Backchannel Blues

Posted: September 25, 2014 in EC&I 831 Social Media & Open Education, Ed Tech

My first experience with a presentation that allowed for an online backchannel was at a division-wide inservice a few years ago. A hundred or so teachers were crowded into a banquet room and our presenters were asking for anonymous feedback via text to an on-screen backchannel. At the time I was not so text savy nor was I comfortable with having my texts go live to the feed. The presenters had an agenda to follow but were very also focused on addressing the content (not all of it polite!) in the backchannel, a near impossible task. Though I applauded the division for working hard to incorporate current technology I didn’t find the experience terribly satisfying.


This year our division did a twitter hub (a twub?) to incorporate backchannel feedback from teachers across the entire division though we were all at our separate schools. This seemed to work better facility-wise and I think it made it easier for the presenters to focus on their ‘studio audience.’ They took time to go back and address some of the tweets that came across the backchannel at a few points during the presentation. The focus was clearly on the presentation content, rather than the technology, and I found it to be a more valuable experience barring the plethara of retweets and comments that simply reiterated ones already made. It was difficult to sift through all the extras to find the substance while attempting to keep up with the main presentation.


Which brings me to my current experience with Blackboard connect…

Presently I am taking a class that uses Blackboard connect for our weekly online discussions. It’s a great way to connect us with each other and with experts in the field we are studying. It saves travel and time, not to mention parking fees, and I appreciate that my time commitment is condensed. The medium gives us the opportunity to have interactive discussions where the moderator or presenter can get immediate feedback on questions posed. It’s also a great way for everyone to jump in and have their say. However, I found our last class to be extremely distracting and somewhat discouraging in that there were two (or more) conversations happening in addition to the actual presentation and I just couldn’t keep up. As someone who doesn’t like to miss anything I was frustrated and seemed to miss a lot!

I used to think I was a good multi-tasker but have come to understand that you can really only give your attention to ONE thing at a time…can’t you? Though you may have a number of things on the go you direct your attention to each one in turn (or back and forth as the case often is!) So, I am trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance I am experiencing here. Can I be a diligent student by participating in the backchannel chat while simultaneously keep up with the guest speakers? OR does backchanneling simply promote bad manners?!? (Guilty!)

I guess I’m just old school but I’d be most grateful if you can help me reconcile my backchannel blues.



  1. MBowes says:

    I find that backchanneling helps me maintain my focus and reflect on the copious amounts of information I am getting. It’s like note taking… if I am engaged in the subject matter, tweeting along the backchannel helps me stay on task and direct my energy. It’s when I am not engaged in any of those reflective practices that I daydream and find it so tough to concentrate!

    • mybrainstorm says:

      Thanks Monique! I guess I just get distracted by everybody’s notetaking. I typically have a word doc open while I participate so I can grab ideas as the discussion goes one. Not terribly convenient but one way I archive my learning.
      Thanks for reading:)

  2. […] exciting (and distracting!) as our conversation was, my mind was spinning wondering how this fits in with the […]

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