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What is backchanneling?

  • Backchanneling is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.
  • Originally, backchanneling was a term coined by linguist Victor Vngye in 1970 to describe how people have conversations in turn—they both listen and talk simultaneously during a conversation. While one is speaking, the other might be saying something like “uh-uh,” or “yeah.”
  • Backchanneling became popular during technology conferences in which attendees would respond to questions presented by the speaker, answer surveys using their mobile devices, fact-check what the speaker was saying, or microblog the information while the conference was happening.
  • Now, backchanneling is finding popularity among classrooms K-Higher Ed to encourage discussion in the classroom.

What are the platforms for backchanneling?

  • There are many social media platforms for backchanneling. While you can use Twitter, TexttheMob, TinyChat, TurningTechnologies, and many others, the most user-friendly site I, Andrea O., have found is called TodaysMeet.

Why does Todaysmeet work the best?

  • Unlike using a social media tool like Twitter, Todaysmeet requires no registration. Students aren’t required to “follow” you, and none of your private information or their private information is compromised or shared.
  • It takes seconds to set up.
  • You can save transcripts from a class discussion to refer back to.
  • Unlike an account where you need a username and password, Todaysmeet requires virtually no commitment.

How does one set up an account on

  • Todaysmeet doesn’t require registration (you—the creator—and your users just sign in with a name), it’s free, and you can create a room for different specified amounts of time including two hours, one day, one week, and one month.
  • Go to to create a “room” and explore.

How can backchanneling work in the basic writing classroom?

  • I mainly use backchanneling to discuss readings in the classroom. I will pose a question out loud, and the same question online. Students then respond In Real Life (IRL) and online simultaneously. I watch the feed as it updates in real time, and respond to students IRL and online.

What are other uses of backchanneling in the basic writing classroom?

  • Backchanneling is a convenient way for students to hold small discussion groups in class and see what other groups are discussing, too.
  • Backchanneling can be a method of brainstorming writing material or responding to a peer’s writing.
  • Todaysmeet could also be used as a means of holding synchronous conferences with students in lieu of class.

What are the benefits to backchanneling in the classroom?

  • It gives everyone a voice. Some people aren’t comfortable talking in class, but often writing something down is easier for them.
  • Sometimes, the backchannel gives multilingual writers a chance to engage more in classroom discussion, though this isn’t always the case.
  • If students are involved in the backchannel, they are less likely to be engaged in something that isn’t class related.
  • It encourages students to “say” something that they may be thinking about but would never say out loud.
  • It encourages students to interact with each other directly.
  • There is more opportunity for talk, as students can speak out loud and online at the same time.
  • You can save and print a transcript of the conversation for later analysis.

What are the downsides to backchanneling?

  • The underlife can lead students off track. The “Underlife” is what is going on in class that doesn’t have to do with class—side conversations, note passing, texting, etc. However, sometimes the underlife that takes place on TodaysMeet can is useful because it helps the students build a sense of community, and the students can get unnecessary business cleared away to get to the task at hand.
  • There isn’t always available technology, though most mobile devices allow access to TodaysMeet. Students can also share a device if there is someone in need.
  • Some students feel a bit overwhelmed by the process of two conversations going on at once. For these students, you can encourage them to focus on one conversation or ask for suggestions as to how the activity might work better.
  • Sometimes the discussion will bomb. It’s important to lead with questions that don’t yield just yes or no answers. Give plenty of time for students to respond to the questions as sometimes it takes them a while to formulate their answers.
  • Students (and you) only have 140 characters with which to respond; however, it is a good practice to get students to also learn to respond succinctly and get to their point efficiently.
  • Simultaneous conversations can lead to heated debate, so be prepared for a lot of hand raising. Sometimes when online conversation spurs IRL conversation, it can be hard to keep up with the online forum. You can always ask students to pause if you feel as if you are missing something.
  • Students can sign in using a fake name. Encourage your students to use their real names and if the fake name becomes a serious problem, points can be assigned to each student.

Backchannelling References

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Page last modified on December 15, 2012, at 05:48 PM