Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Using BackChannels in Lectures

What? You want students to chat online while I am lecturing? How can they do that? They won't be paying attention to me and then they won't learn everything that there is to know about the topic upon which I am lecturing!!!!! 

This is the problem with technology. You think that it is something that solves everything when it actually just creates more problems and distractions for students.

Have you ever been involved in a back channel while listening to a lecturer? A back channel is a teacher-sanctioned chat room that enables students to discuss what is happening in class.  This provides an opportunity for them to share ideas and even develop new ones with the flood of information being provided by the presenter.

We teach a class entitled Educational Technology and Design. It is the Technology Intro course that virtually every teacher education student must take. Our team is an exceptional group of educators who are always exploring new ideas about how to use technology to support learning in new and effective methods.

A couple of years ago we introduced Back Channeling.  It was an idea that Robin Galloway championed to provide an online conversation option for students.  We use CoverItLive and we typically have 1 or 2 professors moderating it to ensure that things are on-track as the presentation progresses.

I should mention that we are not passive about back channeling with the 120 students in our lectures. Not only do we urge our students to bring their laptops (about 95% of them own laptops) AND we provide 20 netbooks for students to use. Some of them were using their smart phones to get online. While there are typically some problems with everyone connecting with the wifi, we had about 60 students linked into the back channel today.

Our back channeling has been successful throughout the years. There are some sessions that have had exceptionally good interaction while some that have been quite wanting. Today's back channel was quite successful.  I was lecturing about Web 2.0 and Digital Natives/Millennials

One of the most important things that I was trying to achieve was to create a learning environment that was "different" than what our students had previously experienced in a lecture hall.  We began with asking them all to "pull out your phones."  This shocked many of them but I wanted them to use their phones as clickers to provide feedback using Poll Everywhere.  It worked quite well.

I also made a big thing about using the back channel. We used it for interaction and you will find some interesting responses throughout the discussion by clicking on the image to the right.

The students were tweeting as well to share what they were learning and experiencing. Check out what they included using the #unietd hashtag.

Based upon what the students were saying, this was a game-changing experience for many of them.  We hope that they will take this experience and use it to "think different" about their teaching and learning experiences in other classrooms.

What do you think?  What do you do to give your students a voice?


  1. Love it! Not trying to sound morbid… Last week while sitting at a funeral I couldn’t help but think that I want a live twitter feed going for my own funeral. It would be awesome! Perhaps the first step however would be to integrate it into my classroom.

  2. I really liked using the back channel during your lecture. I think that kids are very reliant on technology, and to allow them to use it in the classroom makes them connected on a level that they appreciate. The learning becomes more meaningful for them. The back channel also allows students to bounce ideas off each other, catch up on info they may have missed, or ask questions without interrupting the entire lecture. Some of the comments were funny, and the info they contained will stick in my head because of that fact. The learning becomes more hands-on and relevant because the participants are "buzzing" about the info. It also reinforces the idea of a global community, and how students are an important part of that.
    Technology like the back channel chat is so intriguing to me. I am 34, and when I attended school the only technology we had was a VCR and an overhead projector. I can't wait to learn more about these devices so that I can implement them in my own (future) classroom. It's very exciting! Just think of all that we will be able to do in our classes!


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