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Posts Tagged ‘backchannel

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

BACKCHANNEL
A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with bit.ly and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

VISUALISATIONS
The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

TOPIC CHOICE AND FOCUS
One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

QUIZZING
My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

REFLECTION AND TAKEAWAYS
I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.
 

 
A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

Last Saturday, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel on game-based learning and gamification.

I had questions that I could not address in the limited time during my keynote as well as the panel at the end of the conference. These were from the pre-conference poll.

I wish to address these questions, but I will focus only on questions that I understand.

How to tie in GBL with small-wins or short-term rewards?

I have no idea how to do this with GBL because I have not implemented GBL with this design or intent. Nor will I ever. During the keynote I described how games could be integrated to focus on thinking skills, attitudes, values, and intrinsic motivation. These take time to develop and I would rather invest in these.

How would I use this technique if the University has a set of rules I have to follow and present?

The university (or partner university in your case) is unlikely to have rules about pedagogy. If it did, that is not a university that is looking to serve for today and tomorrow.

You know the content, context, and your learners best. The WHAT of a prescribed curriculum might be very full. The HOW is your responsibility and limited by your creativity.

Must it be IT based?

The “it” could be games or gamification. Both could be enabled with current technology or not. I gave examples of both during the keynote, so I have addressed that part of the question.

Here is the other part: ICT is a more current term than IT since the former is often more interactive and multi-way while the latter is more transmissive and about regulations.

What types of subjects are suitable for game based learning?

Any and all of them are suitable, especially if you do not limit yourself to content-based learning and expand the possibilities to include critical and creative thinking, socio-emotional learning, soft skills, attitudes and values, etc.

Can Gamification ideas be implemented not through a game but just mere teaching activity?

Gamification does not employ games; it uses deconstructed elements of games, e.g., points, levelling up, leaderboards.

Your question seems to hint at game-like instruction. There are strategies like putting the problem (assessment) first or early, and focusing on just-in-time learning instead of just-in-case front loading.

I would like to try this approach but I am afraid it might take up a lot of the class time. How do I go about it without sacrificing too much of the contact time?

Can you have a cake and not eat it? 😉

Something has to give and if it comes to that, you might have to use your judgement to see what to push out in order include something else.

How viable would it be to introduce gamification within a primary/secondary school classroom? The aim is to use gaming elements to increase engagement between the students and the teacher.

It is certainly viable, as apparent by the number of vendors and parties outside of schooling and higher education who want to do this.

Unfortunately, these groups sell you on the low-hanging fruit of “increased engagement”. Do not play this game because this is not why any technology-mediated strategy should be used.

Trying to engage is like trying to take control of light switches: You try to flip them on so that your students see the light. But they are just as easy to switch off or learners can move on to something else.

Engagement is something you do to try to help your students; empowerment is something you pass to students so they help everyone. By all means engage, but do not forget to empower. Vendors might tell you how to engage with gamification; I would rather see learners empowered by game-based learning.

how to know which game is appropirate [sic] for teaching when we don’t game?

You do not and cannot know. So play!

My replies to these questions might have a perceived tone. I assure the askers that my replies come from a good place and with good intent: I want us to collectively change and improve our practice.

Participants of the session observed how the panel and I approached the Q&A. The same tone and concern should be applied here.

Thanks to a tweet from TNW, I found this YouTube video.


Video source

The video should be used as a case study for instructor professional development on student response systems or backchannels because it:

  • revealed what can happen in an authentic classroom or lecture hall
  • can prompt “What if…?” questions and subsequent answers
  • provided examples of an instructor’s unflappable response

The video started with an instructor asking an open-ended question and providing students with an opportunity to share short answers. Without establishing any ground rules, chaos seemed to ensue right after the third response.

While some students tried to provide academic answers, the flow of mischievous answers encouraged others to escalate the playfulness.

I would wager that many instructors would shudder at the video. Some might even break out into a cold sweat.

