Have you ever been in this situation? The presenter in a conference or on a webinar is inspiring you with some great ideas or infuriating you to the point where you want to state your point of view—but you have no avenue for expressing your thoughts and feelings. Maybe there is a question that needs to be asked, but because you are not there the opportunity is not available.
Back channel to the rescue!
Ah! The back channel—a place to do exactly that. But then, while using the webinar back channel, concentrating on tweeting, or on IM on Skype, you lose track of the speaker, someone responds to you, and an interesting conversation starts—and before you know it, you have lost the plot! Back channelling is widely seen as a useful value-add to learning, extending the reach of conferences, creating conversations, providing a vehicle for gathering participant views, and allowing curation for reflection after the event so that its essence is not lost.
Yes, but how?
But how do we get best advantage from the back channel? At the beginning of 2012, a bi-weekly Twitter chat, #chat2lrn (http://chat2lrn.wordpress.com/), began tackling this issue in advance of the conference season. #chat2lrn is a transatlantic collaboration with six facilitators who came together with an interest in creating a different model for Twitter chats. The intention was to develop a more responsive and discursive environment in which real practical learning can take place.
The facilitator group supports a session’s lead person who will have taken responsibility for a pre-session blog post. Extensive pre-session tweeting directs interested people to the post a few days beforehand. During sessions, the facilitator group links via a Skype back channel to provide advice to the lead person about the timing and wording of questions and to help ensure the smooth running of what is a fast-moving and dynamic environment.
The model has worked well. #chat2lrn has received enthusiastic feedback from many people who have taken part. With this in mind, #chat2lrn decided to run two sessions about back channelling to help people coming to it for the first time at this season’s conferences and to try to identify the key ingredients of success to help official tweeters, delegates, and people “attending” via the back channel. Dave Kelly (@LnDDave), acknowledged as the prince of back-channelling and curating, provided the initial posts for a session that was almost a learning lab.
Capturing the good ideas
There were so many good ideas and tips that needed putting into practice that #chat2lrn decided to use the UK Learning and Performance Institute’s (LPI) Conference (#learninglive) as a practical place for tweeps to develop their skills. Concurrently, the LPI embraced the concept of having a vibrant backchannel as an integral part of the conference, using the guidelines Dave Kelly provided. LPI membership services manager @lesleywprice briefed the official tweeters who covered every session in the conference. Immediately after the conference close, #chat2lrn ran a further session to take immediate account of what had happened in the back channel and to list lessons learned, subsequently published on its blog the next day.
Did it work?
So, what was the impact? #learninglive trended number one on UK Twitter throughout the conference. Back channel participation was truly global. The back channel was incredibly vibrant, with non-attendees finding a channel to make comments to speakers and request information, and for their questions to be asked during the live sessions. For the delegates present, the back channel provided an enhanced space for sharing insights and for debating issues. For the curation team, the guidelines developed in #chat2lrn provided a framework of good practice that was endorsed as effective by the session at the conference close.
Lessons learned and next steps
Back channels that work do not just happen. Noted @fionaquigs, “I learned how important it was to organise the back channel prior to the event—has worked so well and been very inclusive,” while @JudithELS said, “I was grabbed by so many tweets and topics. My head hurts! I need to check ‘em all out as it was sooo fast!”
What next? #chat2lrn hopes that people who have benefited either from participation in the sessions or who have subsequently read the blog post will take the opportunities of forthcoming conferences to help make their back channels a truly powerful learning medium. Dave Kelly’s resources are available through the blog post and can be applied widely. So, on to The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2012 Conference & Expo, October 31 – November 2 in Las Vegas, NV, as a further immediate opportunity…