E-learning with web 2.0


Synch3.jpg- ► category - Chat is loosely associated with web 2.0 because of its interactive nature
and its role in facilitating a sense of constant connectedness.

--► what - Chat takes place in real time, normally in a chatroom, and generally involves more than two people. Chatrooms typically exist independently of their users and can be entered and exited at any time. Originally, chat was conceived of as a synchronous, real-time communication channel, though the persistence of chatrooms and chat logs means that many chatrooms can in fact be used asynchronously.

By contrast with chat, IM usually involves a small number of users, very often just two users, and is a channel established just for the duration of the conversation (though conversation logs may well be preserved). While there are many similarities between chat and IM, the former is more commonly used in education, in part because it is easier for teachers to set it up and oversee it.

- ► why - Synchronous chat can have a number of advantages, some of which are shared with IM. These include:

  • permanent logs (it is possible to keep and revisit logs of conversations)
  • multimodal interaction (contemporary chatrooms usually permit multimodal as well as textual interaction)
  • backchannel conversation (chatrooms can provide a good channel for background discussion while the main educational content or interaction occurs on a different platform or face-to-face)

- ► how - It is possible to use pre-existing chatrooms or to set up your own through a general platform like a VLE or through a dedicated chatroom creation service. The image on the top right is a screen capture from a topic-focused chatroom in a Moodle VLE.

- ► where - The internet contains a wide array of public chatrooms devoted to different topics - see for example the ICQ chatrooms list. However, most teachers choose to use chatrooms within VLEs, or to set up their own through chatroom creation services like Chatzy and NeatChat, the time-limited TodaysMeet, or the video-oriented TinyChat. There are a number of other free chatroom services.

- ► dangers - In synchronous chat, students produce a large amount of language at relatively high speed, which means that the focus tends to be on communication of key ideas rather than accuracy of expression or complexity of arguments. A disregard for grammatical and spelling conventions is common. In this, synchronous chat forms a counterpoint to asynchronous discussion.

Most teachers find that synchronous chat is better suited to social interaction, while asynchronous discussion is generally more appropriate for topic- and task-focused interaction. Many online courses make use of both, treating them as complementary modes of interaction; in these cases, asynchronous discussion is usually the main educational channel, while synchronous chat acts as a supporting background channel.

- ► variations - Kidlink provides safe chat spaces where teachers and students can interact. Chatrooms with additional functionality include Groupboard, where there is a collaborative whiteboard space alongside the chatroom; and eduPad, Pirate Pad, and Primary Pad, where there is a collaborative document editing space alongside the chatroom; similar functionality has now also been incorporated in Google Docs (linked to Google Drive). Board800 provides interactive whiteboards, while Sneffel provides collaborative drawing pads.

- ► more - For academic and journalistic references about chat, see the E-learning references page.

Credits: The image above right shows an anonymised extract from a chatroom in the E-language VLE (since discontinued), using open source Moodle VLE software.

Contact: There's no such thing as a finished wiki. Like all wikis, this one is a work in progress and there will be changes from time to time in organisation, content and links. However, don't let that stop you from contacting me at any time with comments, suggestions or questions.