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The most usual way for participants to communicate in the online classroom is via a text interface or chat.

Allow time for learners to type their response and reviews questions and comments regularly.

Include pauses in your delivery, so that you can check and refer to the chat comments frequently.

Mention contributors by name when responding to individual comments.

Chat is useful for conversation among participants and it can be a rich source of information around a subject as learners share their own experiences and links. The dialogue can become a useful reference resource.

Many interfaces allow you to save the chat seperately.

If you intend to encourage participants to use chat, ask them to reply to each others question or comments using the intended participant's name (the format @name works well).

Chat for everyone:

The chat facility can be used by all participants at the same time. You can use it to set up and maintain the social presence in the class. Most often it is used to gain responses from the participants.

From the participant’s perspective, chat can be used to converse with other participants and/or the facilitators. They have the opportunity to do so publicly (to everyone) or privately (to directed people only).

Chat for the facilitator:

Chat is a good option for getting answers to questions requiring brief open-ended responses. It can also be used effectively for quick responses to closed questions.

Keep an eye on the chat area - it’s a good way to gauge how engaged participants are.

Be very clear on how you want learners to respond, particularly if the interface is new to them.

Keep the chat area large enough to see all recent activity. If your chat area is small, when you get many responses all at once they will quickly scroll off the screen.

Techniques and activities using chat:

TIP: It’s a good idea to give specific time limits to chat exercises and let participants know when they have a minute or so left.

Count down chat technique: sometimes you may want to ask for feedback from all of the participants at the same time without spending too much time on an exercise. A good way of doing this is to ask everyone to enter a response in chat – but not to press 'send' until instructed. When they are ready, get them to 'raise their hand.' When everyone is ready, count down to them pressing the 'send' button. Using the chat to accomplish this gets everyone engaged. In that way, reflective learners have more time to consider answers without the distraction – or possible influence - before the other learners’ answers appearing in the chat window.

"Listening" and reflective dialogue: if you have asked for longer more reflective responses to a problem, issue or question you may want learners to think about how their peers have responded. In these situations it is important for participants to have time to compare and contrast their own responses with everyone else. You can encourage this by extending the activity, for example saying “I'd like everyone to look at Sian's response, and then take 30 seconds to record what you think that has led her to make that decision. Please respond in the chat area."

Paired chat: a very useful method of interaction and engagement through use of chat is that of the 'paired chat' exercise. Firstly, pair up participants to get them to interact together using the chat facility. It is often useful to match up participants by experienced with non-experienced, or the more collaborative with a quieter participant. Additionally you could match them by a similar industry or company. Each pair interacts using the private chat facility – that is, they send a direct message to their partner. Note that you will need to explain how to send a direct message and also let them know that only the paired partners can see the chat. You should always provide a time limit to exercises, so tell them how long to spend on the exercise. Then bring all participants back to explain their findings. You could ask each pair to use the microphone to explain the results of their discussion – but remember to involve everyone.

Mind the gap: when setting up other activities, for example launching an application share or setting up breakout rooms, there is often a gap of up to 30 seconds while the technology is being prepared. This ‘dead air’ is enough to make your less secure participants wonder whether they are experiencing technical difficulties - and the ‘less tolerant’ participants to jump into an unrelated task. So anticipate the gap, and design meaningful chat activity to fill the dead time.