At Engaging Educators we try to be cutting edge.  We’re always trying to figure out what the next big thing in the world of ed tech will be.  Although backchanneling is not at the absolute forefront of ed tech, it is some where near there.  For those of you who unfamiliar with backchanneling–backchanneling is chatting during a presentation about what is being said.

Recently several ed tech experts have spoken negatively about backchanneling.  To paraphrase their arguments, backchanneling is a distraction.  Students will spend too much time focusing on the chat, rather than the presentation.  The biggest flaw in all of the arguments that I’ve seen is that their is no evidence, not even anecdotal evidence.

I am here to provide anecdotal evidence in favor of backchanneling.  Kindergarten through 12th grade students in my district are required to present multiple exhibitions each year.  Exhibitions are a chance for students to get in front of their peers, parents, and teachers to present their interests and learning.  I decided to try backchanneling during several exhibitions with my fifth grade students this week.

Before exhibitions began, I surveyed the class to see who was willing to allow us to backchannel during their exhibition.  Nearly 75% of the class was willing.  I selected one student to be our guinea pig based on our schedule.  I told Ben after the experience that it was somewhere between never doing again and really good.  I’d decided to put the backchannel experience on hold.

Not my proudest ed tech moment, but the next day I had the laptop cart in my room to serve as a mobile babysitter for my students.  After each exhibition we conduct learning team meetings with the students and parents.  Think student-led parent-teacher conference with the class still in the room.  When the scheduled student arrived, Zae, he demanded that we backchannel during his exhibition.  Furthermore, he demanded that his mother participate in the backchannel.  The beginning of the transcript is posted above.

The backchannel was amazing.  The students were respectful and insightful.  They asked questions of Zae during the exhibition on the backchannel, which he answered.  The students interacted with his mother, and she interacted with them as well.  I was floored and thrilled.  Since his exhibition, every student has begged to have us backchannel during his or her exhibition.

I am not yet 100% sold on backchanneling, but this experience added strong support in favor of it.  Teaching is about experimenting, and I would consider this a positive experience.  I’m curious if anyone else is using backchanneling in his or her classroom?  If so, how’s it going?  If not, why not?  I’d love to hear from you on this subject.

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  • Dave Coffey

    I’ve used it with preservice math teachers and found it to increase the engagement if the task is focused. I blogged about it here: http://deltascape.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-did-my-teaching-go-today.html

    It also provided an artifact that we could collect and use as an assessment.

    I think we need to continue to think about ways to use the technology in meaningfully (content) and educationally appropriate ways.