Use your back channel

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I read Mike Bogle’s post about Holistic Blogging today, where he talks about writing from the social, emotional and intellectual perspective. In it he says ” Exploring and cultivating network connections is a holistic activity that should encompass all three spheres“. In higher education, we seem so focused on references and evidence – getting the essay technically ‘right’ and balanced, that students often struggle with social and emotional perspectives in formal writing. I was then thinking about ‘the lecture’ and ‘the tutorial’ and wondered if some simple tools can provide that holistic link, and allow students to engage and reflect better and promote, as Mike says “potential growth of the network, and the activities that may be engaged in by or with peers”

Many lecturers choose to stand behind the lectern and talk to students, some will use a clicker for power point or overhead projector (I swear acetate has a half-life akin to toxic waste) or write on the board. A stint in high school, gives most young people that ‘dead pan’ look needed to be invisible, so looking at them is no real measure of engagement or understanding. Most are busy writing it down in case they need some day, and too absorbed in note-taking to respond with more than a smile as glance up from the jotter for a second. It is usually a small few that engage in open discussion and really hard to then take that limited discussion online to include students who are not actually in the lecture or tutorial. We archive lectures, and are a long way from ‘live’ broadcasting (mentally speaking, technically its a piece of cake).  There is often little opportunity for socially constructed meaning, though discussion though emotional, social and intellect in the lecture format.

Embrace your back channel, with simple tools.


One way to be more ‘holistic’ is to say you are going to be! Don’t assume students will pick up on subltle suggestion. Be explicit. This can be achieved is to publicise that you want it ‘live’ participants – and that your presentation is not just a ‘lecture’ – which by it’s implication is not a two way interchange – but offers a ‘back channel’ of lively discussion. This not only works for lectures, but can be employed in the staff meetings, tutorials and workshops – no everyone will use it, but that is not reason not to give it a go, remember most people ‘spectate’ in social networks – but they are engaging with the content.

Todays Meeting  (

Embrace the back-channel. A quick, easy and really useful technology that anyone with proficiency in using car door handles can use. They say “Encourage the room to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and use that feedback to tailor your presentation, sharpen your points, and address audience needs.” This is light enough in data to operate via a mobile phone too.

TinyChat (

Yes it’s a chat room, but as it generates a random URL and moderated by YOU it’s hardly an viable avenue for stalkers or identity thieves. The slick part of this fast application, is it’s ability to SAVE the chat. Yes, seem obvious, but not all include this.

Chatzy (

Popular with the ‘old school’, this again allows quick and easy communication. It also have ‘virtual’ rooms – where more ‘lock down’ invites/passwords can be employed to enter.

Youth Online have grown up on chat channels and will allow them to ‘talk’ about you – the back-channel – and allow you to talk back in real time. It is not distracting, but enriching – as now you have a two way interchange and connection. Most of those who don’t like the idea, really just prefer to dump content and run – this is engagement, and a skill well worth learning.

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4 thoughts on “Use your back channel

  1. Holy crap that was a quick response! I only posted this about 10 minutes ago 🙂 Glad to hear your thoughts on this – I’m reading it as we speak.



  2. Thanks for the recommendation of TinyChat. I used it today for several five-student role-play chats, and it worked very well. I suspect it will be even better for “silent debates” between two students at a time. The only problem I’ve had with it is in the built-in option of emailing myself the transcripts; after numerous attempts, this just doesn’t work, so far at least. There are, of course, workarounds (e.g., copy->paste->email). Anyway, a handy little tool and much appreciated!

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