The backchannel panel at last month's CSCW has generated a enough noise that it even showed up in a USA Today article on backchannel.
Even better, the blog world has helped me with a part of the discussion I didn't fully appreciate at the time. Richard Hodkinson has blogged what he meant to say in his opening comments. And he admits to the garbled nature of the presentation because he was asked to help out only the day before. Here are the salient points from his remark, geared toward how backchannel changes the power relationships.
- Backchannel needn't be just about speaker-audience power relations, but also about audience-audience and indeed speaker-speaker relations
- there are other conditions where there is no "speaker" but where backchannels exist. What about them?
- If we are looking at a traditional information-transmission model of communication in such a speaker-audience situation, AND assuming an attentive audience, then for educational and speech situations (conferences, political gatherings etc) there is a social construction issue to look at. If people can talk DURING the speech, their sense-making of the information will NOT be the same as if they did it on their own. Indeed, this shared social construction during the event may well have a homogenizing influence on the audience's usually individual reactions. [snip additional - go read if you are interested in more]
Of course, the power changes. People can check facts on the fly, they can make snide comments. But then "the powers" can also participate, as was demonstrated on this panel with positive feedback to the entire experience. I particularly liked Griswold's use of backchannel to inform the classroom experience. He has TA's monitoring the backchannel to bring forward any important-but-not-verbalized questions. And he reviews the IRC log after class to find out if there are topics that to be covered in subsequent classes.