Wikipedia defines backchennel as :
"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."
So often when the teacher is speaking (or a student), the other students are disengaged. They may be thinking about something else. We don't really know. Providing your students with a backchannel to discuss what you are teaching in real time gives them a way to engage in the discussion, while at the same time, it gives you a way to KNOW that they are on task and part of the lesson.
Some examples of backchannel discussions:
1. While discussing literature in class, invite a group to discuss the book at the front of the room, while the rest of the group has a discussion on the backchannel. Encourage them to fact check the group, offer their own insights, and provide additional resources. Consider projecting the backchannel discussion in real time.
2. Have students report about their science experiments as they are doing them. One group reads about a problem another group is having and shares a solution. Another group finds a new way to approach the problem and shares it with others. Meanwhile, the teacher benefits from seeing how students are processing the information.
3. During a debate in Civics, students are fact checking and providing feedback about the debate as it happens. Students are engaged, digging for sources to support arguments, and persuading one another to one side or the other.
Some tools that can be used for backchannel discussions:
3. Google Groups
5. Students blogs