An Informal Rationale for Using Chats in the
The text below appeared
in a slightly different form on the TechRhet Internet discussion
in answer to a question by Kathy Fitch, on September 2, 2000.
To help Kathy and others who are working
to demonstrate the value of chats such as MOO's, MUDs, and IRC, I
would like to do some brainstorming on the relative values of using
media in writing classes.
I too have colleagues who remain
even some who are otherwise ardent supporters of the networked writing
classroom. The major reason these people give for not using chat is the
fact that many classes will go way off task the first time or two they
chat together. The class will joke around, say irreverent things to the
teacher and each other, and even sometime get rude with each other. So
let me preface what I say with some preparations and precautions I
need to take place before you can consider taking a class into a chat.
Having said this, off the top of my head, I
think of several good reasons to use sychronous CMC in writing classes,
particularly during invention or brainstorming stages of idea
Students need to observe chats, through
or real time, before doing it, and talk about why they will be chatting
and what could happen. They also need clear instructions for
in and interacting. Both Traci
Gardner and Tari
Fanderclai, I believe, have excellent instructions of this sort
Students need clear prompts that outline
they are to discuss, with a clear outcome like a collaborative
or a list of issues that they will present to the class later.
Smaller groups are often more productive
on task, less chaotic than a class of twenty-five all yammering at and
showing off for each other.
One chat session often isn't
need to experiment with the medium and play around a bit before they
buckle down and get to work. Many teachers I know have given up
it doesn't "work" right away. The principle of consistency in
activities for networked classrooms (thanks to Eric Hoffman of Northern
Illinois University's Networked
Writing and Research Lab for this one!) would suggest that it might
take a few lab sessions for a class to get used to chatting on task.
People thinking together will end up
each other to have new ideas, or to keep building on each others'
resulting in approaches that alone they might not have come up
We see this in class discussion sometimes, but seeing it in writing can
be a heuristic aid toward pulling out more thought and exploration.
Ong said that writing objectifies thought and allows us to manipulate
more than the spoken word does. Gaining distance (not much, I
since this is synchronous) allows internal reflection on the words and
what they might mean, before one responds. Chat is a
In a related sense, the "here and now"
the chat can help some stop people stop hesitating and jump into the
They may be less likely to allow the critical consciousness to kick in
and stop them from saying something that's only half-baked.
for some students, even a half-formed idea is better than no idea at
and other students can help them tease out more of a thought by
and comments. We may be more likely to see "thought coming into
in written language in chat sessions.
For those of us who teach argumentative
in which acknowledging contending views is important, a good chat
can help class members test out claims and theses to see the challenges
and modifications others might make to their ideas. In so doing,
the class enacts the _multivox disputatem_ common in renaissance
(with apologies to Tom Sloan), providing a range of viewpoints and
objections to the claim at hand.
I said earlier that chat takes getting
For many, it's the act of navigating that chat on screen, learning to
selectively and quickly as the screen scrolls by, and then entering the
conversation without worrying about having read *everything* that's
said. Skimming for information and knowing where and when to dive
in and read carefully is a skill all of our students need to
After all, how did most of us survive the tons of reading we did in
school? Did we read every word? In learning to navigate
we may be helping students develop strategies for dealing with the glut
of information they find coming at them from all directions. How much
read doesn't matter so much anymore. It's more important to
out what to read and what to discard.
No, they won't be writing in finely
academic prose, but they will be writing. Until the computer
find easier ways to enable spoken, video, VR, and telepathic CMC, we
folks are in luck. It's an easy step to take a chat transcript to
an overhead or printout to circle or copy/paste for the class good
or locutions, and show students ways to move these gems into their
This is by far an incomplete list.
For more of my thinking (much of it collaborative thinking done on the
MOO with my fantastic colleagues!) on this matter, please take a look
a few of the following sites:
Created by Michael Day on December
Last Updated November 8, 2004
Disclaimer: the views expressed here are mine, not necessarily those
of my department or institution.