Monday, February 25, 2008

The Value of Backchannel Discussions and Why I Love Twitter

Many people have been talking and writing about Twitter to detail for others their involvement in the Twittastic Twitosphere. I may not be the first, so let me be the umpteenth Twitterer and Tweetaholic to blog about using Twitter. Oh, be sure to check out the Twitter Glossary for more Twitter Lingo as you read this post.

During the past week, I participated in a variety of what I feel were wonderful communication and collaborative experiences as a direct result of the Tweeple I follow. Twitter has replaced Google Reader as my aggregator for keeping me apprised of what is happening in the EduBlogoSphere and the activities of my education colleagues. Besides Twitter, I observed and contributed to live chats, in a traditional sense and as a backchannel discussion, and live blogging. All this ongoing communication got me thinking about how I could use collaborative discussion tools for my workshops and presentations, as well as further explore their value for both personal and student use.

On Wednesday night, February 20th about 5:59 p.m. CST, I saw a Tweet from Twitterer Vicki Davis, the coolcatteacher, saying she was “going live on EdTechConnect right now.” This was followed by teach42 a.k.a Steve Dembo notifying all the Twits that follow him (999 by his count later that night, now at 1,030) that “EdTechConnect with Vicki Davis is going to start momentarily! Go to and click on Event Center to join us!” With a simple cut & paste of the link, I was at the site to register, which I did, and I was connected the webinar. Easy as 1-2-3! The WebEx interface they were using to present Vicki’s Flat Classroom project has a chat that was used throughout her presentation as a backchannel discussion. As Vicki talked, the conversation in the chat replied to her, responded to her, posted questions for her and assisted with answering questions without Vicki’s help. Sometimes the chat updated slowly and at other times, the information was being added so quickly it was hard to keep up with the glut of information being added to the chat. I learned as much from the backchannel discussion as I did from Vicki and please note: Vicki’s presentation was phenomenal and she certainly deserves all the kudos she receives. Loved it!

Later that night was the much anticipated (at least by me) lunar eclipse. I had been checking the St. Louis weather report for days via Tweets from myfoxstl and although it was extremely cold, the sky was cloudless at 7:43 p.m. CST. Twixt and Tween taking photos of the moon, I was reading and adding Tweets. When dnorman posted a link to his recently uploaded eclipse photos on flickr I clicked the tiny URL to connect to his flickr account and saw some great photos of the eclipse while it was still happening. I used the comment feature to ask what type of lens he was using and he responded in the comments “a decade-old Canon 75-300mm USM Mark II” within seconds. Loved it!

To round out my lunar eclipse experience, I saw an Ustream.TV Tweet “See Tonight's Lunar Eclipse LIVE! Pretty cool…” On the Ustream.TV website was live video of the eclipse from a Sony video camera on a tripod with manual tracking. Loved it!

Trying to explain microblogging via Twitter to somebody who has never used it can be very hard to do. I accidentally helped ziggyu explain Twitter when she Tweeted “Working on a presentation about social studies” at 12:58 PM February 20, 2008. I assumed she was working on this solo since she was on Twitter, too. I called her and she said she was in a meeting. I said, “No you’re not. I just saw on Twitter that you’re working on a social studies presentation.” She responded, “Yes, I am, and I want you to repeat what you just said to the person I am handing my phone to.” I told the person that I had just seen ziggyu’s Tweet about working on a social studies presentation. Her response was, “Wow, that’s amazing!” And she totally got it! You see ziggyu had Tweeted to demonstrate to her colleague how to use Twitter and my phone call further demonstrated how Twitter can be a powerful and immediate communication tool. Loved it!

During the EDUCAUSE Southwest Regional Conference, cmduke Tweeted links to the live blogging he was posting during several sessions at the conference using CoveritLive. A couple of times I linked to the live blogging and found it to be really fascinating. It was a great running commentary on the sessions and although I was not listening to the presenter, I could follow the notes being shared with little difficulty and discovered I could learn a lot about the topic being presented by following the live blogging. Loved it!

