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Yesterday I shared four pedagogical considerations for backchannelling.

Today I suggest a framework, strategies, and tips on backchannelling. Caveat: Like yesterday, the content I share today is a draft of ideas swirling about in my head.

I shared this framework at a few conference talks when urging educators to leverage on social media-based learning.

Most frontal or online teaching is so focused on content delivery that social learning opportunities are banished to the periphery or are left out altogether.

To leverage on social media-based learning, a facilitator might start with the social process first and then make their way to the content through increasingly focused or serendipitous conversations.

A variation is social-content-social strategy. As I tend to backchannel at conferences, I have suggested to organizers and participants that an alternative experience could have been engaging with me on social media or a backchannel first.

Weeks before my talk, participants could tell me what issues they want me to focus on. After some crowdsourcing, they vote on the top three or five topics.

During my talk I deliver focused content that my audience wants and I can choose to backchannel or not. After the talk is over, I continue conversing with participants in the backchannel.

The social-content-social method can operate like a funnel. The topics are somewhat broad or chaotic in the initial social process. They are consolidated during the talk and may be refined during the second socialization process.

The flipping of a conference talk is just one example of leveraging on a backchannel. During a talk or lecture, a backchannel can be also be used:

  • to get an audience to answer prompted questions
  • by the speaker to answer spontaneous questions raised by participants
  • by all parties to share online resources by posting URLs
  • to provide an extended question and answer session outside the allocated time

I have written about how backchannelling places an additional cognitive load on an audience. Sometimes a backchannel can allow participants have conversations amongst themselves. This simulates note-passing and seems to be the least burdensome activity. It is very rewarding to observe audience members raise questions and have other members address them.

Finally, I offer some tips on backchannelling.

  • Check with the organizers of a talk if they are not against the practice of backchannelling. Ensure that the venue is not a wireless Internet dead spot.
  • Whether you use backchannels with a group you meet regularly or whether you spring a surprise on an audience, it is important to set expectations. I like to remind mine that everyone can see what they write and ask them to post professionally.
  • To make it easy for your audience members to access your backchannel, provide a short URL they can type and or QR code they can scan.
  • It can be tempting to leave the backchannel entirely in the background. I advise using it during the lecture or talk so that participants know that what they say there matters. Ask them for suggestions, review their comments, or answer their questions at strategic intervals.
  • When you are done with the talk or lecture, monitor the backchannel for as long as you promise your audience. Some members may post a question or comment after the fact and you should respond.

I normally set the stage by declaring how talks or lectures are boring. They do not have to be if you find ways to connect with your audience. One of those ways is backchannelling.

I hope that the framework, strategies, and tips I have shared on backchannelling are useful.

I was prompted to draft some thoughts on designing backchannel activities by @ryantracey who interviewed me for an eLearning Magazine article in April.

I have used an assortment of tools or social media platforms for backchannelling during lectures or talks: Facebook, Edmodo, Twitter, Padlet, TodaysMeet, GoSoapBox, and Pigeonhole.

Whatever the tool, the purpose of the backchannel might be to break down the one-way street of didactic delivery by creating an additional and multi-way channel of communication.

The first consideration for a backchannel should be why you want one. This could for a number of good reasons, for example:

  • getting or giving feedback
  • providing an additional platform for questions & answers
  • promoting parallel conversations
  • capturing the essence of a blended learning session for archiving/sharing
  • one-minute reflections or exit tickets

A bad reason for wanting a backchannel is to look cool or to try something for its own sake.

The second consideration might be context, which might be a mass lecture or a conference talk. These contexts have these features in common:

  • information is delivered didactically
  • the delivery is in one place and at one pace
  • the audience is present as a requirement (in the case of a lecture)
  • the audience is self-selecting (in the case of a conference or seminar)
  • the content is grey or controversial enough to generate discussion
  • the audience is expected to sit, listen, and wait for a limited time and opportunity to respond

Whether backchannels are the initiative of the speaker or the organizer, they are a means of getting around tight schedules and situations where efficiency seems to be valued over effectiveness.

A third consideration is the size of the class or audience. I use backchannels at conferences where I am a keynote, plenary, or session speaker. The largest audience I have backchannelled with was 1,200. The smallest was around 50.

If you can count the number of people present with your hands and toes, you probably do not need a backchannel. That group should be small enough for you to interact closely with them.

