Melete Online offers a link to a nice essay by Craig W. Smith on managing online chats within the framework of a course. In the essay, Smith offers concrete advice on managing the flow of conversation in multi-student chats, something that many instructors have found difficult (or so I’m told).
Reading this essay got me thinking about why it is that so few of my students use IM to contact me during the semester. I’ve been handing out my IM address to them for the past two semesters, but only a few actually took advantage of this access, despite the fact that I keep my IM turned on much of the work day and parts of the evening. Because I know they spend so much time on IM themselves, I finally decided to ask them why they weren’t IMing me. This is dangerous territory, of course, because their answer might have been that they wanted so little contact with me that any opportunity was a bad opportunity. Fortunately, their answers to my survey were kinder. Of the 23 students in my freshman survey course who filled out my survey, the results were:
8 — I don’t use AIM and so you were in the wrong network
7 — I just waited to ask you in class when I had a question
8 — It was just too weird IMing a professor
Okay, maybe just too weird to IM me…
Last summer I gave two of our PhD students the task of coming up with an assignment that used IM as the core technology. At the end of a week, they came back to me stumped (and these were two very talented students), because, they argued, there just wasn’t any good reason–other than a distance education course–for making chat the core technology of an assignment. I am not entirely convinced that being able to have spontaneous multi-user synchronous discussions isn’t a good pedagogical tool. But my own personal jury is still out on this one…