Due to snow, ice and sleet on Thursday and Friday I had to cancel some meetings, but I was still able to communicate with ehelfant using the chat and VoIP features via Skype. We “played geek” for an hour and a half. We talked about the value of the backchannel discussion during Vicki’s presentation the night before and together we looked at some of the Web 2.0 options for blogging and chatting that could be used. While Skyping we also chatted with ShoutMix and decided it would not be a good solution for real time chatting because you had to refresh after each shout. After talking with ehelfant I continued looking for options for live chat and hit upon Meebo Me, Stickam, Gabbly and Chatzy.

Meebo Me allows you to create a widget to embed on your web page. It has three standard sizes which make it easy to fit anywhere on the page. You can even choose to have the interface as a popup on your web page or blog. When you are logged in you can see visitors to your site and chat with them in real time. It is easy to create your widget in three steps and the Meebo Me wiki has a lot of helpful information and tips.

Stickham is a live community where you can watch live streams, text and video chat and live video broadcasting from a webcam. You can create a widget to embed on your web page that is customized to include digital music, video and images. It supports a variety of image, video and audio formats. The most interesting features include real time videoconferencing and unlimited guests for text chatting.

Gabbly lets you customize the height and width of the chat window that you embed. Gabbly is for group chat and enables people to instantly connect and collaborate.

Chatzy is a private chat service. With Chatzy, you set up a chat room and there is no widget to embed. You have two options for chat with Chatzy: a Quick Chat where you can create a chatroom and send out invitations to chat or a Virtual Room where you can link to it on your web page and use it as a hosted chat solution.

All of these chat options are free and I am planning to experiment with each during my workshops and conference presentations during the next few months. I’ll let you know how it goes. And be sure to check Twitter for updates.

After exploring the four websites, signing up for accounts and creating widgets or virtual rooms, I Tweeted,” Anyone use Gabbly, Stickham, Meebo Me or Chatzy? Opinions?” coolcatteacher Tweeted that she loves Chatzy. And I loved it!


Vicki A. Davis said...

I think this is a great post for several reasons:

1) It demonstrates HOW things are happening now. A viral mashup of services, stream of activity and happy accidents.

2) It also demonstrates the power of the backchannel. I personally believe that the backchannel is the greatest unharnessed resource that we as educators have available to us. It does not threaten me nor bother me that you learned as much if not more from the backchannel the other night -- in fact, it makes me feel great that I facilitated the connection.

I believe a good presenter pushes the backchannel to do more by asking questions of it, encouraging the backchannel to communicate and share, and prodding it to communicate about the topic at hand.

I wonder if it is the "sage on the stage" type environment we've all grown up in that makes us THINK that the best thing on the menu should be the "main course" -- the presenter. When, in fact, the backchannel has so many more people involved -- really, it should give the most resources and insights and just add to what the presenter is saying.

Of course, there is backchannel netiquette as we discussed, however, I thought the backchannel was phenomenal.

Kudos on a great post!

Mrs. R. Martin said...

A bit intimidating posting after Vicki but here goes. I noticed that you mentioned that you are cross posting from .ning. Are you just doing the ole copy and paste, or is there a nifty web2.0 tool that will allow someone to cross-post easily? If there is no such gadget..we need to inspire someone to create it!!
Love your work on ning by the way.

my blog:

Mrs. R. Martin said...

Another web2.0 tool you could use on this blog is Instead of listing what books you are reading you can create a little shelf with the covers of the books you are reading to display. You can see a sample on my blog(see previous post). It is easy and fun. A teacher could make a shelf for monthly reading suggestions, summer reading, new books to the library or any of a number of ideas. It is a nice visual.

Karen Montgomery said...

I just started blogging more regulary at the beginning of the year and I have been cutting and pasting so far. I have downloaded Mutliblog and plan to try it next post. I'm sure some of the seasoned bloggers know how to accomplish this better. I guess it is sort of redundant to cross post if you have people subscribing to your blogs RSS feed. I'm still learning and developing enough of a following at this point.

I will check out shelfari. I have to finish Atlas Shrugged or my bookshelf will look pretty empty! Only 200 or so pages to go. Thanks for the tip.

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Karen Montgomery is the author of Gomeric Hill. The opinions expressed herein are mine and not necessarily those of my employer.