A fourth consideration is the features of the backchannelling tool, such as:

  • ease of use
  • chronology of text inputs
  • linear vs threaded conversations
  • audience polling
  • monitoring/notifications
  • controlled access and/or message filtering
  • expiration

Whatever the bells and whistles, it is worth remembering that backchannelling is a social process. Often the ease of use and basic text inputs are all that are required. That is why my favourite backchannel tool at the moment is TodaysMeet.

I compared Twitter and TodaysMeet as backchannels in a previous blog entry. Note: I am not paid or otherwise supported by Twitter or TodaysMeet to mention their offerings.

When in use, TodaysMeet shows user-generated text in reverse chronology (most recent text at the top). For archiving and ease of reading, TodaysMeet offers a transcript view in forward chronology.

Both views are linear so it may be difficult to follow back and forth discussions. However, this is rarely an issue because audience members are typically multitasking (switching listening, asking, answering, responding), so responses are short.

TodaysMeet does not offer polls like GoSoapBox. But you can prepare a poll elsewhere (e.g., Google Forms) and post the link in the backchannel for participants to click on.

TodaysMeet is very basic in that it does not have a monitoring or notification system. So if someone posts in the backchannel after a talk, you must keep track manually. Other backchanneling tools might alert you of a new posting.

A backchannel is meant for a select audience and members must feel they are in a safe place to share their thoughts. Tools like Pigeonhole and GoSoapBox are password or code-protected. The current iteration of TodaysMeet allows you to delete offensive or irrelevant posts.

As backchannels tend to be specific to events, it helps if the backchannels have a shelf life. Neither you nor the participants are likely to use it beyond a certain period of time. You can set what this period is (a week, a month) in TodaysMeet.

I share strategies and tips on backchannelling in Part 2 tomorrow.

It is hard to tell if this was a tongue-in-cheek or serious tweet. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

I like that there are so many education-centred chats on Twitter [sample]. These are a healthy sign of the diversity of self help, directedness, and organization among educators globally.

You can find one or more groups that suit your time zone, learning needs, or personality. You choose to participate or not.

Many lurk, some participate, and a few like Junkins step up to the plate and facilitate chat after chat.

Perhaps that is why he tweeted that there were too many chats. It can be exhausting coordinating local and international chats.

But it is not a case of having too many chats. It is trying to take on too much.

You choose to invest time and effort in interacting with people you may never meet in person, but get to meet in mind.

Tags: ,

Is it possible to offer technical support in 140 characters? It might be.

Recently I had to find solutions to two technical issues.

I upgraded by iPad mini to iOS 8 (and left my iPhone on iOS 7 to keep it jailbroken). The upgrade prevented me from connecting to my VPN service.

I tried restarting the device and making sure that the input fields were correct. Here is what worked.

I had also activated two factor authentication (2FA) on my Google account a while ago. I did not realize that it would prevent the YouTube app in my Apple TV from working. After a quick search, I discovered a simple solution.

Offering these technical tips without hashtagging them almost seemed pointless. Twitter dashboard tells me my tweets get 30,000 views per day, but that does not mean I am offering anyone anything of value. So why did I do it?

I only realized why after the fact. I was responding to someone who claimed that 140 characters prevented effective communication.

The essence of solutions to problems can be shown in text, images, links, audio, or videos in tweets. Brevity is not opposed to clarity.

The brevity of tweets might lead to loss of context and rationale. But you can post multiple tweets and be succinct about it. You might also rely on long form like this blog to get the best of both worlds.

It is about finding a way with whatever cards you are dealt with.

Video source

Traditionalists who think that kids should only read from dead tree books and not be given interactive e-books before a certain age are bound to take joy in this book by Novak.

They will call this evidence of the effectiveness of not just books but also pictureless books. Victory!

But their confidence is misplaced. There are many forms of reading: For pleasure, for work, for study; skimming or in-depth; alone or in groups; being read to or reading on your own. They are not the same thing.

For me the video is evidence of connecting with kids. You can (and should) do that with any type of book.

And if video is the new text, what other sort of reading should we be promoting? Take a minute (or three) and see.

The evolution of television viewing habits and the entertainment industry’s reaction to this are giving teachers and the schooling industry a lesson on change.

When TV broadcasting schedules did not fit the lifestyles of viewers, they started recording them for viewing later. Now we see the rise of on-demand streaming and torrenting of TV shows.

Consider this RW interview of Gillian Jacobs (star of the critically-acclaimed Community) and her answer to the last question in particular.

