My students have found me online. I haven't decided if this is a good thing, or not, quite yet, but it definitely has me to thinking about using chat and instant messaging to communicate with students.
In my sixth grade computer science class, our discussion about instant messaging started when a student asked me about my user name for a class wiki project. I explained that I use the same user name (elemenous) for all my accounts, including the AOL Instant Messaging service (AIM), and my students perked up immediately. They were surprised that a teacher, of all people, actually used AIM, and I bet one class that many more teachers use an instant messaging service than they realized. I also explained that I use chat regularly to communicate with other teachers around the world, and that it's been wonderful tool for exchanging files and learning from other educators.
So, since this discussion, the number of kids instant messaging me after school has jumped from 1 kid last week to about 8 kids last night. I think I had 4 different chat windows open on my computer, and it was difficult for me to multitask. I noticed that the conversations are markedly different than the ones I have with adults. When I chat with an adult, I usually am pinging them for a specific reason such as tech help or to share a resource. With kids, however, it seems as if they are sort aimlessly IMing each other and me. This is a social tool for them, and they must be chatting with lots of other people because often our conversations go dead as if they were busy elsewhere. Sixth graders, IMHO, have not learned the fine art of carrying on an online conversation. Interestingly enough, though, one of my students told me that most of the grade-level "drama" happens within instant messaging conversations after school. One kid said he's learned to hit certain keys to quit IMing quickly when his mother approaches as he's not supposed to be online during homework time. Another kid said his mother took away his keyboard because she thought his computer habits were too distracting for him. (I'm making a mental note of this tactic for when my children hit middle school.) It's fascinating to see how important this tool has become to kids; I feel like I've been let into the club a bit as they have been reaching out to me via IMing.
Generally, I think using instant messaging and chat rooms in the context of learning is not something most teachers want to incorporate into their curricula; it's a matter of digital natives versus digital immigrants. We immigrants have been slow to realize that this tool is wildly popular amongst adolescents, and that if we frame its use properly, chatting via instant messaging or inchat rooms might actually empower learning. So this week, I've compiled a slew of related articles that might help you understand this phenomenon.
Take care and have a great weekend,
1) Strategies For Using Chat
Academic Distance Learning Center, Webster University, Saint Louis, Missouri
5) Moving at the Speed of Creativity>Blog Archive> The Case for Instant Messaging in the Classroom
6) Experimental College at Tufts | Instant Messaging: R U Online! RU? | By Robert Farmer
7) Spiral Notebook > IM in the Mood for Chat