Backchannel: A Digital Conversation

While researching different blogs, I was looking for something different to discuss, perhaps a concept with which I was unfamiliar.  Enter backchannel.  A backchannel is a digital conversation that occurs concurrently with some sort of live event, like a conference, a lecture, or some type of instructor-led training.  People participating in a backchannel do so on a mobile device with Twitter or some other social media site as a platform.

In his book, The Backchannel, presentation guru and author Cliff Atkinson explores how audiences are using Twitter and social media to transform live presentations.  The audience no longer sits quietly taking notes; instead they are commenting, fact-checking, searching online resources, and engaging with each other in ways that were not possible before mobile devices and social media.

In education, a backchannel provides shy or quiet kids a way to ask questions without having to speak in front of the class.  I wish there were backchannel conversations when I was in middle or high school, as I was quite shy and almost always had a question that I was afraid to ask for fear I would look dumb.  Backchanneling would certainly have given me the chance to “speak up” without speaking at all.  Although Twitter can work well for back channeling to a wide audience on the open internet, closed tools such as Back Channel Chat or TodaysMeet are geared toward the classroom, where the teacher can control the content.


In her blog, Edutopia, Instructor and Communication Coordinator at EdTechTeacher, Beth Holland describes how the backchannel can give “every student a voice in the mobile blended class room”.

How do you think the formal classroom can benefit from using backchannels to engage students?

Diana Good


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Diana Good

In addition to being a nuclear medicine technologist at the Geisinger-Bloomsburg Hospital, I am a graduate student in Bloomsburg University's Department of Instructional Technology.

2 thoughts on “Backchannel: A Digital Conversation”

  1. I think this would be a great idea to use in classrooms! I know I have students myself that would benefit from this. Some of them are just so shy and don’t like to ask questions and then they end up not understanding the content. I think this would also be a great thing because they would be able to do more research while they are learning. I think there are so many options for students today to gain the knowledge and understanding they need through technology.


  2. I’m also intrigued by the idea of backchanneling as a way of giving students voice and allowing discussion to continue beyond the classroom. While there are apps just for schools–like Todays Meet–Twitter is perfect for this. And authentic, too, since middle and high school kids use Twitter as their primary source of news.


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