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Monday, May 30, 2005

Using Instant Messaging

Once again something from Darren's Teaching and Developing Online has caught my attention. This entry on the students use of instant messaging in the schools (see "Fighting for Attention"). In this post, he directs us a message that Sebastien Paquet has posted on the topic (also see "Fighting for Attention"). The main thrust of Sebastien's entry are comments made by Stephen Downes (see "Should We Ban Instant Messaging in Schools?"). Note: I know that this is a choppy introduction, but I wanted to give credit to those who put me on to the topic.

The main point of Stephen's brief entry is:

You know, it's funny - I read so much about teachers trying to find ways to get students' attention, and when they find a device - a communication device - that captures students' attention, they want to ban it.
Stephen was commenting on a point/counterpoint article that appeared in Leading and Learning with Technology.

The reason this caught my attention was a few years back, I did some preliminary research on this topic with a virtual high school in Canada. Basically, we encouraged the students to post their instant message (IM) accounts to the course discussion forum (and at the start of the school year during the first year of this project, the virtual high school was using a piece of software that also allowed the students to IM during the school day - note this software was removed for many of the reasons in the point portion of the article above) and hoped that it would lead to them talking to one another through IM when they got home and logged into their own computers. At the end of the year, the students completing a survey to get thoughts about their use of their IM in relation to their class. This project was repeated during the first and second years of operation for this particular virtual high school with a single class each year (although a different class in year one than in year two).

In year one, when asked how did you use your instant messaging to communicate with other students in the courses, the students replied:
"At home to talk about homework."

"We just talked about stuff, not really anything to do with the course. If you had to ask someone something about the course then you usually just posted it in the discussion forum."

"For some students that are in the course, I have added them to my contact lust for messenger. If they are online at the same time as I am than we will sometime converse answers and questions to review for tests and assignments but that is all."

"If I had a problem I would go online to see if anyone was on to ask. Also, if I needed to know when something was due I asked people."

"I simply just chatted with people in the course who are on my list, outside of class."

"Used instant messaging to talk about history and get to know other students."
When asked if there were any other comments that they wished to make about their use of IM in their course, the students responded:
"The use of instant messaging adds to the ability to understand concepts and ideas. It allows us to get instant answers to many of the questions that we have rather than having to wait for e-mail back from our e-teacher. Also, we are able to get alternate answers to review questions that could show up on tests."

"I believe that instant messaging (MSN in particular) is a great idea. Being able to chat with other students in the course, and getting their opinions on a certain topic would really help."

"I think instant messaging would be a great idea because of the time it could save to contact others."

"It's a quick and easy way to communicate and you can use it while you're doing something else on the net."
In year two, the kind of feedback that we received was similar. Students listed the following reasons for chatting with other students:

  • Socializing – getting to know others
  • Communicate feelings about the course in general
  • Discuss course work
  • To gain feedback regarding progress in the course

When asked how they thought that IM could be used in their virtual schooling, their responses included:

  • Assistance with assigned work
  • Pick up from missed classes
  • Get to know others and feel more comfortable
  • Talk to more than one person at a time
  • Obtain information quicker
  • Get in contact with the teacher quicker
  • Collaboration with classmates
  • Easy way to communicate

Based on this feedback, my colleague (Morris Cooze) and I concluded that while further research was needed with more students over additional years, it appeared that instant messaging was a tool that students felt comfortable in utilizing, given the amount of use during their personal time. We also concluded that students personally felt that instant messaging assisted in both their learning and their sense of “knowing” their virtual classmates. Based on these trends, we recommended that teachers in virtual high schools should give consideration to adopting a more formal role for IM in their e-Learning environments.

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Blogger Nathan Lowell said...

As a hardcore IM advocate -- and serious IM junkie -- this idea that we would chop off the channel to highschool students because we, as teachers, can't compete for attention drives me crazy.

I'm also one of those people who can talk and type at the same time ... so the multithread issue rears its head here, too.

Grab their minds. The rest will follow.

2:03 PM  

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