Visualisation 8 – Backchannel Communication

In this week’s post, I explored the use of social media for communication with colleagues. A number of my conversations take place in domains outside the one’s specified and managed by my workplace under their Microsoft 0365 tenancy. Although Microsoft Teams has a phone app and allows for synchronous chat, I have intentionally not added it to my phone, along with my work email, to help create a boundary and support work-life balance; I have however included in the data as a means of comparison with other platforms. To simplify the data and due to the nature of remote work under lockdown, I have not differentiated between communication which occurs during and outside of ‘working hours’ of 9.00 am-5.00 pm nor communicated which is strictly work-related and others which are for more social purposes such as the latest news report. To observe patterns during working days, I have also included two non-working days below but will allow the reader to decipher which days they may be. I have also focused solely on my activity rather than messages received. As part of my role in my organisation, I have created three Whatsapp groups for colleagues based on their working parties to share EdTech content and updates from social media; this is partly to reduce email traffic and also as it is easier to share to WhatsApp than MS Teams given also that not all colleagues are on Twitter and Linkedin.

Fig 1 Comparison of social media platforms used with colleagues
Fig 2. Key to Fig 1

Each line in Fig 1 suggested a different conversation. The emojis reflect the nature of emotions in the conversation.

Some questions the data visaulation leads are as follows:

  • Why is WhatsApp is such a popular ‘backchannel’ for communication?
  • What would happen if WhatsApps required an MS 0365 login and managed by the organisation?
  • Why is there a need for back-channel conversation?
  • To what extent has lockdown contributed to an increase in social media usage to connect with colleagues?
  • Can a balanced use of social media contribute to mental health and wellbeing (Boston and Ma, 2020)
  • Is MS Teams suitable for back-channel conversations (conversations that may not be as formal as an email nor one which is strictly work-related for it to be used via MS Teams).

As part of educational Trust policy and to ensure the safeguarding of students under 16 years of age online (DfE, 2021; LGfL, 2021, 2021; SWGfL, 2021), an adult must be present in online meetings and any asynchronous communication between students should be monitored. Communication outside the MS 0365 domain or supported educational platforms (e.g. Hegarty maths) managed by the Trust isn’t supported nor encouraged.

For staff-staff communication however, there isn’t such a restriction as the social media groups established have been done so informally. In my experience, this is very much like the networking and learning which takes place in conversations during a coffee or lunch break during a CPD seminar; such learning can be as important and sometimes even more so than the ‘planned’ learning taking place. The use of the social media domain which isn’t managed by the organisation allows more scope of informal conversations, including those not defined by the ‘roles’ played in the organisation itself.  

References and Notes

Boston, 677 Huntington Avenue and Ma 02115 +1495‑1000 (2020) Social media use can be positive for mental health and well-being, News. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/social-media-positive-mental-health/ (Accessed: 30 March 2021).

DfE (2021) Keeping children safe in education, GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education–2 (Accessed: 30 March 2021).

LGfL (2021) Coronavirus – Safeguarding. Available at: https://coronavirus.lgfl.net/safeguarding (Accessed: 30 March 2021).

LGfL (2021) Online Safety Resource Centre – London Grid for Learning. Available at: https://www.lgfl.net/online-safety/resource-centre (Accessed: 30 March 2021).

SWGfL (2021) Social Media Checklists | SWGfL. Available at: https://swgfl.org.uk/resources/checklists/ (Accessed: 30 March 2021).

One Reply to “Visualisation 8 – Backchannel Communication”

  1. Lots of detail in this visualisation, which conveys a sense of complexity to your communication. I also think the choice of graphics work well as signalling the specific spaces you have used – it is quite something how icons (‘brands’) give us immediate information about what is involved, where we have our own experience of those spaces to draw upon.

    ‘I have intentionally not added it to my phone, along with my work email, to help create a boundary and support work-life balance’

    Yes, a pretty important counter to the ‘flexibility’ of this kind of technology, especially in times where our physical spaces of work and home have often merged.

    ‘I have also included two non-working days below but will allow the reader to decipher which days they maybe.’

    Perhaps day 5 and 6, as these don’t have any Teams use?

    ‘Why is there a need for back-channel conversation?’

    Interesting – perhaps as a replacement for ‘conversations by the water cooler’?

    ‘To what extent has lockdown contributed to an increase in social media usage to connect with colleagues?’

    I’m sure it has, or at least exposed the ways in which email tends to be a quite formal, and in that sense very limiting, kind of communication. Video calls give us a sense of the ‘face-to-face’, but I think they can also provide a sense of exposure that a ‘back channel’ doesn’t seem to?

    ‘Communication outside the MS 0365 domain or supported educational platforms (e.g. Hegarty maths) managed by the Trust isn’t supported nor encouraged.’

    I thought you might have reflected a little more on this, particularly to try and tie your visualisation to the ‘governance’ theme. Below you seemed to make an argument for the value of social media communication, perhaps demonstrated and made visible by your visualisation. Therefore, could such value be transferred to students? Your visualisation might hint at ways in which social media use might be observed, and overseen, in ways that are automated rather than suggested by ‘an adult must be present’? But it also suggests a form of surveillance that might be detrimental to the teacher – student relationship?

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