What is a Backchannel?

A backchannel is a conversation that occurs during an event or speech, allowing readers of the backchannel a chance to converse about what is happening as it happens! The Wikipedia suggests that backchanneling is the “practice of using networked computers to maintain a real-time online conversation alongside live spoken remarks” and “generally refers to online conversation about the topic or the speaker” providing “audience members a chance to fact-check the presentation” or elaborate/clarify comments made. Educause, in an article called 7 Things You Should Know About Backchannel Communitation,  provides an excellent overview of backchanneling.

Once the backchannel is complete, students can refer back to the comments, or, as Mark Sample suggests in his blog post on using classroom backchannels, be presented with a Wordle visual to help students see the main ideas presented in the backchannel.

Since the purpose of a backchannel is to allow conversations to occur simultaneously with events, netiquette for backchannel use is one of the topics that should be addressed with students BEFORE the backchannel is introduced. Mrs. Musone’s Class page provides students with three expectations for backchanneling use that are useful as a reminder for netiquette manners when using backchannels.

To learn more about backchannels, you might like to view the following:

The Twitter Experiment (Monica Rankin)

Or read Derek Bruff’s blog post with Nine Uses for a Backchannel in Education.

TechSlams: Creating and Using Backchannels

There are four tools commonly used by teachers to set up a backchanneling for instructional and classroom use: Today’s Meet, Chatzy, NeatChat, and Twitter (using a hashtag (#) search). All are free Web 2 online tools. Today’s Meet, NeatChat, and Chatzy require students to know the URL of the meeting room to join, and the information is public. Twitter is public IF the accounts are made public, but can be made private by using HootCourse to collect the tweets. As well, Google Docs presentations have a backchannel feature. The tutorials provided here show you how to set up a backchannel in these tools.

Content Connections

Four Interesting Ways* to Use Backchannels in the Classroom (*and Tips) by Tom Barrett

Language Arts

Teaching Language Arts Using 1:1 Technology by Mark Pullen: Blog post explaining how to use backchanneling in a reading activity.

Social Studies

Backchanneling in 7th Grade Social Studies by Donna Criswell featuring John Marsh explaining how he used backchannels in his Sudbury, Ontario, 7th Grade Social Studies classroom.


Test-taking with Backchannels by Royan Lee: Blog posting explaining how backchanneling was used with mobile devices in a math class.


A first attempt with backchanneling in the science classroom by thoughtful education that highlights how a backchannel was used in a science classroom, providing benefits of its use and cautions for those thinking about using backchannels.