Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Backchannel Boom

Mobile technologies are continuing to open new doors for transforming a presentation from a passive to an active experience for an audience member or student.  Currently, some college professors are exploring the possibilities of integrating a Twitter backchannel into a live presentation, as a method of engaging the thoughts and reflections of audience members.   Others use alternative methods like Wall Wisher, Poll Everywhere, and Wiffiti

They each have their own unique characteristics and possibilities -- some require more set up on the part of the presenter and all require audience members (or students) to have some type of mobile access.  Despite the array of options that exist today, most college lectures remain static, passive experiences for students.  Integrating a backchannel is far more complex than just learning a new tool.  It introduces a dramatic power shift, flattening out the traditional hierarchy between presenter and audience member and weaving in the flow of otherwise silent ideas, reflections, and questions into the presenter's experiences.  Like all effective online participation experiences, both presenter and participants require a new set of etiquette rules which can make or break the experience. 

I was recently contacted by Nastasiya Koval from Amsterdam who shared a new (well, new to me) product with me called Shakespeak.  It looks promising and there is evidence from use at Dutch Universities demonstrating increased exam results.  What I like about it is that it extends options for participating in the backchannel via text, web, or Twitter.  These options are nice, as they include students who have a feature phone (phone with text messaging) or smartphone (phone with internet) -- tools that all college students have today.

You can try Shakespeak out for free with up to 20 participants and then a premium account is necessary.  Which to me, raises the question, how are institutions stepping up to support professor use of technologies like this one?  Free tools are great but standardizing our students' experiences is an effective step towards eliminating their necessity to learn and use an array new tools.

Are you Using a Backchannel? Please Share Your Experiences.
If your college or university has a paid subscription to a tool that supports mobile backchannel participation, let me know! If you are experimenting with backchannels on your own, I'd love to hear how it's going and what tool(s) you use.  Please leave a comment -- this topic will be included in a my forthcoming book and your voices are valuable!


Paul Wallace said...

Great article, and thanks for letting me know about some of the new tools like Shakespeak -- I'll have to try that one out.

We have been using backchannel tools in our online courses, with the idea that students can stay connected outside of class and continue the conversations throughout the day -- with an enhanced sense of community. One of the tools we use is ConnectYard, which allows student to choose the platform from/to which they wish to send and received messages -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- without having to "friend" or "follow" others in the class. It has worked out well, and we published an article in EDUCAUSE Quarterly last year on the topic:
Social Networking Tools to Facilitate Cross-Program Collaboration


Unknown said...

Hi Paul, what a fabulous article! Thanks so much for sharing it with me. It's really exciting to see your survey results, especially the visual diagram that illustrates how the students relied upon the tool to build community. Fascinating! I'd love to talk to you. Send me an email if you'd like to connect, brocansky at gmail dot com.

Bartłomiej Polakowski said...

Very Cool. Getting any feedback or engagement from your audience is always a hard job. The tools that you have presented could also make people to pay more attention to presented material.

Kelly Vandever said...

Thanks for the post. Looking forward to checking out Shakespeak.