Backchannels for education

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Workshop Description

The Backchannel: Twitter, Google Moderator and classroom communications

July 13, 2010
2:30 pm - 3:30 pm

LIDC Seminar Room
EDB 7512
SFU Burnaby

A backchannel is the practice of using computers to maintain an real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. How can instructors use this technology to track student opinions, engage students in class learning activities, and encourage a sense of community in the large classroom?

This one hour session will examine the use of Twitter and Google Moderator (for example) in the large classroom. Participants are asked to bring their own laptops (if possible) to participate in an online backchannel.

Presentation File

Please take a loot at the presentation David Rubeli created for the workshop session.



Backchannel Tools

Student Feedback and Polling Tools


Atkinson, Cliff. The Backchannel: How Audiences are Using Twitter and Social Media and Changing Presentations Forever. New Riders. 2009.

This book is instrumental and practical. It offers a how-to process for thinking through and organizing a presentation backchannel. At the same time, it also addresses many of the pactical challenges of adopting a backchannel approach. The book's companion website offers some useful worksheets to supplement the text.

Research Articles

Below are are links to and comment on a few of the mostinteresting and useful research articles on backchannels and microblogs.

Kerwalla et al (2009) An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education.

This article offers a useful basic framework and set of guiding questions for thinking though how to integrate blogging activities into higher education.

Anita Oulasvirta et al. (2010). Making the Ordinary Visible in Microblogs. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 14(3). 237-249.

This article examines a corpus of status updates on a rival platform to Twitter. It is useful because it compares microblogging (aka twitter-style status updates) and offers a useful analysis of microblogging as conversation and taxonomy of different kinds of messages.

Cheri Toledo & Sharon Peters. (2010) Educators’ Perceptions of Uses, Constraints, and Successful Practices of Backchanneling. In Education, 15(1).

This qualitative study offers a concise and readable literature review and practical recommendations on using backchannels.

Sarita Yardi. “Whispers in the Classroom." Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 143–164. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262633598.143

This article is grounded in a case study of a large-scale chat-based backchannel at Berkeley. In addition to discussing empirical evidence from that case, it also gets a bit more into theory and philosophy of backchannels in education.

Kate Crawford. (2009). Following you: Disciplines of listening in social media. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 23(4), 525-535.

This article explores the metaphor of "listening" to describe what people (and corporations) do in backchannels in contrast to the more typical metaphors of "voice" or "lurking". It is worth reading for the typology of different kinds of listening that Crawford presents:

  • reciprocal listening
  • background listening
  • delegated listening

Martin Ebner, Conrad Lienhardt., Matthias Rohs, & Iris Meyer. (2010). Microblogs in Higher Education – A chance to facilitate informal and process-oriented learning?. Computers & Education, 55(1), 92-100.

This concise empirical study examines the potential of microblogs to create opportunities for informal learning during formal higher education courses.

Videos and Webcasts

Delicious Archive

Below is the RSS Feed for sfuedtechbc, the tag I created for this workshop in Delicious. If you find any resources that I missed, please tag them with sfuedtechbc.