The purpose of a back channel NECC09

I’m about an hour away from heading back to Spokane (and yes back to farming) from Washington DC and the NECC conference and just had a great back channel chat session where like many conversations ideas start to come and before I know it….I have to think through a couple things.

In the back channel we got into a conversation about back channels. What are their purpose and how do you use them?

What I’ve seen is a transformation of what a back channel is and what it has become and what it can be.

So here’s my take on back channels and their different uses:

BackChannel: Here’s Wikipedia’s take on what a back channel is:

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers
to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken
remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe
listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication, Victor Yngve 1970.

The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about
the topic or the speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience
members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

First growing in popularity at technology conferences, backchannel is increasingly a factor in education where WiFi connections and laptop computers allow students to use ordinary chat like IRC or AIM to actively communicate during class.

So a back channel allows your students and audience to communicate “behind the scene”. It’s used to connect people and ideas around something being presented/taught. This is a true back channel. It’s behind the channel of communication that is the presentation.

Front Channel:

I threw this term out in a back channel chat I was in. A “Front Channel” (for lack of a better term at the moment) is using a chat as part of your lesson or presentation. It’s part of your lesson. You use it to field questions, it’s on the screen in front of the room and the participants/students are aware that what they write can/will become part of the lesson or presentation.

Feedback Channel:

Scott Smeech threw this out as we were talking though this at the Blogger’s Cafe. The idea that you use a chat with participants as a way to gather feedback about your lesson or presentation.

What I’m trying to do is break down the different ways to use a live chat in the classroom or presentation. Up until now we have called all of these “back channels” but I think they serve a different purpose. Sure, the tool is the same but the purpose and outcome can be different. Helping educators understand that there are different uses for the tool is important for them to wrap their heads around just how a tool can be used.

Thoughts? Feedback?