BackChannel Conversation Tools (Updated)

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As a keynote presenter, I've been tempted to take advantage of backchannel tools, but I have a ways to go to master that in the midst of a preso (although there are ways to engage your audience, too, for help!). This blog entry started out as an exploration of possible tools...I hope you'll chime in and share YOUR favorite backchannel conversation tool in the comments!

Backchannel is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks. The term was coined in the field of Linguistics to describe listeners' behaviours during verbal communication, Victor Yngve 1970. 
The term "backchannel" generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker. Occasionally backchannel provides audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation.

First growing in popularity at technology conferences, backchannel is increasingly a factor in education where WiFi connections and laptop computers allow students to use ordinary chat like IRC or AIM to actively communicate during class.
Source: Integrating Wiki

Check out this presentation on BackChanneling in the Classroom:

Although there are many tools to facilitate backchannel conversations, I thought I might share my recent experiences in light of this question that appeared earlier this evening on the Google-Certified Teachers List:
The last post here about Moderator was back in March. I'd like to
model using a backchannel in class. We could use a hashtag in Twitter,
found Today's Meet, ..... what else are you using for a classroom? I'd
like to be able to archive the chat and publish it for reflection. I'm
sure we're not the first to be trying this! Thanks for your advice....

Again, there are a variety of ways to accomplish a backchannel conversation, including but not limited to the following:
And, of course, there's Google Moderator, although apparently, that requires all participants have a gmail account, which sometimes isn't an option. CoverItLive is another possibility, but I personally haven't cared for the bulky, clumsy interface.

That's not to say the solution I implemented is any better than the solutions above, just one I took the time to put in place. It looks like this when running:

Here is what the chat log looks like:
You can copy-n-paste the log out:
(2010.10.14 - 19:25:00) ChatBot: admin logs into the Chat.
 (2010.10.14 - 19:25:03) ChatBot: admin has been logged out (Invalid IP address).
 (2010.10.14 - 19:25:43) ChatBot: (gg) logs into the Chat.
 (2010.10.14 - 19:42:55) ChatBot: (gg) has been logged out (Invalid IP address).
 (2010.10.14 - 19:43:05) ChatBot: (adsfasf) logs into the Chat.
 (2010.10.14 - 19:43:12) (adsfasf): Life in the fast lane
 (2010.10.14 - 19:43:17) ChatBot: (adsfasf) has been logged out (Invalid IP address).
 What a "fun to try over lunch" project!

And, installation involves the following:
  1. Setting up a blank MySQL database to house the chats.
  2. Uploading the chat folder from the file you download from AJAX Chat
  3. Customizing the config file located in the /lib/ subdirectory of the installation
  4. Going to http://serverurl/install.php to run the install instructions which create the tables you need in the blank database.
  5. Deletion of the install.php file
  6. Editing the users.php file that appears in the /lib/data subdirectory to modify moderator and admin usernames and passwords to reflect what you want.
After that, it's ready to go. All these instructions are detailed in the README file included (with support wiki), so if these steps weren't enough for you, you can find more explicit instructions there. To be blunt, I was pleasantly surprised at how "easy" this was compared to other solutions. Of course, there are other web-based solutions that don't involve this.

If you know of one you can install on your own server that you have used successfully, please speak up!

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


Unknown said…
Perhaps off topic, but certainly related: I would recommend "The Backchannel" by Clif Atkinson. It is a good read with a lot of excellent advice, particularly with reference to using twitter.

I would also recommend that if you are using twitter, you set up an archiving/analysis service prior to or immediately after the presentation. Otherwise, you will not be able to find the aggregated tweets. They disappear quickly. I would suggest the Archivist or Twapper Keeper for capturing your #hashtag stream.
Stephen Downes said…
I might mention CChat - - which I built specifically for backchannels and have been using for a few of years now.
@ATW, thanks for sharing! I'll have to check it out!

@Stephen, thanks, I've added CChat to the list in the blog entry as an update.

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