Embrace the Backchannel

Those in the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement in K-12 and Postsecondary education advocate for multiple means of communication among teachers and students that include using devices equipped with backchannel apps.  These applications, which allow for a digital conversation while a verbal conversation is happening, can allow those who are afraid to speak in class, or those who prefer not to speak in class, to contribute to the discussion through written responses.  Those who are shy and those who are introverted have an outlet that is suitable to their personalities, which helps them contribute to the conversation in productive ways.

Did you know that being shy is not the same thing as being introverted?  It’s true.  A shy person has fears about interacting with others, but doesn’t necessarily want to be alone.  An introvert, on the other hand, gathers energy in solitude and expends a lot of energy when in a group; to recharge, the introvert must retreat and take some time alone to regroup.  This article explains the difference very well.  I used to think I was an introvert.  Here’s a story about how I found out I was wrong.

Marriage and Family Class, Holy Family University, 1992

The class had just received the results of the Myers-Briggs personality test we took the last class.  We reviewed the results in silence, reading the descriptions of each code and correlating them to our results.

After a few minutes, the teacher asked, “Did anyone find their results surprising?”  I raised my hand.

“What did you find surprising, Heather?” he asked.

“That the test says I’m an extravert,” I responded.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”300px” img=”https://heatheredick.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/0ddf7-embrace-the-backchannel.png” credit=”Created by Heather Edick using tagul.com” align=”center” lightbox=”on” caption=”Reactions to what I said about my test results.” captionposition=”left”]

Those were some of the reactions to what I said.  I was shocked.  I’d spent most of my life thinking I was introverted.  Turns out, I wasn’t.  Sure, perhaps at one point I had been shy, but by the time I was a Junior in college, those days were long gone.  Some classmates wondered aloud how I could consider myself introverted when I was always contributing in class, for example.  It was hard to explain to them that I considered myself a loner; being an only child had conditioned me to being quite comfortable by myself for long periods of time.  I am not one to have a great number of friends, either, having espoused the philosophy that if you can count your true friends on one hand, you’re a lucky person.  “Better to cultivate true friendships than try to befriend every person you meet” was my motto.

It turns out that the classification hinges on your preferred sources of energy.  Today, I understand that I am energized when I am speaking with a group, teaching or training, and being social.  I used to be terrified of public speaking, for instance, but now I come away from the experience with something akin to a runner’s high.  The more the audience interacts with me, the better.   Just like a runner, however, it’s easy for me to “hit a wall” and “crash.”  As anyone should, I must be careful and moderate my actions and interactions with other people.

That brings me to the point of this post.  You probably thought I wasn’t going to get there, didn’t you?  That’s all right, because I wasn’t sure I was going to get there either.

Backchannel applications can help introverts and shy students alike.  Introverted students can reserve their energy; shy students can contribute without being terrified.  Teachers do not have to broadcast identities when using these applications, as most of them allow anonymous posting and showing responses in the aggregate.  Those who are introverted can “spend” their energy wisely.  Students who are shy might enjoy seeing results that align with their expectations; in other words, they would feel included within a group instead of feeling like an outsider.

They can help teachers, too.  How often do we teachers make our way through a lesson wondering if everyone understands the purpose and content of it?  I’m sure that the answer varies by teacher.  Even if we ask for confirmation from our students, those who are reluctant to speak in a group setting will often indicate they understand.  A backchannel app helps the teacher gather accurate information about the class.  It is a powerful tool for formative assessment.

To conclude this post, I leave you with a list of my favorite backchannel apps.  I won’t review them here, as many others have done that already, but if you would like more information about any of them, feel free to email me at hmedick@gmail.com, or leave a comment in the comment box below.  Thank you!




Poll Everywhere


Collaborize Classroom

In another post, I will offer more reasons to embrace the backchannel, such as helping students that work at a different pace than the rest of the class.

This post originally appeared on elearningindustry.com.






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