This project analyzes the social uses of computer-mediated backchannel conversation in a shared physical environment, specifically the SIMS Backchannel—a virtual communication environment actively used by graduate students at the U.C. Berkeley School of Information.
In this study, we follow seventy backchannel participants over eighteen months of persistent usage in an academic environment, during which time over a quarter-million lines of conversation occurred. We employ a mixed methods approach including statistical analysis, an opinion survey, qualitative interviews with a number of participants, and field observation. We demonstrate and describe how the users of this communication backchannel have independently developed a variety of different usages for a novel communication environment, both in-class and outside. We descriptively categorize these usages and attempt to analyze the ways in which they are both highly dependent upon—and augment—the contextual relationship of co-presence.
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