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Debate on chats

From: Dafne

To: The Leading Group 1


Synchronous communication is an issue in language teaching by all means. This debate that follows is taking place as part of a training that we are giving as pre-requisite for some teachers who will be moderating or co-moderating the EVOnline 2003 sessions ( part of the coming TESOL Convention in Baltimore)  from January to March. (I asked for permission to use each of the postings). The debate is taking place at a yahoo group we created for the training. These are the teachers involved in the ongoing dialogue.

Becky (Rebeca M). Dauer : Massachussets

Christine Bauer-Ramazani: Vancouver, Canada

Vance Stevens: from Houston, working in the AUE.

Teresa d’Eca: Portugal

Rita Zeinstejer: Argentina

Susanne Nyrop: Denmark

Elizabeth Hanson-Smith: California

Chris Jones: Oklahoma

Phil Benz: France

Christine Parkhurst: Boston, MA

Dafne: guess….. J


The debate started when one of the trainees was hesitant about the use of chats in her session…..


Christine & I were planning on consulting with group members first to see if they want a chat. So the answer is no, unless people want it. I'm not sure that it would be worth the trouble for this group,
many of whom are probably technologically challenged. Becky


Regarding the use of chats, as a participant in last year's sessions, I can tell you that I enjoyed and felt more motivated to participate in the sessions that included chats, and I was a newby when I joined the sessions.
All the best,


Becky and all,

Whilst I thoroughly agree with Dafne's comments about the potential usefulness of chat, I think you are right to adopt an attitude of healthy skepticism towards all new technologies. Chat works best in a small, focused group with an experienced and skilled moderator. Veterans may recall some frankly disastrous (or at least farcical) chat sessions during EVOnline last year.

As your resident computer-literate technophobe, I encourage you all to think most carefully about how different tools really support your course. I just don't believe people who say they climbed Everest "just because it was there."

BTW, talking of the critical and useful implementation of technology, my department has recently purchased a site license for the WIMBA voice discussion board. It's been a great enhancement to the speaking and pronunciation areas of my class (although we still have occasional techno foul-ups which are frustrating). I don't think there's a free version anymore, right folks?


Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Nigel. I couldn't agree with you more. Chats need their own protocol if they are to be a learning experience and not just a "chit-chat" session. Beside familiarizing the participants with the topics to be discussed, it is necessary to agree on a mode of
interaction (asking, answering questions, commenting). What I have found to work very well in my online courses is
* sending out an agenda, with time frames set for each topic
* sending out instructions on how you plan to conduct the interaction

Even if you have done all of that, the chat may be somewhat superficial and only touch on topics of the week that were discussed in much more depth in the postings. If you really want to achieve any depth in a chat, it is possible to assign participants particular items to summarize for the group,
with a brief discussion following each summary.

On the other hand, the chats have been the lifeblood of my online courses each semester, as this is where the class "gels" and builds a cohesive community. My graduate students have always wanted more chats rather than fewer. They are not easy, as Nigel explained so well. You'd better be a fast reader and typist if you moderate one.

On the question of Wimba--the free version is gone, unfortunately. I may ask my department to buy the site license as well, Nigel. On the other hand, we've got the new CAN-8 software that students and teachers can use to record themselves, exchange voice messages, and listen to each other.


Chat does matter!!

Just like many other new literacy following the new technologies, it takes some time to get familiar and routinized with chat communication. As Christine mentions, you need to type and read fast. And as Nigel so kindly reminds us, for some people a chat session can be difficult to moderate. I think we need to understand what are the didactic implications of the direct text 2text communication? Christine says that the chats are the heartblood of her online classes - that is indeed a strong metaphor that I can relate to, as well.

In my next posting, I will copy and paste an edited chatlog interview where I ask daf to tell me more about her recent experiences with a mixed mode EFL course ( both f2f and online) , built directly on her previous experiences with the EVONline 2002 Webheads seminar where we both met.
Yours, Sus


Hi all--
I'm going to schedule 3 or 4 sessions for chat, not one per week, as my participants last year didn't seem ready technologically, nor did they see the value—it was a slow process to get people on board with the concept. That is, unless they were already Webheads (thank you all who participated).


Hi Elizabeth and All,

You can count me in for your chat sessions! I am very happy that you will be offering chats in your session. Many people do not see the value of chats in language learning, my short but deep experience has shown me that chats are very useful tools for the language learning process and I can write a long list of these assets but not here and now ( I am doing so for my dissertation).
I understand that not everybody is ready to take the challenge; but, if we do not start getting into the practice, when are we going to be experienced chat moderators? If we do not give students the
opportunity to get into it, when will they be technologically ready? I agree that for academic educational purposes, when we have time limits (course length) chats need to be structured and well planned in the sense that they have a purpose, a task or part of a task to be completed. However, I consider important to give students some autonomy to negotiate meanings freely, to behave as moderators of their chat, that is, to establish and keep balance in their turn takings, to decide on the way they are going to carry out the task, to keep peers on task and using the target language, etc. In this way, they will be using the language with a purpose: communication. There will be real and meaningful interaction and collaboration and mainly, scaffolding for knowledge construction at many levels (language, technology, content, autonomy, etc.)