RW: Some people thought you were here for Yahoo, because the next season of Community will now be streamed online, after being on NBC for years. Do you think it’s weird to have your show streamed online?

GJ: It makes complete sense to me. That’s how most of our audience was watching the show anyway. I don’t sit down at my TV at 8 p.m. on Thursday night, and I don’t know too many people who watch TV live like that anymore. For me, it seems like a natural fit.

Even before we were on Yahoo, we were a show that had one foot in the online world, and one foot in network TV. We were an uncomfortable fit for network TV almost.

I’m doing a show for Netflix after Community as well. I definitely see that’s where so much exciting programming and so many of the TV shows I’m loving right now are streamed, in that format.

I remember during the first season of Community, I went to a coffee shop and someone said, “Oh I love your show!” I told them there was a new episode that night, and she said “I don’t even know what night it’s on.”

We live and die on network TV by scheduling, what night you’re put on, what hour you’re put on, Nielsen ratings, all these things. It’s so irrelevant to most viewers these days. It’s kind of a relief to be on Yahoo and untethered from that.

I step back into the 20th century when I visit my parents on weekends. That is the only time I watch broadcast TV: ‘live’ news reporting the “olds”, imported programmes that are a season behind, or reruns of movies I can memorize dialogues to.

In my own home, things are different. During dinner I project online videos to a TV screen via a Chromecast. We watch and discuss video from playlists I create earlier from YouTube and Vimeo. I use a VPN service to watch BBC programmes using iPlayer or binge watch a series on Netflix.

I am not alone in doing this.

Google critically and you will find data and studies on the TV viewing habits of teenagers and university students. They are decidedly mobile and streaming-oriented.

I know of university IT groups that have tried throttling streaming video because they blame students on campus and residence halls for taking up too much bandwidth.

Like many schools today, these IT groups are trying to find an old solution to a new problem. The fact that it is viewed as a problem instead of an opportunity is a problem! The opportunities are changes in perception, mindset, policy, and practice.

For example, take how TV is increasingly interactive. ‘Live’ broadcasts often have #hashtags where viewers can share their thoughts with the broadcaster and other viewers. The broadcaster, actors, directors, or producers can also interact directly with their viewers and fans. In edu-speak, we might call this active backchannelling.

Most classrooms are stuck in 20th century TV land. Broadcasting is like one place, one pace, and didactic delivery. Broadcasters and teachers think what they deliver is valuable. Only they decide what, when, and how their audiences get.

How valuable is that now when the information and experiences can be found elsewhere? How current is the information? How connected are teachers to their viewers/students?

Broadcasters remain broadcasters, but they innovate because of the bottom dollar. Teachers can reinvent themselves, but many do not because of the bubble of inertia and exam-based assessment.

What is it going to take to burst that bubble?

I lurked for much of Sunday’s #aussieED chat about digital citizenship. 

One or two tweeps suggested that digital citizenship was partly about how to manage your digital footprints.

Another one or two commented that footprints were temporary. Digital artefacts are much more lasting than that. Not many people know that if your web resource is indexed by Google, it is likely to be cached. You might delete the resource, but it can still be retrieved from the cache. 

Someone else suggested digital tattoos instead, presumably for permanence and personal choice.

I do not think that we should be selling the idea of positive digital citizenship with tattoos. Depending on context and mindset, tattoos are associated with negative elements, e.g., gangsterism. Tattoos are also painful, but the process of being a responsible and productive citizen does not have to be that way. 

I suggest digital shadow instead. 

Your digital shadow is always there as long as you stand in front of the practically omnipresent Internet light.

A shadow follows you wherever you go. It is not just an online feature, but also an essential part of you. Your shadow might start with clicks, but it goes to where there are bricks.

It takes your shape (it represents who you are), but you can also distort it (you can exaggerate or emphasize). You shape it and you have control depending on how you grow and where you stand with respect to the light.

Unless you are an Internet ghost, you have a digital shadow. Parents create one for you by putting your baby photos online. Later on you take ownership of your own shadow. Some of us gravitate to this task naturally, some of us go kicking and screaming.

Your shadow does not define you; it is an extension of who you are. But others can manipulate your shadow by shifting the light or adding to your shadow. You need to decide if that is how you want yourself to be represented.

Like a real shadow, we often take our digital shadows for granted. Unlike a real shadow, our digital shadows can serve us or haunt us. Most “cyberwellness” programmes tend to focus on the harm. Well designed digital citizenship programmes find a reasonable balance.

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