The Backchannel

This is slightly more Avante Garde than my normal posts, be warned. Liz Lawley reports on a presentation by Bill Griswold about using the backchannel in the classroom. He’s talking about university-level teaching, but do the same principles apply in schools?

The Backwhat?

The backchannel is the hi-tech equivalent of kids whispering to each other behind their hands during class. In networked environments, classically a wifi-equipped classroom where students are using laptops, students will set up ad-hoc group chat sessions using IM or IRC. They may use this constructively or destructively, according to how engaged they are with the material and how savvy the teacher is in using this new medium.

Enter Bill Griswold. Rather than seeing it as a threat to discipline, he sees it as an opportunity to draw out the less-forthcoming. Liz reports

During his presentation, Bill Griswold was talking about how he’s using chat environments in the classroom. He observed that using the backchannel to allow questions from students “materialized the question, not the questioner.” More than anything else I heard during the panel, that one line made me really stop and think about implications of the backchannel, and why it is that I find it to be so attractive a medium.

Do read the whole post; it leads to some fascinating conjectures, but I, certainly, am a long way from drawing any conclusions.

If you want to dig deeper, here are Liz’s observations of her own use of the backchannel, and how it changed her participation in an event.


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