Rose Beaman is a fantastic teacher at St. James in Rockford, IL and our first guest blogger!  Rose took my graduate class last week and I thought her paper about backchanneling was exceptional. I requested her permission to repost it on our blog because throughout our books we cover the topic of backchanneling k-12. Thank you Rose!


I was recently introduced to a word unfamiliar to me:  backchanneling.  It is defined as “the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside the primary group activity or live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of linguistics to describe listeners’ behaviours during verbal communication (Jarrett & Devine, 41).”  It is a way of communicating behind the scenes.  According to Wikipedia, the term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the conference topic or speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

Backchanneling can be a useful tool in many aspects of our lives including workplaces, extracurricular activities, nursing, education, and many more, including politics.  Matt Lauer of the Today Show in the June 28, 2017 interview with the parents of Austin Tice, a five-year Syrian captive, was quoted as saying, “The New York Times, as you know, had an article, I think it was last weekend,  about the Trump administration creating some kind of a backchannel communications with the Syrians……”  It is basically a simple method of using technology to create a conversation within an activity or event.      

As a teacher in a PreK through eighth-grade school, backchanneling could be a new technique to engage students during lessons using technology.  It is a way to easily bring them into meaningful conversations, “eliciting more thoughtful feedback and inspiring higher-order thinking skills (Jarrett & Devine, 41-44).”  It would give every student a voice, especially those quieter students, to ask questions without speaking.  For instance, if a video was shown to a class, the teacher could ask questions and then watch (read) the response of the students to decide whether or not those students understand the intended meaning or concept of what is being discussed.  Further research into backchanneling led me to many different ways to backchannel.

Google Docs allows for conversations within the classroom setting and users cannot be anonymous so the teacher will always know with whom he/she is speaking.  Any user in the conversation can solicit further information about something said by highlighting it, clicking on the “add a comment” icon on the right side of the page and ask a question, ask for clarification, or simply comment on the statement.  It is a great learning tool for Google Doc usage.

Another method to use for backchanneling is TodaysMeet.  It is found at  This source allows for all conversations and data entered to be available forever.  Only a one-word name can be used for identification purposes.  This conversation tool can be paused without closing and started again when it is needed.  In my situation, I would limit the conversation rooms to the students and faculty at my school.  I can use student and/or faculty email addresses for participation within my own school.  Closed “rooms” or conversations can be password protected and the password can be changed at any time.  TodaysMeet also has an option to mute an inappropriate conversation from others in the room without that person knowing so as not to disrupt the rest of the class.  I believe this teacher tool could be a very easy way to maintain the focus of students through questions or topic changes.

Chatzy is another option for backchanneling.  According to the site, Chatzy is a free private chat service which one can use to communicate with people you already know or people who visit your blog or website. With Chatzy one can create a chatroom and send out email invitations very quickly and easily. No registration is required.  Another article describes Chatzy as a “Free tool allows chat rooms to be created quickly. Features include Quick chat: invite people to join via email. Virtual Rooms: password protected (Choi and Hong, 367-373).”  However, it has been reported by an instructor for my class that Chatzy doesn’t always work as it was intended.

Edmodo is a communication tool that is touted as being an easy way to connect students to allow for safe collaboration, achieving organization, as well as assignment and grade accessibility.  It is designed to protect the privacy and security of students and teachers as they collaborate and share content.  According to their website, it is free for teachers and students–and always will be.

The backchanneling choice of SchoolTown according to Meg Ormiston’s book,  Creating a DigitalRich Classroom:  Teaching & Learning in a Web 2.0 World, pages 32-33, is an online learning community designed to leverage an instructor’s time with organizational and workflow tools.  The SchoolTown team is very open to educators’ suggestions and responsive to their needs.  I could not, however, access their website to get further information with regard to their options and whether or not it is a free or paid site.

 Creating a backchannel or exit ticket using Google Docs is very well explained in this screencast by langwitches.  It was an interesting parallel to note that they defined backchannel as a “digital brother of passing notes in class except that the notes are open and transparent for everyone to see”.  Within the video, they list the goals of using Google Docs for expressing thoughts as:

  • Time for reflection
  • Share what kind of support is needed
  • Process of collaborative writing and power of sharing
  • Give the facilitator or coach a point of reference of what was covered and what was heard
  • Give the coach a concrete jump off point for differentiated support
  • Participants will have the chance to see the takeaways of their colleagues, their strengths, weakness, and possible collaboration opportunities.

Continuing to teach students the many ways to use Google Docs including  interactive communication as a technology tool is a great classroom advantage for the teacher and the student.  

Backchannel Chat purports to be a real-time educational discussion tool designed with teachers in mind foremost and provides tools for teachers to manage the students and secure discussion content in an environment suited for the classroom.   No advertising or personal student information collection is a plus for this site, however those come with a cost.  

These backchanneling choices are just a few of the plethora of options available.  One has to determine the media method that would best suit his or her classroom environment and the technology available to the students.  Being in an elementary school, options suited to younger students will allow for successful communication and student engagement in our classrooms.  Monitoring the time and attention taken away from student focus on the topics will provide a learning tool for the teacher as to the success of their backchannel choice.