Marginalia: B is for Backchanneling

| April 8, 2014

In discussing the application of critical pedagogy in today’s class, one of the points we raised regarded identifying the techniques for disrupting the staid dynamics of classroom conversation (the monolithic lecture, the ephemerality of speech, the inscrutability of ‘engagement’, the tendency for dominant voices to silence quieter ones, the premature abandonment of salient points, etc):

I mentioned TinCan Classroom, an experimental app developed by MIT some years ago. It provides some interesting solutions to these dynamics/problems. This technology is merely a proof of concept, a way of illustrating the idea we were talking about, I don’t think an iPad app is a panacea for bottlenecks in seminar flow. ¬†Interesting nonetheless…

Classroom discussions may not seem like an environment that needs a new kind of supporting technology. But we’ve found that augmenting classroom discussions with an iPad-based environment to help promote discussion, keep track of current and future discussion topics, and create a shared record of class keeps students engaged and involved with discussion topics, and helps restart the discussion when conversation lags. Contrary to what you might expect, having another discussion venue doesn’t seem to add to student distraction; rather it tends to focus distracted students on this backchannel discussion. For the instructor, our system offers powerful insights into the engagement and interests of students who tend to speak less in class, which in turn can empower less-active students to contribute in a venue in which they feel more comfortable.