But it is important to realise this: If you use technology to give student voice, you are going to get it. It might be unfiltered, uncensored, and honest. And that is not a bad thing.

The students were likely to appreciate the opportunity to be involved, and because of the emotions they experienced, are more likely to remember the learning opportunity.

The instructor did an excellent job of:

  • not immediately closing down the feedback system
  • taking the responses and laughter in his stride
  • skilfully steering the conversation back to the topic

Other instructors, be they novices or veterans, could learn from the video and share their thoughts. If they do, they could learn a thing or two on how to create more interactive sessions with students.

If they wish to open up their classrooms to student voice, there must be ongoing conversations, not monologues. Trying once and giving in to fear is shutting everyone up.

As is my modus operandi when planning presentations, I also prepare backchannels. My latest integration of TodaysMeet was during my presentation on flipping at the BETT2015 conference on 23 January.

I did a rough poll of my 700-strong audience. Judging from the the hands that shot up when I asked how many liked passive talks, at least half were traditionalists.

My third slide included a QR code and URL to the backchannel. I was relieved that people actually stood up or stretched out to capture the QR code. Most others just typed in the URL I provided. At least one took the trouble to tweet the URL.

Here is the normal view of the backchannel and this is the transcript view.

I had hoped to use the backchannel a bit differently. I wanted to collect responses by sharing the backchannel URL at my BETT presentation page. I wanted to know if there were issues about flipping that I could address. I asked that question two weeks before my presentation, but there was no activity prior to my talk.

I removed that question shortly before the talk as there was little interest, fear of an unknown tool and strategy, or insufficient knowledge of content to ask questions. I replaced it with a generic “introduce yourself” statement.

When I went on stage, I discovered that I could not get ANY wifi connection. The place was so crowded that even the default access points that I had previously logged on to were either gone or unable to accommodate me. The 3G signal was so weak that it was pointless for me to tether with my jailbroken iPhone.

As a result, I could not quickly demonstrate how to use a backchannel.

But I did not need to. TodaysMeet was simple enough for the audience members to participate in the backchannel.

And participate they did. They asked questions and posted comments. They conversed with one another. They provided feedback even though I did not ask for it.

I kept my promise of answering all their questions and addressing their comments after I was done with my talk. Not immediately after as I had offline social engagements to manage first. But as soon as my last chat was over, I rushed to the speakers’ suite and let my fingers to the talking.

I cannot see any return to a traditional one-way talk. Practically all of the larger scale talks I have featured here and done since 2012 included a backchannel of some sort.

Backchannels keep me and my audience on our toes. They extend conversations beyond the time and scope of the presentation. Most importantly, they provide opportunities for more meaningful learning.

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.

 
Richard Byrne was open enough to share a misstep in his use of a backchannel. He concluded that trying to use it in combination with a quiz was a bad idea.

I use backchannels for my learners or audience members to discuss issues amongst themselves, to raise their own questions, and to answer those questions. At strategic intervals, I might have them respond to a quick task I set.

But there is at least one reason why a backchannel is better left unmolested. Cognitive load.

A group of learners or an audience is already trying to process what they are watching or listening to. The processing might include dealing with dissonance, taking down notes, sharing their thoughts, querying, or simply trying to catch up.

Letting learners or an audience chat amongst themselves about the topic, pose questions, or answer their own questions goes with the flow of the learning experience. It does not add to cognitive load because it allows each person to be where they are at. If they are ready to ask, they ask; if they have an answer, they answer; if they choose to lurk, they lurk.

Asking them to do something that adds to the load without first allowing for the backchannel to reach a state of flow adds an unnecessary burden. People struggle to participate in the new task or refuse to do so.

This is why pedagogy is both a science and an art. It is theoretically sound to create a channel for informal feedback and relatively easy to create a backchannel. But it takes practice and experience to know how and when to use it.

The only way to be an artistic scientist (or a scientific artist?) is to make lots of mistakes and to learn from them.


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