How Backchanneling Stimulates a Classroom Environment

Today in class, I showed a video about Chick-Fil-A and how successful they have become by staying true to their beliefs and values. I knew that this would stir up an interesting conversation, since many of my students are at different ends of the belief spectrum. This can cause many students to shy away from conversation because they are intimidated by speaking or sometimes a conversation is dominated by one passionate person.

I knew that this could be a barrier to their learning, so I had an idea to give all students a voice through backchanneling. First of all, what is it? It's using technology to maintain a separate conversation during live events, like showing a video, having a class discussion, or making a presentation. It is what has made Twitter so popular.

I created a free backchannel through Today's Meet, so that I could give all of my students a voice. The best part of this site is that you don't have to have a a username or password, you can choose how long you want your room open for, and you can easily share through a link.

As I played the video, I had my students make class related comments and questions during the chat.The backchannel was optional; however, I was surprised at the number of students who participated and engaged in it.

If students did not listen to my request, I would have had them log out of their computers and just showed the video without a back channel. This seemed to keep students honest.

As the video progressed, I monitored student comments and answered questions. It was amazing to see what students were noticing that I hadn't. It was interesting to read their questions and see how they would help their classmates understand certain portions of the video.

Overall,  I felt that it helped us develop a deeper conversation because it was a safe environment, where students felt that they could have a say. One student asked "why is there a cow mascot walking around?" This is a question that some students wouldn't have the courage to ask in a face to face conversation.

It also helped prevent students from becoming fixated on a minor detail like this and ignore other parts of the video clip. My backchannel gave me a chance to answer that it was their mascot, so that the student could connect with other parts of the video.

After the video was over, I had the ability to share the transcript with the class or review certain parts of the transcript. Not only was it great to review certain parts of the video, but it helped stimulate a conversation that probably wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

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