Last f2f session I had my first exposure to the chat system, and I initially found the whole concept rather strange; a group of people, listening to a Silvia Tolisano, a well-known IT person, while simultaneously and furiously communicating to others in the group via our keyboards and onto the chat page......
Those others in the group included peers in the same room/same table, bed-ridden, hospital-bound peers, and our very own course instructors.......
Through it all, Silvia encouraged us to do what we were doing anyway. I was confused, at the start, what were we supposed to do? Was I to listen to Silvia, or thumb away at my keyboard? Others seemed equally unsure, many were commenting on finding it difficult to focus and follow on two difference sources of information at the same time.
The chat-ologue unfolded line-by-line in front of me, and try as I could to listen to Silvia, I was mesmerized by the unraveling streams of thought that spilled onto my page.....as I read each line, a new one would appear, asynchronously responding to a previous entry. Course members had many of the same thoughts ("this is distracting!"), and I wondered several times how this could ever be used effectively with a group of 6th graders.
But reflecting after the session, a couple of things went through my mind. How was using a chat system like this any different to other f2fsessions we have experienced where group members would have their laptop open with multiple windows open and tasks going on? Is that not just as distracting, as following live strands of thoughts? Don't both require some form of discipline, in terms of knowing when to sit back and disengage, collect thoughts, and then make sense of stuff?
My next thoughts went to how I could use this in grade 6 math/science. I understand that this kind of set-up is second nature to a lot of kids, and that they often spend time chatting in this format. I can see how this may certainly be a big advantage to kids who find speaking up in class very difficult. With this, they can find a voice and have time to compose their thoughts and make comments without the fear of "looking stupid".
The added incentive for kids to post thoughtful comments is that the entire chat-ologue can be looked at later, and further reflections can be drawn from the whole process. I believe that certain key questions (for example "is fire alive?") could elicit some wonderful thoughts and sharing of ideas, happening in real time, evolving and morphing as each new entry impacts upon the thinking of members in the group.
The best way for me to discover more about this process, will be to develop questions/ideas with plenty of power/inherent interest, introduce these to my students, combine them with this chat methodology and see what happens! Watch this space for results.