Sunday, March 8, 2009

Backchanneling Basics #3 - Educational Relevance

Last week, I wrote about and advocated the reasons for backchanneling in school. This week, I want to take this a step further and talk about the educational relevance of backchannels.

Many of us have probably attended educational conferences where backchannels have been running during keynotes, individual sessions, etc. In this setting, the backchannel serves a number of purposes: it's a written record of the session, it's a place where participants can ask questions about the session content, and it's a place where participants can offer their insights into the content. I know that I end up with a deeper understanding of the content from participating in a backchannel during conference sessions.

One of my feeds this week delivered a post that addresses this issue of backchanneling at conferences. Although the title of the article is "How to Present While People are Twittering," many of the same benefits I've mentioned above are addressed in the post too. You might want to check it out.

OK, so backchanneling at conferences is one thing, but what about in the classroom? In my last post, I addressed the issues of student voice and increasing class participation, so I think that is part of the educational relevance. But what else is there that is a benefit? If we as educators find benefits from interacting with a presentation and participants at a conference, why wouldn't students benefit from interacting with each other during a classroom presentation. Let's face it, it is hard to explain something so that every single kid gets it on the first explanation. Why not allow the students to explain the concept to each other in a backchannel? The students who get the concept can help those who don't and in the process of explaining the concept deepen their own understanding. Of course, there is a written record of the backchannel that the teacher should review to make sure the student's thinking doesn't need corrected or adjusted. Students should never be left entirely on their own nor should the backchannel become a replacement for good teaching. The backchannel should merely be a supplement to good teaching.

How else can backchannels be used in educationally relevant ways? Next week, I'll continue this discussion, talking about some of the educationally relevant ways I think backchannels can benefit students.

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