jaiku, Twitter and SMS, Plurk, AIM, Skype or paid services such as Adobe Connect.

I posed a question to my Plurk buddies about whether they felt that using this type of tool when they conduct staff development workshops would be something they'd be comfortable doing. Some felt they would rather try it with students first, some felt their teachers wouldn't "get it," and some have already successfully used it. I have not used it and I do have some concerns about the direction the conversation could go. You certainly have to give up a certain amount of control in this type of environment and I'm not sure I'm that secure of a presenter. Jen Wagner wrote a thoughtful post on her blog about backchanneling and whether some have taken it too far.

What are your thoughts about incorporating something like this in your next workshop? Do you see any value to something as "edgy" as this? Are there risks? Please leave a comment.


Caroline Bucky-Beaver said...

I'll be the first to admit that I have become addicted to backchannels. I wasn't able to attend NECC2008, so I relied heavily on them to feel connected. However, I feel that I would have participated regardless because backchannels give everyone a voice whether you're in the room or a few states away.

The best backchannels for me were the moderated ones though. Moderators can keep the backchannel focused and also help communicate to the presenter any questions that arise.

I hope to see more people offering this option in their sessions. Between live streaming and offering a backchannel I was able to gain so much more out of NECC right from my desk than I ever expected.

Kristin Hokanson said...

I am addicted too...I LIKE collaborating on my notes and thoughts as I listen to a presentation. It makes it more participatory for me. What is a challenge is when you try to present AND moderate a back channel. At NECC I had a friend stream and moderate my copyright session and it worked GREAT! I could see after the fact what people were thinking. That is GREAT feedback for a presenter. I am going to attempt to offer virtual sessions during my state summit at the end of July.

JLWagner said...


I would agree with both Caroline and have a moderator truly makes the best opportunities for everyone.

I know it is a personal gripe of mine...but when I go to hear someone present.....I feel that I deserve their presence with us....and not wandering back and forth between our audience and the virtual audience.

A moderator is able to both work the chatroom -- but also help the session leader stay in touch (if they choose to) and in that way, I think we all win.

I just know -- for me -- that I cannot present and watch or participate in the does not work for me.

Thanks for your post.
I enjoy reading your thoughts.

sue said...

Not that this has anything to do with your post.....but.... Where are the females...are they not allowed on the all male panel?

IMC Guy said...

I really enjoyed following along in a backchannel chat during some of the sessions I attended at NECC. For me, it was done during a uStream of a session I was sitting in. Being able to communicate with others about the presentation added meaning and allowed me to ask questions and throw comments out about what I was hearing. This was totally new to me and I really liked it.