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.
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.