ETA Conference: The Backchannel

Friday morning will see Darcy and I braving the stage prior to the opening of the annual English Teachers’ Association conference ‘Hit Refresh‘.


Because for this ETA conference, for the first time, the conference is going web 2.0 – we’re stepping up the interaction, participation, and networking by providing some seriously cool online spaces for teachers to wet their toes in, and hopefully also dive right in to!  So, we’ll be getting up (in our awesome Twitter t-shirts 😉 ) to show the folks at the conference how to get involved in communicating with others, and how to use the backchannel.

What is a ‘backchannel’?

You know when you’re sitting, watching a keynote or presentation, and if you know the person in the next seat you might make the odd remark in their ear?  Well, a backchannel is like doing this on a mass scale – it’s like having a silent ‘channel’ on in the background for anyone who wants to make comments or ask questions that the rest of the audience can see, and if they want, silently respond to.

It’s like passing notes for grown-ups.  Ones that you know the teacher can read too if they so choose (so you can be critical, but must also be polite!)

From wikipedia:

The term “backchannel” generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker

…it is the practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks.

What are we using?

The most effective way of paticipating in a live backchannel during the conference is to join Twitter, and post short 140-character messages called ‘tweets’.  Anyone who ‘follows’ you can see your comment or question – and some people might also respond.

Do I have to have a lot of followers for this to work?

(or ‘yikes! but I’m not that famous yet!’)

If you are new to Twitter, never fear.  If you tag your tweet with the ‘hashtagETAConf09, then the comment that you tweet will also be seen by anyone who has searched for that tag – not just the people who follow you.  This means that even if you have NO FOLLOWERS, you can add to the backchannel discussion, and people can tweet responses to you.  Here is an example:

Wow! I thought Kelli and Darcy did a great job explaining the backchannel! #ETAConf09

To which another user might reply:

Does anyone know where I can find the video they showed at the start? #ETAConf09

You see the potential here?  And it’s easy!

What’s this I hear about a conference ‘Ning’?

‘Ning’ is the cute name that the people over at made up to describe their online site that is used for NetworkING.  It’s a very easy site to use, and a great way to introduce yourself to online learning if you haven’t already.

ETA members (all of you – whether you are physically at the conference or not) can join the ETA conference Ning and add comments and questions there too.  Darcy and I will be monitoring the Ning as well, and it is another place that a kind of backchannel will likely spring up.  It’s probably less likely that this will happen during the sessions though.  I imagine a lot of people will be logging into our Ning on Friday and Saturday night, and for awhile after the conference, to send comments to friends, colleagues and presenters, and to share ideas and resources.

For the most effective participation in a LIVE backchannel, I seriously recommend you use Twitter.

Any questions?

If you have any questions, you can post them here as a comment, or ask them on Twitter.  You can find and follow me at, or Darcy at

See you in the Twitterverse!

, , , ,

  1. #1 by Troy on November 26, 2009 - 5:40 pm

    The culture shift (away from knowledge being stagnet rather than changing shape and shifting, one way from the educated to the uneducated, from communication being 1d rather than interactive) has me puzzled.
    Why don’t some people see the power I see in it? I think you should add to why…Because we now can. Knowledge and understanding is no longer in the domain of a few, it is in everyones hands (and heads)…

  2. #2 by Darcy Moore on November 27, 2009 - 6:14 am

    Kelli, after reading your explanation, I now completely understand backchannels – but not why we are wearing these t-shirts 😉

  3. #3 by Dean groom on November 27, 2009 - 6:39 am

    Nice explanation. The back channel in Second Life is merged with the experience btw … So you don’t have to pass notes. Maybe in 010 you might explore it. Sure Teachers would love to explore Virtual Macbeth. Good luck with the event. NSW needs more of this!

  1. HIT REFRESH: Leading and Blogging « Darcy Moore’s Blog
  2. Hit Refresh! « Kelli’s Blog

Leave a Reply to Darcy Moore Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: