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Understanding the backchannel

Chris Lott is one of the most insightful writers I follow. I’ve had several opportunities over the last six months (while I was in Fairbanks) to spend time with Chris. Great experience each time. He offers a rare blend of creative and critical thinking – I guess that’s what happens when a poet holds a degree in philosophy. Anyway, Chris recently posted on understanding the backchannel (a backchannel is essentially a tool such as Twitter, IRC, or IM that allows for participants to interact with each other while in a classroom or conference): “Others have bought into what I consider a common fallacy: if the backchannel weren’t there that attention would be directed at them (or whoever is speaking) instead. We all know that regardless of what a participant has at hand– a backchannel, a laptop, a cell phone, a book, or a set of Legos– they are not and never will direct 100% of their attention forward and they will find ways to create the attention cycles that characterize engagement. I was able to ignore all of my horrible, disengaged, shallow, incompetent teachers just fine back when the only thing digital any of us had access to was a watch.”