Sunday, 21 March 2010

Backchannelling as a means of feedback in class

I've just read an interesting article about the use of backchannelling in class as a means of getting feedback from the students, checking their understanding. What's suggested in the article seems somewhat similar to what's presented in this video from a professor at the University of Texas.

I think this idea of several 'conversations' going on in the classroom at the same time is an interesting one, particularly if you are lecturing to large groups of students. A great way to involve large groups and at the same time not necessarily disrupting the flow of the presentation or discussion. I think it would be particularly good for collecting questions to be answered at the end of the lesson.

For me, I don't really lecture, I'm more of a classroom teacher and my classes are quite small (normally between 10-14 students); however, I can still see situations where this would be useful. Maybe students have questions not directly related to the topic of the lesson (maybe a word they remembered or an expression the teacher used)and they would like to know about it. They could post it to a Twitter feed or Facebook and we could then either take a look at them at the end of the lesson time permitting or they could be picked up on in future lessons.

My only concern about this is that I'm not sure how realistic this would be for my students to be able to actually do during the lesson. You can see in the video that many of the students are using their laptops to tweet their ideas, but my students don't really bring computers to class since it's not just about taking notes. So they would have to be able to do it via their phones and while there is an easy way to do this - you can easily tweet via SMS - I'm not sure there is a cheap way. Each time they sent a message they would be charged by their carrier. I don't want my students' decision to contribute to be based on their data plans rather than on how much they have to say.

I would be interested to know whether there are any alternatives, possibly via bluetooth. I'm pretty sure all my students have bluetooth on their phones and we have computers in every classroom, so there must be some way for them to send messages that way and have them show up on the computer and subsequently the board (since we have SmartBoards in all our classrooms). Does anyone know of any way that messages can be sent via a mobile phone and then displayed on a computer screen? I think this would be a much more efficient way to doing this.

It's something I'm going to look into, but if anyone has any suggestions they would be most welcome. In fact, I'm wondering what other ways bluetooth can be used in class. After all, all phones have it these days, it's perfect for transferring pictures/files etc and most importantly it doesn't cost anything.

Well, once the new term starts I'm thinking I might try this with one of my groups and see if it works.


  1. Hi David!

    Your idea of using bluetooth for backchannelling and other class activities is a very interesting one. So far, I have only used it with my students when they had to send voice recordings to my laptop.

    Like you, I see a lot of potential in mobile phones but cannot or don't want to use any services that my students (or I for that matter) would be charged for (e.g. SMS, browsing the Web).

  2. Yes, this is one of the major stumbling blocks to mobile learning. I often have ideas for mobile learning activities but don't do them as I know it's going to cost someone something!

    I think that will change in the next few years though, as unlimited messaging voice and internet plans become more common (just as broadband has become virtually unlimited in many countries of the world) and students/teachers won't have to worry about hoe much it's costing.