Online Chat in the Classroom

Online chat is a form of informal communication over the Internet that is sometimes referred to as synchronous conferencing. Chat software is divided into the classes of instant messaging, talkers, and MMORPG (or massively multiplayer online role playing games). Each class is based on its capabilities. Some examples of each are AIM, Chatzy, Google Talk, Skype, WizIQ, and Teen Second Life. We will discuss MMORPGs more in a separte post.

Online chat software can be used to 1) collect data about a particular issue and learn how far reaching student networks are; 2) monitor student understanding of lectures and videos during a class; 3) conduct mediated discourse on a current or historical event; 4) build global awareness and build an international school community, 5) promote advocacy for an important issue, and 6) practice writing and/or speaking in another language.

1) Collecting Data: Students can employ instant messaging software on their phones or use online talk software to collect information about current events, holidays, and even data about the environment from their network of friends. This assignment could be done as homework in order not to disturb other classes, or could be done with partner schools in different countries. Services like Taking It Global, allow teachers to connect and participate in such projects. The data could be collected over a period of time and stored in Excel or a database. AP science and social science teachers could team up with AP math teachers to analyze the data.

2) Monitoring Understanding: A teacher can have students log onto an online chat service, such as Chatzy, during a lecture and post comments about key concepts. This is called back channeling. These chats can be saved and reviewed for understanding. Teachers could also employ an online chat during a video. Teachers can ask questions about the video and check for student understanding without having to stop the film. In my class, students can get credit for restating an important fact from the movie, adding to the film from their own knowledge base, and providing constructive criticism of others posts.

Many of these services allow you to record the chat and save it. The discussion can be saved to the school's course management system, or copied and pasted into a document. Services such as Google Docs allow students and teachers to collectively add information to the document. I typically ask students to review the work they did during the chat and add comments for homework. AP students could be tasked with finding peer reviewed work that corroborates information in the movie and to identify various areas of disagreement between researchers.

Now I know I didn't go though all 6 of the ways I use chat services in the classroom. That was by intention. For this week’s exercise can you help me brainstorm how chats can be used in the AP classroom? You could comment on one of two categories I have already discussed, or post ideas about one of the other 4 categories. Using a chat room in my class has become one of my favorite technology tools. They can promote note taking, research, civil discourse, web site evaluation, and peer review skills.

If you would like to become part of our discussion on how technology can be integrated into the classroom, come an join our discussion on Classroom 2.0 in Ning. Look for the Group Teens and Tech.
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Free Chat Programs
Chatzy -
Google Talk -
Skype -
WizIQ -

Basic Peer Review Process
1. State something positive about a student's work.
2. Point out places where their statements are unclear.
3. Provide concrete examples on how the work can be improved.
More information on the peer review process, can be found at Wikipedia.