Our Ideas are Interactive
I read a great post by a student in my grad class last week that has me thinking again about the idea of a backchannel. I wrote about this a while ago, but it seems the topic has surfaced again recently about the value of a backchannel.
The past several conferences I have attended have tried to implement a conference-wide backchannel discussion, and most have failed. Whether due to poor wifi, poor implementation, or simply lack of interest, it seems to me the idea has started fading a bit. I don’t know if I think that’s good or bad.
Certainly the story that surfaced this week about the backchannel gone bad at the Web 2.0 Expo is evidence of how this idea can be a complicated matter. This spurred much discussion on Twitter, and the experience leaves many wondering what is the value in having a simultaneous chat running while a person is presenting his or her ideas. I still believe, if done well, the chat can add a great deal for both the presenter and the conference attendees. I really do. However, as some have noted recently on Twitter and in other conversation spaces, it seems that often times the backchannel fails to connect to the message being presented and breaks down into a virtual cafeteria where the kids are all talking about any and all topics other than the ones being presented.
I found the post above by Michael to be most interesting. It leaves me wondering what the role of this experience could be in the classroom. Could it be that if we built this the right way, kids could greatly benefit from the chance of moving from passive listeners to active engagers of what is happening around them? The idea of allowing students to backchannel during a read aloud is fascinating to me. It takes courage for teachers to try such a thing, but if, like Michael, the end turns out to yield something of value for students, I think we should try it more. Allow them the chance to mix their ideas with their peers in a nonconventional way to see what the recipe ends up making.
Maybe it won’t work for your students, or your teachers, or your presentation audience, but I still do believe there’s something to this idea. It just takes some work and effort to keep the connections aligned with your learning goals, and obviously sometimes we fail at that in our endeavors to get students to invest in their learning through technology. But if our work with technology does indeed increase student investment, then I say turn on the backchannel and see what you can hear, so to speak.