Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Learning Activities > Backchannel Communication
Backchannel communication generally refers to conversations occurring in real time alongside the primary speaker(s) or action. Live tweeting is an example of this: audiences use a hashtag on Twitter to participate in live conversations about an event, such as a political convention or academic conference. Similarly, instructors can also leverage backchannel communications to engage students in their classes.
Derek Bruff, an expert in educational technology at Vanderbilt University,
outlines 9 different uses of backchannel communication in education:
In a case study of backchannel communication used at the University of California's School of Information, Yardi (2006) argues that backchannel chat should:
Because monitoring and responding to the chat is yet another demand on one's attention, Bruff recommends asking for a student volunteer or assigning a student the role of "voice of the chat." This student is responsible for monitoring the chat and bringing questions or comments to the fore as appropriate. Bruff also recommends building in designated "voice of the chat" moments into lectures and other activities, as a reminder to both himself and the student volunteer to check in at appropriate intervals.
Zoom's chat feature is a convenient option for backchannel communication during class meetings, but there are a few limitations to be aware of:
For these reasons, some instructors prefer to adopt a different chat platform rather than rely heavily on the chat functionality in Zoom. Microsoft Teams is a messaging and collaboration tool that is part of
Microsoft Office 365 and is supported by DePaul's
Help Desk. Similar to
Discord, Microsoft Teams combines messaging, meetings, file storage, application integration, and voice and video calling into one collaborative team workspace. For more information on Microsoft Teams, see the Help Desk's
knowledgebase article or visit Microsoft's
365 Training site.
Tools like Teams, Slack, or Discord can help address potential drawbacks of Zoom-based chat and help students stay connected outside of class time. That being said, you and your students may find it challenging to use another communication platform in addition to Zoom and D2L. Ultimately, the solution that works best for you will depend largely on your comfort level with specific tools and the goals you have for leveraging backchannel communication in your course.
Bruff, D. (2010).
Backchannel in Education - Nine Uses. Agile Learning: Derek Bruff's blog on teaching and learning.
Bruff, D. (2020).
Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.
Yardi, S. (2006).
The Role of the Backchannel in Collaborative Learning Environments. In Barab, S. A., Hay, K. E., & Hickey, D. T. (Eds.), The International Conference of the Learning Sciences: Indiana University 2006. Proceedings of ICLS 2006, Volume 2 (pp. 852-858). Bloomington, Indiana, USA: International Society of the Learning Sciences.