Learning to walk implies many risks, but if babies did not take those risks and parents did not allow them to take them, we would be a crawling species.

So, thank you Elizabeth for letting your participants, like our Webheads friend Shun says, "get out of the fish bowl" and dive into the deep waters of synchronous cyber space!!!



Hi all

I'm an experienced chat moderator as well as experienced chat participant. I feel I've gained from participating in some chats where the moderator ran a'tight ship' and this is probably a good model to follow where the participants don't know each other well and are not expecting to get to know each other well. In other words, for a professional gathering with a fixed agenda, it's probably best if those involved work efficiently toward the previously agreed goal.

But as Christine mentions in her message below, if the chat is perceived as the 'lifeblood' where the community 'gels' then the format can be a lot looser. I don't mean to suggest that everyone should follow this model, but the Webheads experience suggests that there's nothing wrong with treating chat as something a lot different from a business meeting.

People often ask me what we talk about in our chats, which have taken place with consistent and even increasing attendance each Sunday noon for the past 4 years. Surprisingly I'm always at a loss on how to answer this question. We almost never have an agenda beforehand, and if we do, it's almost never followed. Some of our most successful chats follow on themes, such as our twice annual Halloween costume party. At our first party, we had two drop-ins at Tapped In (a thoroughly professional venue). One of the passers-by seemed a little put off by our antics and excused himself quickly, but the other became hooked on regular attendance. So it's hard to say which aspect of chat appeals most to people: the chance of interacting with interesting colleagues
professionally or the chance of interacting with interesting colleagues socially. As at a conference, online it's perhaps a little of both.

Recently a few of us have started pulling out our guitars at our regular chats. Now what is this, you might ask, have we tossed the pretense of professionalism totally out the window? Hardly, it's suddenly become a challenge now to find an audio-enhanced chat that will sustain itself over the life of a song. We can have the musicians in video but the sound keeps cutting out, and there is
the perennial problem of getting the macs and pcs working together. At least the people are all working together, and through it all enhancing their expertise with the available tools.

I guess if I've learned anything from Webheads it's the power of scaffolding in the context of having fun. I think chatting (or shall we say for the benefit of our department heads, 'utilizing synchronous online communication tools') provides a combination of fun and accomplishment in a medium that's a relief from the normal professional environment. One interesting thing about chatting, two interesting things actually, is that it's by no means axiomatic that a model for other professional gatherings necessarily holds true in the online chat environment, and therefore, we are freed to define our roles anew in these environments. So chat can be a refreshingly enjoyable way for
professionals to come together while working toward their mutual and individual goals.

As the participants in the dialog below are both Webheads in Action members, I'm cc'ing this to WIA for any comments.



Daf, have you been prying on my Evora paper? Or is it telepathy? Wow, so many similarities with some of your content! With you all the way! Very well said!

BTW, Daf, congrats on your drawing prize! :-) You deserve it! If that is being 'bad' at drawing, I certainly have to give it a try one of these days! ;-)

Hugs, Teresa



Vance, I'm totally 'in synch' with you!  It seems that the content of my paper, based on my experience with the Webheads in Action, holds true for several people. I'm glad! :-)

And based on this very positive 10-month experience, in which I went through what students go through, I've decided to give it a try with my 7th graders, hopefully, in the short run (it depends on how well the equipment is running at school -- it hasn't been reliable lately). I'll start with a fixed
task/agenda, probably an interview to a willing and available WIA, that they will prepare in advance in class, though they'll have to try and make it sound natural. They'll also have the freedom to choose what to ask.
My adventures with email exchanges in the past showed me that it's worth integrating these communication tools as add-ons to the traditional f2f class for the excitement and novelty, apart from several other obvious reasons such as communicating in rela time with real people about real
things. But I will definitely follow Ferdi Serim and Melissa Koch's great advice -- start small --, exactly as I did with the email projects, because it worked wonders. Hope the same happens with chat!    There are my two cents for now. No time for more at the moment.


Hi, all,
I just want to add my 2 cents worth about having chat in online  classes. I was new to Yahoo Groups and Yahoo Messenger when I joined the evonline classes last spring. I wanted to try out both Tapped In and Yahoo Messenger just to find out if they were at all useful. (I've never had any interest in looking for chat partners and had never used any chat except in a graduate course I took.) I was skeptical but willing to give it a try.

