During this week’s live chat session, someone brought up the idea of using synchronous chat in a face-to-face class. I’ve used synchronous chat in my ESOL classes. These classes focus on language development and integrate all language components (reading, writing, speaking, listening, grammar, vocabulary, pragmatics). I’ve had great success with this and have found that my students love the activity.
Of course, everyone had a laptop and are in a chat room that I’ve set up. I begin the activity by posing a question related to the content of the course and the specific module topic, and then tell students to discuss. Free for all. The common online characteristics begin to play out within a few minutes: the consistently active participants, the somewhat active participants, the timid participants, and the lurkers. But it’s clear to me that everyone is participating in some way and gaining from their participation. Even the lurkers, who tend to be the students with the weakest language skills, practice their reading skills and see how peers use the technology for communication.
With the right settings, I also begin to see the private chats sent between individual students who don’t wish to follow the main thread. (I let students know that I can see ALL of their chats, including private chats.)
When we’re done, after 10-15 minutes, I copy all of the chat messages and send the entire set to all of the students. I tell them to analyze the chat for their own participation. I also tell them to analyze the chat for ideas related to the content (the question). And I tell them to analyze the chat for language, including interesting language patterns that other students know that they don’t know how to use, and language errors that they or their classmates have made. They bring their data to the next class session, and we talk about it as a class. In this way, the synchronous chat activity becomes a simplistic discourse/conversation analysis activity.
Two of the course outcomes are increasing language skills and increasing language awareness. As for language skills, synchronous chat increases fluency in writing (typing) and reading. The public nature of the activity also forces the student to attend to accuracy in spelling and grammar, which is also reinforced through the analysis of the chat. Language awareness is increased as students participate in the activity by comparing their communicative abilities in this domain with their peers, as they analyze the chat for specific language usage, and then as the students discuss their findings and specific language features are discussed and reviewed.