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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Strategies for Using IM in Your Online Courses

Source: Debby Kilburn, Cero Coso Community College

Instant messaging can be an effective online learning tool that can build community and foster collaborative learning. The following are some suggestions for making the most of the tool.

  1. Explain how to get set up. Although many students may have used IM, they probably have not used it for academic purposes. The syllabus should explain how to set up students’ IM accounts. Have students use a multiprotocol instant messaging application such as Trillian or Gaim to make communication across different IM systems easier. Remind students to add each other to their buddy lists.
  2. Offer group chats at different days and times. IM can be used for group chats. In order to keep chats manageable, limit them to eight students or less per session and offer them at different days and times, so students can find a session that is convenient for them.
  3. Ask for students’ undivided attention. Online learners often balance many responsibilities and can get distracted during synchronous chats. Ask that they focus exclusively on the chat. This will improve the quality of the interaction and help students get the most out of the sessions.
  4. Form study groups. Group chats are an excellent way for students to make connections with each other. Encourage them to continue their chats in groups of one-on-one.
  5. IM your students. Isolation is one of the dangers of online learning. Simple, synchronous message from the instructor can open up communications and encourage student.
  6. Invite students to IM you. Because you are on their buddy lists, students will be able to tell when you are online (as long as you have your IM application open). This open line of synchronous communication can be an excellent way of holding online office hours.
  7. Don’t micromanage. Like the private conversations that take place among students before and after face-to-face classes, IM can be an informal form of communication that can help students learn and provide social connections that might not otherwise be available in the course.
  8. Keep a chat log. Not everyone can be available for synchronous sessions, but they can still benefit from transcripts of the communication that occurs in these sessions.


This entry was posted on February 19, 2007 by in Instructional Technology.

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