My conclusion is that it is well worth the effort to offer at least one or two chat sessions over the length of the course. For one thing, it encourages people to try it if they've never done it before. Second, this was how I really started to get to know Webheads as individuals and made me feel more of a participant than a lurker.

We already know that some people are going to participate more than others, and sometimes this is caused by time constraints because of our many other commitments in life. Chat provides an opportunity to get people together. Those who participate will benefit.

However, it's important to offer chat at more than one time of day, especially since we have people from all over the world. Those who cannot participate at one time may be able to at another.

Chris Jones


Hi, Elizabeth and all,

I've been absent lately, absorbed in muti-tasking at school, but nevertheless present in that I´ve been following the trend of different ideas posed to our CoP with interest, as usual. And now reading Daf's and Vance´s views on chat and its use in LL, I cannot but join in to express my own views on the topic, even though I still need to show many a local teacher "the importance" and the
value of adding synchronous and asynchronous mediums of communication to our daily teaching. I have commented on this several times to our group, and also felt relieved at times at learning this is not a personal "plight", but a shared struggle towards a real breakthrough in learning.
In our local private Institute we prepare students to sit for all Cambridge exams, as we are the only Cambridge centre in our city. We are supposed to prepare both candidates and teachers at different levels, and whether we agree with/ appreciate the value of these examinations or not, the question is passing on the necessary strategies to candidates, so that they manage to deal with the tasks successfully, which will eventually result in obtaining an international certification of achievement in English. Or to deal with authentic tasks effectively, which, if chosen to be the main aim, should
coincide with all teachers' aims....
The task, however, is hard. We've been toiling for years now with preparing teachers who, in their turn, will prepare their students along standardized schedules entailing common procedures and assessment criteria. We have 70 teachers in our staff and 2,500 students, which may seem to be a lot or very few, depending on your point of view, but it takes a permanent effort in instructing and monitoring if we strive for professional standardization of both procedures and evaluation. I had one of these formal sessions this week, and the experience gave me food for thought, once again. How can we persuade, in fact, convince colleagues of the need and importance of changing methods,
leading eventually to major changes, if they resist changes? Is it insisting, persevering, showing, motivating, helping to see advantages, helping to see results by themselves?

We, Webheads, are a small bunch of internationally assorted teachers/ learners discussing and sometimes questioning the value of a medium of communication through the world's lingua franca. Most of us are absolutely convinced of the benefits of using chat as another tool and are yet trying to remind our own selves of instances in which we learnt from each other, shared professional and
everyday queries, and enjoyed the interchange itself, inviting others to join in and introducing new sources of amusement as well, manipulating the language at first, and exploring more complex additional gadgets lately. We have all gained valuable insight --some, like me, more from reading and listening than from writing and speaking. Do we still have any doubts?

It's definitely in the hands and brains of lucid people like us ;-) to herald the arrival of a new era in LL, but not without effort and patience. And with the fortunate help of born leaders, paving the way, showing how-to's, sharing it all.
No teachers can ignore the usefulness of computers as a means of communication.
As Daf says, "If we do not give students the opportunity to get into it, when will they be technologically ready?" I humbly add, if we do not help teachers see how to use chat, and how to use it effectively as an authentic means, when will they give the opportunity to their students?

I'm looking forward to joining you, Elizabeth, at least for a while on Tuesdays. That will be another way of sharing experiences and gaining ground to our cause!


Dear friends,

I've been following this thread and have read some very interesting comments from Daf, Vance, Rita and ChrisJ, at least, though there are a couple of others, but I'm pressed for time to go and look them up. No offense intended to anyone! :-)
Well, all I can say, based on my experience with the Webheads since last January, is 'yes, chat does matter'. To the point (as I've said before, I think!) that I will soon be trying it with my 7th graders (third year of EFL) at an elementary level, of course. But whoever chats with them will have to be a little patient.
Anyway, in a week's time, I hope to have the paper (that I will be giving at the University of Evora next Friday morning) up in my Web page. In it I try to make a case' for chat in the EFL/ESL classroom. Then, and if you have the patience, you can read about my ideas in more detail.
I totally agree with Rita. We do have to fight for what we believe in and I belive in the use of chat in the classroom. Who would have said I'd be saying this before I joined the Webheads?!
I also believed in the use of email and even got a sabbatical from the Portuguese Ministry of Education to write on it. Do you think I may get one to write about chat and the WIA?! ;-)

