Using chat in an online course is fairly easy, and I think it gives a lot of bang for the buck–educationally speaking. Some folks complain about the lack of available options when using LMS-based chat (I use Blackboard’s chat tool, for example), but the majority of my students report having successful and meaningful chat experiences when we follow these rules:
- Give chat a purpose: This is especially true for first time chats. Provide a specific task to accomplish in chat, a time period, and list of the group participants. For example, I might assign four students to chat regarding one main point of interest from the weekly readings, each student gets at least 10 minutes of the chat time to discuss their main point, and I assign a facilitator to move the group along.
- Attend the first session: I always attend the first chat session my students have, even if it is a small group discussion. I sit back, allow another student with chat experience to facilitate, and I jump in where and when needed. With younger or less experienced chatters, you might want to facilitate and model the first session yourself.
- Create small chat groups: No doubt about it, unless you are doing a fully moderated chat, assign students in groups of 3-5 students max. Everyone gets a chance to participate, the opinions are varied and interesting, and the smaller group size leaves everyone feeling more socially connected to others in class.
- Have students record their chat: This is helpful for any member who may have missed the chat, and it also provides ownership to the students involved in the chat. I appreciate chat transcripts–it is a form of evidence, or artifact, of the learning process, and sometimes students share references or URLs during chat that can be referenced again at a later date if a transcript exists.
If you’re interested in seeing a sample chat lesson plan, I’ve posted one on RiverWithin.