Backchannel Backlash

For the life of me I can’t remember who I overheard say it or where. It was sometime before NECC. But the statement was, “at this point presentations are for the presenter and the backchannel is for the attendees”. THIS WAS SO NOT THE CASE AT BLC08.

image from

Most of us came prepared for the backchannel. I know when I arrived at Liz Davis’s house Sunday evening, the first thing I did was make sure I could connect to her wireless network. Her husband just laughed. He knew Liz and I would be lost in the technology for the rest of the evening. Come on – admit it. The desk in your hotel room looked similar Dave Truss‘s. There’s no shame in admitting that you came to BLC08 prepared to document, record and participate in as much as possible to build your learning community.

The caliber of sessions I attended was outstanding. I missed two because Liz and I presented twice. (You can view our session wiki at

So back to the backchannel. Most of the sessions that I attended were UStreamed. Bob Sprankle even recorded podcasts of several for his subscribers. There were dozens of sessions that I wasn’t able to get to since they have not yet been able to perfect the science of cloning. So, UStream and podcasting extended my conference experience by allowing me to attend additional sessions.

One of the sessions that I set up the Stream for had 30 people in the chat room. Now I have no way of knowing if all 30 were from outside of the Newton Marriott, but when I asked the facilitator, Darren Kuropatwa, if I could relay some questions from the chat, we were able to include BLC08 virtual attendees Lisa Durff, CathyJo Nelson and Bud Hunt in the conversation. Had I not been following the backchannel, Darren would not have known until much later that some of his viewers had questions.

Speaking of just-in-time teaching and learning…

Where’s the learning with the backchannel?

Is it a distraction? Maybe sometimes.

It is what you make of it. I feel it’s part of our collective intelligence. It allows for the opportunity to offer a different point of view than what you might be thinking of had you been viewing the presentation in silence or isolation.

The backchannel affords us the chance to discuss, in real time, the topic at hand, rather than going back later when the speaker is unavailable.

Karen Janowski set up a Ning for BLC08. They have a group that is getting together the links to the UStreams from the conference.

Listed below are the resources that I have put together so far. Some of them I have on my iTouch, some in my Diigo, some in my head.

BTW – If you can remember who made that comment about the backchannel – let me know, would ya – I’d like to talk to them about it.

Pre-Conference: Alan November Published Google Doc with links to everything thanks to Dave Truss

Keynote: Ewan McIntosh
Keynote: John Davitt

Everything Old is New Again with Darren Kuropatwa and Clarence Fischer

A Day in the Life of a Technology Teacher Presentation by Darren Kuropatwa

Joyce Valenza’s “Web 2.0 Meets Information Fluency: Designing Projects for 21st Century Learners”

Dave Truss
This, My Blog Has Taught Me
This is just one of three presentations that Dave did while at BLC08

Clarence Fischer at BLC

Reflection from the end of the conference:

15 thoughts on “Backchannel Backlash

  1. I dont know about the backlash for others, but the backlash for me is that I can barely tolerate a conference or workshop w/o a backchannel, even if I am physically present in the audience…I spend time searching to see if there is one, and if not, try to instigate. When Barbara Barreda and I couldn’t find one for a session at BLC, we lamented that everyone seemed to have ditched skype as a possibility. I did skype chat with Joyce a little in one of the keynotes, even telling her where a ustream was when she indicated she did not know. LOL. It’s almost a sickness, isn’t it?

  2. Lisa, it is funny that as much as we both love the backchannel, we didn’t have one for either of our presentations. I wonder if we should have? I know I felt too overwhelmed with pulling it all together to add that to the list. How do you feel about it? Do you wish now that we had? Would you if we did it again?

    Nice post! Miss you.

  3. @CathyJo I really felt like you and Lisa Durff were at BLC. You both had a real presence there. I smiled when I read your comment. I was sitting next to Joyce when you and she were Skyping. I believe she also had e-mail and Twitter open. We’re all a little crazy 🙂

    @lizbdavis – I know what you are saying and I go back and forth on it.
    I really feel like we weren’t speaking to an audience that would be on a backchannel or would watch a UStream. That’s why we didn’t go for it. The people that we new that came to support us already new the topic we were presenting and they were there also for F2F connections.

    Now – our proposal for Educon 2.1 – that, should it go through, we should UStream.

    Miss you too.

  4. Liz and Lisa–that def should be asked of a willing audience member if no one was forthcoming to offer. After all, Im sure the people there (many of them anyway) knew the UStreaming was happening, and even enjoying it themselves in other sessions…But you should not feel blamed–I know you had much on your mind. So don’t fret it. I have certainly been made more aware with my own wishes for Ustreams and backchannels, and so will likely be one to offer if i see the need in the future.

  5. Liz, Great to see this post. I talked with a friend (on Skype) at a conference in Florida tonight who described an event today regarding ustreaming. The director at the MDE conference told someone to stop a ustream because of domain rights. The audience member asked the presenter permission ahead of time but the director felt the presentations were intellectual rights of the conference. Interesting story there, she has twitted about it. I feel the backchannel adds another layer to this ornamented tapestry of 21st century learning. The channel is most distracting to the moderator – others in the channel have polite discussions regarding points they are listening to that would not be relevant (or would be forgotten) later. It was really profound to have audience members from all over the country and the sessions where we can share the questions from the channel feel truly interactive.

    Several presenters asked me to stream their sessions at BLC08 – a few times I had to stop streaming for others (:-)) which as long as the video is available – I don’t mind sharing the bandwidth. It is a matter of telling folks at home where to find the stream so that they can join their discussion. My colleagues were depending on me this trip. I followed NECC virtually for days – I barely left my computer!