BTW, Vance, I include a couple of references to a paper you and Arif wrote a year ago titled "The Webheads Community of Language Learners Online". It will be one of the reference readings included in week 3.
You made a reference to it in a group message a few months back and there were no comments, as far as I remember. I read it at once, made my notes and comments in the margin, underlined, and immediately put in the folder for this paper. Anyway, something got in the way at the time and I never made any comments either.
Well, Vance and Arif, all I can say is congratulations! It is very interesting, well laid out and with a lot of 'food for thought', especially for the skeptics. Why don't those of you who might have missed it take a look at it? Its' at

Enjoy the reading!
Off I go to put the finishing touches in my paper.
See you all tomorrow, Teresa


We have plans to add Wimba boards to the Viva virtual village as well. It should be quite an added value for students to be able to speak to each other without the tech problems of videoconferencing.
I find chat sessions essential for building a spirit of belonging to a community, and of really working together. I would have trouble conceiving of the EVOnline session without the benefit of real-time conferencing on Tapped In. This said, the prospect of working with a group of 30 is a chastening proposition - such large groups rarely work well. If it *does* turn out that our groups are that large, we'll need to use some very clever group management strategies.
Cheers, --- Phil
Lycee Astier, Aubenas, France


Well, this is an interesting case of distributed cognition in our ongoing knowledge building process!

I came home on Thursday from a local conference on IT, Media and Learning (all Danish) at DUE, my Danish University of Copenhagen with  a clear  understanding that current research on virtual learning environments, online community building, dialogical imagination etc - all of them

are avoiding the chat challenge! And , I had a long and fine, improvised coffee break meeting with my study counselor who strongly encouraged me to go for this particular issue in my final paper, where I am studying networking community aspects related to GEN, TI and WIA.


Now, then I get home and open my mail, and see how Nigel and Rebecca feel heitating or even negative about chat, preferring to think of voice messages. Then,  while we are discussing all this in Yahoo Messenger, I decide to ask Daf for an instant interview - about her recent experiences, called Chat Matters, I edit it and she read an comment the

result, and a 3 am in the morning, it is posted (to the evonline group only  - sorry. I'll have to share it with the evonline2002_webheads mail list, too. This headline, chat matters, has now resulted in a wealth of lond and thoughtful comments -  Vance on the pleasures of having fun still wile learning and the cohesive power in the chat community, Daf 

stating that we need to learn to crawl before we can run, and remind us about Shun's excellent metaphor, "letting students out of the fish bowl", Chris  Jones giving her opinion and support, as the chat was what made her feel welcome and part of the Webheads community ina different way than she felt with the mail list. Christine is telling us how the chat has been the life blood in her online classes, Rita is supporting

the chat for at least once or twice even in f2f  EFL classrooms - to prepare for better tests and for changes in the education stiffened system, Teresa promising to share with us her presentation paper in Evora that will be available next week,  Phil telling us that Viv@ will soon include Wimba (great news - as Viv@ isd free, we can all profit from Wimba there I guess?) - and now, Tere and Daf asking for research

consent to use this discussion. YES - of course you have!  And let us continue sharing. Me too, I am in need for a general consent on my ongoing research.

I will address this more detailed in a later posting - this one is already far too longish, and I am too busy to proof read it properly as the Webheads are already meeting and having chattable fun in TI. See you right there!





Yes (Daf), and I hope you'll disseminate what you figure out about using chat. I use discussions 
of the style used  for IMing friends as opposed to other forms of writing 
to get across the notion of register to ESL comp. students who've mostly grown 
up in the US- but usually in writing classes, not oral communication classes. 



Chat is important.  I had only about 8 people participate from one group, and of those only a couple

got past the technological discomfort and to the point of asking the pedagogical questions, but I still feel that was well worth it--and next time I know there will be a lot more.




 Dafne.  I have also been at the receiving end of successful and unsuccessful chats and learned from them what to do and what to avoid.  They are one of the challenges of online learning but definitely worth doing, as my students attest to every semester

  Christine Bauer-Ramazani


I agree completely.

I have been hosting weekly or bi-weekly sessions of the Euro Language Teachers Forum on Tapped In for over 2 years now, and have found it highly rewarding. Even novices can quickly cut through the tech barrier and participate in discussions, *if* they know how to multitask - have
several open windows and switch between them.

Basic skills for getting the most out of the chat sessions will probably occupy most of the first weeks chat session, in fact.
My sessions have ranged from 3-4 participants up to close to a dozen and a half, and I have seen a couple of Bernie Dodge's WebQuest  sessions where attendance was even higher. IMHO it becomes next to impossible to have a free-for-all discussion with over a dozen active participants. More than that, and voluntary restrictions have to be placed on when and how people ask questions. But it can be done.

I'll try to post more at the weekend about how to manage chats - although I think most of you have personal experience with Vance's WebHeads sessions. I am convinced that it will all work out.

Cheers,   --- Phil
Lycee Astier, Aubenas, France
Viva, the Virtual Interactive Village in the Ardeche, at: