When the backchannel isn’t in the back anymore

This past week in my class – MSLOC 430 Creating and Sharing Knowledge – I brought in three outstanding guests for a panel discussion to explore challenges related to digital networked knowledge sharing.

Bill Chamberlin of IBM, Alison Seaman of ETMOOC and Jason Seiden of Ajax Workforce Marketing brought diverse perspectives to the topic and a great deal of enthusiasm for exploring it with the 22 students in the course. You can see more about the content of the session in my Storify about it. In the end, we landed on the importance of never losing sight of the human connections and relationships involved in knowledge sharing.

But what I found just as fascinating as the discussion and exchange of viewpoints was the way in which technology was a relatively seamless aspect of the whole event. Our Baldwin Learning Studio allow us to set up events that include virtual participants — in this case Alison Seaman, who lives in Canada — in a fashion that makes you easily forget that they are virtual. Her video image was projected on a large video wall, adjacent to where we placed the two in-person panelists. And the audio setup in the room makes it easy to have a large group discussion without doing much other that what comes naturally — just speaking as if you were all together.

But while we were conducting the discussion, everyone was also on Twitter. Jason and Bill sat next to each other, devices open, and tweeted when not answering questions or speaking. Alison did the same from her location. Students in the class also live tweeted the event.

So there was a backchannel – but everyone shared in it. And it nudged decidedly forward because it was such an obvious part of the event. At first, honestly, I thought it was a little weird to see Jason and Bill literally shoulder-to-shoulder tweeting about each other between questions. But in the same way that you begin to forget that Alison was not really there in person (the room tech makes it easy to forget) you begin to accept the occasional keyboard tapping by everyone in the room as just part of the way we’re were conducting the dialogue.

And I am glad it happened that way. In addition to the insights and commentary that I shared in my Storify, there were these “here’s what I’m thinking” items from the dialogue among the panelists.