Backchannel interaction

5 Sep 2013

The use of backchannel communication is increasingly becoming popular. Take for example, television discussions and current affairs interviews where Twitter messages are shown at the bottom of the screen. In education, backchannel communication may also have a place by enabling immediate feedback during lessons and lectures.

A study of interactions among students, and between students and teachers during synchronous onsite and virtual classes highlighted some very clear student interaction preferences. When to Talk, When to Chat: Student Interactions in Live Classrooms notified in DERN newsletter, Issue 30, and available at the Journal of Interactive Online Learning reveals some interesting findings.

The interactions of two small classes, each of approximately 15 students, who were offered synchronous physical onsite or online facilities for lectures, were examined for their behaviour and preferences. The research included reviews of lecture videos, codification of interactions, examination of the interaction logs and follow up interviews with students.

There is no doubt that this research found that students preferred to be online, in most instances, although that was not applicable to international students. International students preferred to attend the onsite physical classes because then they could see the lecturers face, expressions and body language to help them understand what was being said. Overall most students preferred to be able to engage with the lecture online so reducing travel and cost considerations. Some students who missed the lecture were able to view the lecture asynchronously and all students were expected to engage with an online discussion group between lectures. In fact, grade points were allocated for engagement and interaction, as a result of this study.

There was a clear preference for students to interact through questions and comments by using text interactions (67%) with the expectation that there would be timely feedback during the lecture from the instructor. Text interactions tended to be short questions or comments whereas verbal interactions (33%) tended to be longer and often included a story. ‘Students made comments more than they asked questions in both verbal and text modes’ (p. 48).

Interestingly, ‘Chat box exchanges between students appear to facilitate learning by allowing students to address other students’ questions and comments without interrupting the instructor’s lecture’ (p. 49). The authors have called this type of interaction in a live virtual classroom ‘integrated text interaction during lecture’ (p. 49) which as a pedagogy has some quite distinct advantages, although the lecture design is quite different from the traditional lecture. Lecture attendance was high, social and emotional interactions created connection and a sense of community among the learners who benefitted through instructor feedback, and students were motivated to engage in active learning. ‘It is the quality and frequency of interactions between learners and instructor that affect the instructional value of online learning’ (p. 42).

The research article When to Talk, When to Chat: Student Interactions in Live Classrooms (64) is an example of research highlighting new pedagogies by integrating digital technologies with teaching, in order to improve student motivation and learning performance.

This article was first published on the Australian Council for Educational Research's Digital Education Research Network 2 (DERN) and is reproduced here in whole, courtesy of DERN.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Subject Areas
Geographic Coverage