To Chat or Not to Chat

If you are teaching synchronously, most applications offer a chat feature. Students love it and it is a convenient way to garner questions, but, quite frankly, I see chat abused and misused more than I see it used constructively. When there is more than one instructor or moderator in attendance, chat is a convenient way to catch and respond to questions. Chat is also helpful for some easy class activities. Otherwise, chat seems to be an opportunity for side conversations, disruptions and distractions.

I set chat to be open at the beginning of class before class starts so students can interact and say hello. I turn it off once class starts. I think of this as a comparison of students entering a classroom. They can chat with each other before class starts, but once class starts, a teacher wouldn’t find it acceptable for students to be chatting with each other off to the side.

I don’t feel I can keep an eye on the chat box while I’m providing direct instruction. And I find it difficult to scroll through and see what I missed. So if I feel that if I’m preoccupied scrolling, students will be experiencing the same – instead of following the instruction, they are easily checking what is in the chat. Sorry to throw shade on the chatbox, but I I have seen a number of instances where students exchange personal information in private chats to other students when the teacher couldn’t supervise chat and it didn’t end well.

I do like it for a couple of activities. When you have a short answer activity, holding a chat ‘waterfall’ works great. Ask students to type their answer in the chat and on the count of 3 to hit enter. Then everyone sees all the answers at one time. It also works to private chat the student listed above or below one’s own name. If it is more than a short answer or a quick activity, there are better interactive tools such as responding on a Padlet, creating a FlipGrid, completing a Google survey or answering on a word wall in the live session.

So, consider how the Chat feature can further your instruction and use it effectively. If the feature isn’t supporting your instruction, turn it off and open it when it is serving a purpose. In the virtual classroom, Chat is an instructional or a community building tool that teachers should manage to further learning. with that, to chat or not to chat? I’ll leave it with you to decide!

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