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A New Way To Interact In Class: Backchannel Learning

Backchannel learning. It’s a concept I never heard of until I found a pilot program at Purdue that explores the concept.

Backchannel learning involves using services like Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and text messaging to link students’ comments and questions to classroom lectures and activities. Two classes at Purdue are currently participating in a program using a custom web platform called “Hotseat”. Purdue’s official site and Mashable both reported on it last week.

The video below does a great job explaining the concept. Check it out, it’s pretty short.

With 73% of the 600 students using Hotseat in classes where it is available, it has turned out to be a huge hit. A professor of one of these classes lucky enough to use Hotseat finds that the technology enhances classroom discussions and lectures:

Hotseat is turning out to be a nice innovation. I’m seeing students interact more with the course and ask relevant questions. The tool allows us to engage students using media they are already familiar with.

The professor goes on to explain that Hotseat only works if the professor has an open mind:

[The tool] does give students a lot of power. In one class I mentioned the wrong president during the 1929 depression and immediately about a dozen comments came in correcting me.

I don’t have a problem with students correcting me or challenging me; this shows the students are engaged. But not every professor may embrace this aspect.

Hit the jump to find out how a Hotseat system here at Penn State could work.

Some classmates and I in IST and SRA classes have used unofficial backchannel learning with Twitter during class to discuss the best approaches to a problem or how the professor could better address the needs of students. To take this one step further and open it up to all students, TAs, and the professor with a system like Hotseat, our efforts would have been way more effective.

A Hotseat system here at Penn State would be fantastic. Imagine the system being used in the absurdly large Econ 002 classes held in 100 Thomas. Students could easily ask the professor a question in real time using a variety of different mediums. Other students could respond to the student’s request for help, or “up-vote” the question so the professor answers it. Such a system would cut out having to scream a question 100 feet to the front of the cavernous room.

Looking at a similar set up from the other direction, a professor could easily post links, pictures, videos, and messages to every student instantly, without having to deal with ANGEL. In this kind of exchange, the hotseat system works both ways. It allows for easy dissemination of content rich information.

I’d love to see Cole Camplese and his associates over at Education Technology Services cook up a similar system here at Penn State. In the meantime, maybe Purdue will let a few Penn State courses piggyback on their system (as long as we don’t have to eat their chicken).

One thing’s for sure – we’d have to think of an equally cool name for our own system. My recommendation? “Intercation”. You know, Internet + Education = Intercation.

I’m not quite sure how I got “Intercation” to sound sexual, but it looks like I’d better leave the creative work to Onward State commenters and paid professionals. So, please leave a suggestion for an awesome name for a similar system here at Penn State. Also, feel free to tell us how a system would benefit you or what features you’d like to see in a Penn State version.

About the Author

Steve S.

Steve Sharer is a Security and Risk Analysis major and an overall good guy. He brings Onward State readers enticing posts such as "Question of the Day" and "Campus Explorer" and will continue to do so until he becomes the President of the United States of America in 2024.


More by Steve

Question of the Day: Sweet Mobile Apps

AT&T is sponsoring a pretty cool competition in which entrants can win $10,000 cash in scholarship money for creating a mobile device application. Teams of up to four people can enter a custom-built application for the purpose of e-learning.  The rules state that the “innovating e-learning mobile app” should be functional across multiple platforms. Submissions are due by September 15, 2010 and so far there are only ten teams signed up. So my question for you is:

If you could develop a mobile device application, what would it do?

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