Posted by: shineonali | April 23, 2011

Wednesday Disaster

I FINALLY got around to incorporating online chat into some lessons this week.  On Wednesday I introduced the idea of chat and the tool, Chatzy, to give the students some time to have a go, and on Friday I planned to use it to enhance a face-to-face discussions in small groups.  (More on that later…)

I had used Chatzy at school before, and we had used a chat room (not sure if it was Chatzy) to have a back channel discussion during one of our face-to-face COETAIL sessions.  So I wasn’t too worried about the tech side of things.  I registered for an account, and set up a room.  Super easy!  I was excited to see that even though the students would be connecting via a public link that I posted on the class blog (rather than being invited by email), I could protect the room with a password. I checked to see if I could access the site from the student laptops.  Good thing…logged on with the generic student/no password technique, the site wasn’t allowed. Fortunately, when logged on with student IDs, the site was fine.

The idea during this first session was to let the students dabble a bit.  I knew a number used online chat via Skype and Facebook at home, or through games.  But I also knew this would be brand new for a number of students.  I wanted to let them play for a little while, and then, after the shared experience, talk about it.  I was hoping they’d discover some ideas…such as, 21 people in a chat makes it hard to keep track of, it helps to have a purpose to your chat, and there are codes of etiquette for social and academic chat rooms.

The kids were VERY enthusiastic when I told them we’d be doing this.  I made it clear that this was new, even for me…we were going to be experimenting.  I just quickly showed them how they would join the chat, told them they had to use a name we know them by (groans from some), and showed them where they could change the colour of their name (yesss!).  For this experience, everyone had their own laptop. They found the link, joined the chat, and the first few students started exchanging greetings.

Disaster #1

“Ms M, it says there are too many people in the room.”  “I’m on a waiting list to get in”  “Only 10 people can be in at once.”  Aghh!  I hadn’t seen that restriction when I was setting up for this.  But no problem.  It was super easy to set up the room, so I told the students, “I’ll just quickly set up a second room.  We can still do this.” In the back of my mind, I was thinking, this is okay–when we use this for real, I wouldn’t want more than 10 chatting at once anyway.

No sooner than I set up the other room…

Disaster #2

Nobody could join or post in any of the rooms.  Lots of calls of “It’s saying I’m spamming the chat”.  The kids were quite offended by this accusation.  They kept saying, “But I’m NOT doing anything wrong. I’m not spam!”  (At the time, I was very stressed out.  Now, I’m cracking up as I remember it.)

We collectively took a deep breath.  I asked, “What can we try now?”  A couple of students decided to read the “Help/FAQs” section.  Some read the exact error message out.  (Honestly, about half the class were still plain frustrated, only they stopped calling out because they knew it wasn’t getting them anywhere.)  The trying-out kids shared out the things they were learning. They asked, “What’s an IP address?”  We came to the tentative conclusion that perhaps since we were all in the same room physically, and our computers were connected to the internet from the same location, the Chatzy system was assuming that all these messages were coming in from the same computer so rapidly that its “spam radar” was triggered.

We left our computers.  About half the class had managed to chat for about three minutes, so we looked over what had been “said”.  I told the students that I was sure we could do online chat in our classroom, but perhaps we’d have to try a different tool.  I’d look into that.  But I asked them to reflect on this experience anyway.  I suggested they think about it in two ways–one, the way it actually happened, and two, the way they could imagine it happening if the “technical difficulties” were solved.

I had prepared some charts for students to write ideas on, in “graffiti” style.  Everybody had a chance to write on every chart.  I’m including photos of a couple of the charts here, but I wish you could have heard the conversations that went on while they were making these.  There were a lot of questions and disagreements, especially about chat “etiquette”.  Even with such a limited, frustrating experience, they had some good reflection.


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