    The backlash won’t be going away but neither will the backchannel. If there are venues where it isn’t welcome that will have to be stated up front – like the story from above. Otherwise the only drawback I see is for the person whose lap houses the original chat, the camera, and all the open windows for twitter etc. It gets so fragmented.
    Fun! Thanks for sharing this.

  6. @Lorraine,
    It was a first for me when I was sitting next to someone UStreaming at the same time as me. At @EwanMcIntosh’s keynote you and I might have continued streaming had you-know-who not have sat down next to you. I hope all your colleagues were able to follow the conference virtually.

    Your comment reminds me of ISTE and NECC and the no-podcasting rule prior to the uproar right before the conference. Prove a need and a educational benefit and hopefully we will all be able to stream on!!


  7. Lisa,
    Having 3 presentations to do, I found that I wasn’t always ‘present’ in the sessions I actually attended. This is a great resource, thank you! To add to it, here is the google doc, with links to ustream of Alan November’s pre-conference. Most of the backchannel discussion is included at the end of the document:

    I never really got a backchannel going in my sessions, mostly because I was learning Ustream myself and tried to do it all on my own rather than asking for help from my network (that said, thank you so much for helping me set up my last presentation!)
    I think there are two reasons for a backchannel:
    1. Share with those not able to be in the room.
    2. Make the participating audience larger by adding contributions from those outside the room.
    In the first case, there is no need to pull the conversation out of the backchannel back into the room.
    In the second case, there should be a dedicated ‘backchanneler’ who facilitates the link in conversation… it doesn’t really work for the presenter to try to do this.
    The main point is that the backchannel should be something that adds value rather than creates a distraction.

    It was wonderful to meet amazing people like you and Liz, and yes it did feel like Cathy and Durff were with us:-)

  8. Lisa,

    I think what this speaks to is our need to interact with and react to presentations and presenters. The lecture method (sit and git) isn’t working for us or our students. The backchannel provides opportunities to engage around the material and draw from the collective wisdom of those in attendance, both live and virtually. For me, the idea of attending a conference that does not provide opportunities for extension – backchannel, ustream, ning, twitter, blogging is no longer appealing.
    And another advantage ustreaming provides, which can not be overlooked, is the opportunity to view the presentation again to review points that the presenter or keynote speaker made. Hearing information once is not enough. It takes time to process and digest new information. As Ewan said in his keynote, First is Saturation, then Incubation and finally Illumination. I am in the incubation phase but need to review some of the excellent points that were made throughout the conference. The social networking tools that are available allow me to do that.

  9. This really got my ire up:

    The director at the MDE conference told someone to stop a ustream because of domain rights. The audience member asked the presenter permission ahead of time but the director felt the presentations were intellectual rights of the conference.

    The success of any conference is almost entirely due to the work of the presenters. As someone who convenes an annual conference I know I am always amazed at the generosity of educators who share their knowledge with others: taking time away from their lives with their families to create engaging artifacts and experiences to help nameless and faceless colleagues learn a little more about how they do what they do. I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for what these folks do and how they share their work.

    I wonder if that conference director told all the presenters that their hard work was now his intellectual property? I wonder what their reactions would have been? I wonder, if he publicized that when he put out his call for proposals, if any proposals would have been submitted?

    I’ve had the good fortune to speak at a number of different engagements. All my work is freely available under (cc) By-No $-Share Alike. Nonetheless, I have never given up my intellectual property rights. I remember one time being asked permission to have a presentation video recorded. My reply: “Sure; as long as you make it available free on the Internet and you understand it remains my intellectual property” … we got along famously.

    If I had been the presenter of that session, and he tried to stop someone sharing my content after I had said they could, we would have had words.

  10. @Datruss – I added the link to the Pre-Conference to the post – thanks so much. (And I know what you mean about not feeling like you are there. It’s easier to focus once your presentations are done. Liz and I breathed easier Thursday morning at 8:30. 🙂

    @KarenJan – I also loved what Alan said about students needing everything in a box. Whether it’s a DVD player, an iPod, mp3 player, whatever. They need to be able to take it with them to review.

    which brings me to…

    @dkuropatwa Do you think that attendance at some education conferences will go down because educators can access the info online after the fact OR during the conference? Do you think school districts will be less willing to send their teachers and pay the registration fee for conferences because content from conference sessions is so readily available?

  11. Lisa,

    My wireless went wonky at the conference and I was unable to participate in the backchannels or send comments, etc to individuals I knew would be interested in what I was hearing and seeing. I felt very disconnected!

    I had difficult time choosing which session to attend and, like you, found the caliber of the ones I attended outstanding. I am so pleased that between the Ning and the links you and others have provided that I am able to continue to learn. It is very different from the days when the many papers I collected from a conference ended up in the trash.

    I do wonder, as you articulated in your question to @dkuropatwa, if school divisions will see physical attendance as a waste of money when sessions become so easily available on the web. What a shame however, because I do believe that seeing, hearing and meeting presenters in person motivates one to keep extending the learning once the conference is over.

  12. The way people work and play is changing. As you intimate, many see online access as something that obviates the need for f2f attendance at conferences and other training events. That’s not how I see it. The key word behind all the social media that enables learning online is “social”. Publishing content to the web doesn’t make for less interest in having a (good) presenter in a live, face-to-face scenario less desirable, it makes it more desirable. Traditional business models see these things in the former light, new business models that grok social media see it in the latter light.

    In my own experience with my classes, neither f2f nor online learning packs a big enough punch. The real juice comes from a blended, or hybrid, learning environment.

    (With als those mixed metaphors, it’s probably a good thing I don’t teach language arts, huh? 😉 )

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