Lately, I have been thinking a lot more about backchannels for learning and development (L&D) as I chat with folks involved with networked communities. In education, there is no doubt you have heard about a backchannel for learning, whether it was during a conference or at a professional meeting. You’ve most likely even participated in some sort of backchannel — even BEFORE technology crept into your educational practice. Let’s return to the original meaning of the word, shall we:
Backchannel learning is a “covert” way we are sharing our educational experiences online. It’s like we’re in the back of the classroom passing notes — except now it is digital and openly shared, and (probably) more productive than it was when we were younger. Maybe.
Our digital and connected backchannels allow this note-passing to augment what is happening at a specific moment in time. Today’s backchannels offer a way to showcase professional development opportunities, disseminate scholarly research, distribute resources for practice, curate knowledge from an event, and archive the learning so that it “lives” beyond a geographic location, calendar date, etc.
Et Voila: Pull To Open image c/o Flickr user kpwerker
One popular way to participate in a backchannel during a conference is by using the designated Twitter hashtag when posting tweets [Hashtag: A symbol used in Twitter messages, the # symbol, used to identify keywords or topics in a tweet. The hashtag was an organic creation by Twitter users as a way to categorize Twitter messages and link keywords posted on Twitter.] Here is an example of a study comparing #AERA15 & #AERA16 hashtag usage (Kimmons & Veletsianos, 2016).
Increasingly, I see peers tweet quotes from keynotes, articles from scholars, ideas for practice, and I am often entertained by interactions between colleagues I know — all from the comforts of my home office. With a small travel budget and too much data to collect this summer, I appreciate the ability to jump into this type of backchannel to learn about the conversation as these are rich threads that dig into issues and upcoming trends we see in the field. Additionally, if you’re keen you dip into other types of meetings from other organizations to learn more about how their discipline/functional area could influence your own professional work.
Beyond the typical conference or professional meetings, we also see similar traces of L&D happening on a backchannel to be paired with a webinar, business meeting, streaming keynote, and campus program/initiative.
With new technological affordances, there are many other ways we can create backchannels for learning and ways to develop talent. For example, here is how I use Twitter and WordPress as a backchannel with first-year seminar class, #ugstSTORY [ARCHIVED CLASS]:
I am impressed to see a number of my colleagues use a number of OTHER technologies that are social and connected to create backchannels for L&D online — here are just a few examples– but there are LOADS to search and discover:
- #phdchat wiki: This is a PBworks archive is from the initiative of the all the Twitter sharing and discussions hosted with the #phdchat hashtag. This community supported me during much of my doctoral research. There is a wealth of information shared and curated on this wiki site. Although this space has not been edited in over 3-years the #phdchat community lives on. Thanks for moderating and cultivating this community, @NSRiazat.
- Digital Storytelling 106 (#ds106): is an open, online community/course from the University of Mary Washington by instigator(s) of the domain web (ahem… @jimgroom & @cogdog). Course Requirements: a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and creativity. TUNE into #ds106 radio streaming: http://ds106.us/ds106-radio/
- Teaching In Higher Ed Podcast – Slack Channel: The wealth of information shared in this podcast since June 2014 is amazing and I’m thankful for how Bonni (@bonni208) brings in various guests to support my own professional development for pedagogical planning and to support my own teaching in higher ed. Beyond this regular audio podcast, she also has a community of listeners who she connects to and with via her Slack backchannel and via Twitter.
- Virtually Connecting (@VConnecting): The virtual buddies bring a small group of on-site and virtual folks together at professional and academic meetings via YouTube Live (formerly Google+ Hangouts) to have a “hallway conversation” about the relevant issues, conference experiences, and to host a conversation at different conference events. They welcome new virtual friends and typically have a Google form for you to complete in advance to sign-up OR you can watch the wealth of archives from previous V-Connecting sessions on their YouTube Channel. Kudos to, , and for starting this initiative.
Thinking About Finding a Backchannel for L&D? Here are a few suggestions for hashtag backchannel communities on Twitter:
OR maybe you want to START your own L&D backchannel? Think about your PURPOSE/GOAL first, and then browse these digital spaces and places for initiating a learning backchannel for your professional interests and development:
- Virtual Teaming & Project Spaces, e.g. Slack, Trello, Asana, etc.
- Shared storage & repositories e.g. Dropbox, Github, etc.
- Shared note-taking e.g. Minutes.io, TodaysMeet & Google Docs
- Wikis e.g. PBworks or Wikispaces
- Group chats e.g. Google chat in Gmail, Yammer, etc.
- Networked groups e.g. Facebook Groups , LinkedIn Groups, or SnapChat groups
- Group texting apps, e.g. GroupMe & Whatsapp
- Learning Management System groups e.g. Canvas Site, Moodle, Blackboard Learn – Organizations
What digital spaces do you use for your own learning backchannels? How do you engage in professional development via online backchannels? Let me know!
Kimmons, R. & Veletsianos, G. (2016). Education Scholars’ Evolving uses of Twitter as a conference backchannel and social commentary platform. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), 445—464.
Muñoz, C. L., & Towner, T. (2011). Back to the “wall”: How to use Facebook in the college classroom. First Monday, 16(12).